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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: studio journal

Module Learning: Spectral Swoop

Give and take as structure

It’s a little-known fact that the low-level drones experienced as much as heard in large office buildings aren’t the result of overlapping signal byproduct from various infrastructural activities — the off-sync relations between HVAC, electrical, and IT, for example — but, instead, are unattributed ambient sound-art installations funded by forward-thinking c-level thought leaders and artistically progressive boards of directors.

Well, no, not really. It is just noise whose happenstance subtle complexity can reward close attention, when it isn’t causing low-level discomfort.

In any case, this recording is a Saturday-morning attempt to combine the rough timbres of one module with the elegant spectrum analysis of another, all in the service of a certain HVAC je ne sais quoi. The main sound is a rich triangle coming from the Ieaskul F. Mobenthey Swoop, sent in turn through the 4MS Spectral Multiband Resonator, several bands of which are tweaked thanks to various low-frequency oscillations. The pace is set by the Delptronics Trigger Man, which, throughout, rotates the scale of the 4MS module two steps forward, one step back.

In addition, a bit of pink noise waves in and out, coming from an SSF Quantum Rainbow 2. The interwoven LFO patterns yield a song-like sequence of give and take, if not full on verse and chorus.

Track originally posted at

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Module Learning: Spectral (Rhythmic Bands)

An experiment with filterbank beats

An experiment with another recent module acquisition: a spectral filter. It’s like my previous filterbank, the one that this rainbow-colored module (from the 4MS Company) replaced, in that it divides the incoming audio signal across the spectrum and helps you focus in on one narrow band or sliver of that sound, but it has many additional superpowers I’m only just beginning to learn.

Heard here is a little melody produced by the sequencer, the Monome Grid in the foreground, which is directing the notes played by a triangle wave via a module called Ansible. A trigger module (the Trigger Man) is setting the pace of the Grid, and also correlating some short sharp square waves from an LFO (the Batumi module) that are, in turn, creating little blips in the triangle wave (emanating from a Dixie II oscillator).

This is sort of the third stage of this experiment. Earlier in this process I was using other devices to add more variables to the sound, but I whittled back some of that spaghetti to settle on what I posted a short video of to Instagram last night. And then this morning I built it back up again:

The three main things this has that the Instagram didn’t have are: (1) the rhythm from the Trigger Man is a little more complex now, giving the melody a bit more of a herky-jerky beat; (2) the melody itself has some randomization going on (more like probability: will a note play or will it not); and (3) there’s a heavily subdued version of the audio that plays at the open and close (it’s running through a low-pass filter). There’s a bit of noise in this recording, and I’m not sure why.

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“Module Learning: Swoop (Bounds Parameters)”

An experiment with triangle parameters and in-rack recording

I recently reworked about half my modular synthesizer, with some key priorities in mind, among them (1) introducing some modules with their own strong personalities, notably the 4MS Spectral Multiband Resonator and the Ieaskul F. Mobenthey Swoop, and (2) having a means to be always recording. I added an Expert Sleepers Disting MK4 between the mixer and the output to use as an always-on recorder. This track is a first attempt I made at using the IFM Swoop. Here the Swoop is producing a triangle wave, bounds of which are changing as the track proceeds (among other variables I’m just beginning to wrap my head around). It’s secondarily being sent through a low-pass filter, to take the upper edge off.

The attached photo shows the patch, though some of the knobs were fiddled with as it ran. (Perhaps the main thing I learned today was that it’s sort of a hassle to get the SD card in and out of the Disting. The always-on recording was nice, though. This is the end of a longer segment, the opening part of which was even lower on the learning curve. When I was done, I just edited off the opening half and introduced a fade-in. The fade-out was done manually with my in-rack mixer.)

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Introductory Loop-Making

Another weekend experiment

Another little weekend project straight out of any Electronic Music 101 textbook: make a tape loop with an old cassette. I’d never done this before. The cassette tape is from an old batch of unused 90-minute Maxells I have on hand. The loop was recorded on a Panasonic Standard Cassette Transcriber RR-830, a relic of when I’d record interviews on physical cassette and then transcribe from those cassettes. That Panasonic device has a foot pedal, which used to make the start/stop process of transcription a tiny bit more bearable, especially because it can micro-rewind an adjustable amount with each pause.

The audio of my first tape loop came out OK on the first try — I recorded a short strum on an acoustic guitar — but there was an issue with playback on the RR-830: After two or three cycles through the loop, it would come to a stop. I had high hopes of using the RR-830 in a performance setting, given the potential for that foot pedal, along with other attributes of the device, like control over tone and playback speed. (Another issue: there was a not so little gap in the audio, and it was suggested to me to record the audio first on a longer stretch of tape, and to then make the loop from a subset of that tape. I’ll try this approach next time.)

At first I thought the issue with the playback ending on the Panasonic had to do with a poor job on my part constructing the cassette. So, I took it apart and made it more taut by trimming the length of the tape a bit, as well as reinserting the second plastic reel. Still, the Panasonic ceased playing after two or three cycles. To test the newly refined tape loop, I put the cassette in the old, bright yellow Sony “Sports” Walkman, and it played well, over and over and over. Perhaps there’s a setting on the RR-830 that will make it less sensitive, and therefore capable of playing the loop on repeat dependably.

Making the loop was more painstaking a process than I’d expected, even after advance warnings from various experienced people. The standard cassette tape has loose parts, held in only thanks to the tension supplied by five tiny screws. In addition, getting the tape to the correct length, and connecting it into one continuous piece, requires a level of dexterity almost — but, fortunately, not quite — beyond my manual dexterity. I got it to work, which was a lot of fun in the end. The sound quality is excellent, which is to say it is rich with texture, not high-fidelity.

And if you want to try it out, the tape-oriented musician who goes by the name Amulets has a helpful video on YouTube. There’s also a good tutorial at

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“Aida Facing Shimmy 353”

Playing with acoustic guitar and MiniDisc artifacts

I have an old Sony MiniDisc recorder I’ve been meaning to sell or trade for the longest time. After watching one of the recent videos by the musician Hainbach, however, some hidden potential was revealed to me. Hainbach has been exploring unique characteristics of the MiniDisc, such as the granular quality of its fast-forward and rewind artifacts, its ability to easily break tracks into segments, and its gap-less playback.

The second and third of those three features are the ones I was most immediately interested in pursuing. That third one, the gap-less playback, isn’t present on all MiniDisc devices, though it was an impetus for Gescom’s ingenious 1998 album Minidisc — Gescom consisting of Autechre working in collaboration with Russell Haswell. Fortunately, my MiniDisc recorder, a Sony MZ-R50, has gap-less playback.

This simple little evening project turned out to be a learning experience in more ways than one. I wanted to record from my acoustic guitar into the MiniDisc, which seemed easy enough, but as it turned out I couldn’t find the microphone that originally accompanied the device. I spent some time looking on eBay and discovered that lots of people selling old MiniDisc recorders have also misplaced their microphones. I thought briefly about skipping the acoustic guitar for now and recording from a little iOS synth into my MiniDisc just as a proof of concept, which is when it occurred to me to record my guitar into an ancient iPod and to then record from the iPod into the MiniDisc. This worked fine.

The audio was me plucking and strumming a D chord on the guitar for about 30 seconds. I used a standard audio cable to go from the headphone jack of the iPod to the Line In of the MiniDisc. Once the 30 seconds were on the MiniDisc, I used the “T Mark” function on the MiniDisc to subdivide the track into little fragments. This took the one single track and turned it into about 25. After listening to it on shuffle/repeat, I whittled away and deleted a handful of silences, ending with about 19 pieces of varying lengths. In the end, the guitar material played out in little slivers and proved, to my ear, quite pleasing, as soft tones end suddenly and chance permutations render momentary melodies.

The question then became: how to transfer the audio from my MiniDisc to my laptop, or back to the iPod for that matter. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. The macOS software Audio Hijack didn’t seem to recognize my headphone input, and neither did my iPod. As it turns out, that’s because the standard headphone jack is different from the sort that laptops and mobile devices recognize these days. The standard audio headphone mini-jack has two little lines on it, if you look closely. The jack of the now-standard (well, until the imminent Bluetooth apocalypse) headphone-with-microphone cable actually has three little lines on it. I need to order a converter for future recordings, but I wanted to finish this tonight. So, I used a cable to connect my MiniDisc player to my Zoom H4n recorder, and then took the SD card from the H4n and put it in my laptop. I used Audacity to lower the treble on it, and then — just to try it out, because the software is new to me — Adobe Audition to trim the close, where the track initially ended too abruptly.

The track’s title, “Aida Facing Shimmy 353,” is an anagram of the word “MiniDisc” and the model of my acoustic guitar, a Yamaha FG-335.

Track originally posted at

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