tom moody

Archive for February, 2018

Expert Sleepers ES-40 and expanders

These are the Eurorack modules described in a previous post, which make possible a fascinating hybrid of computer and voltage-based music synthesis at relatively low cost, if you have the patience and fortitude to get them to work.
The concept is that pitch, gate, clock, LFOs, and MIDI data can all be transmitted to a modular synth through a single SP/DIF (digital audio) cable coming from your sound card. Audio is itself a form of voltage and can be sliced and diced into smaller amounts to drive hardware; Expert Sleepers inventor Andrew Ostler has quite cleverly made all these signal distributions. As he points out, audio-based signals are "sample accurate," as opposed to USB or 5-pin MIDI, which are subject to micro-delays and "jitter," thus making it possible to keep several instruments in tighter sync than with normal MIDI outputs from your Digital Audio Workstation.

In practice, the routing of the audio to maximize efficiency in all these channels is perversely complicated, and changes constantly with new revisions to operating systems, DAWs, the equipment and the versions of the Expert Sleepers Silent Way plugin software that makes all this work.

One source of confusion is a design problem: the varied use of the sequence 1-2-3-4-5-etc:

You have expansion headers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (or more), depending on the unit. These headers are sometimes called slots and refer to physical (10 pin) connectors on the back of a module.

There are also output ports on the front of a module, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

Within the DAW, you have stereo channel pairs 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8, with channels sometimes referred to by a single number.

The soundcard also has analog and digital channels, numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. Stereo pairs 7/8 correspond to the soundcard's ADAT channels 7/8 (which may be identified in Ableton as channels 17-18).

You have Gates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 on an expansion unit. A "gate" could refer to a synthesizer gate signal or it could refer to the port number on the expander.

You have Inputs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the ES-4 Controller software. I think these refer to the above-mentioned stereo channels but within the Input section you have menus for each Input with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

You have Inputs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 on the ESX-8CV Combiner software and menus giving you a choice for each input of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

You have Output controls 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 on ES-4 Controller software. I forget what these are for, and why there are five if a module has 5-8 output ports and 5-6 expansion slots.

The Silent Way Voice Controller has controls on its face that correspond to output ports 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on the old, discontinued ES-4 hardware, and "hidden" output controls numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

And of course you have MIDI channels 1, 2, 3, etc (up to 16)

Small wonder constant confusion occurs on the forum threads regarding which of the above 1s, 2s, 3s, etc people are talking about and what they think they mean. (Couldn't something have been called A, B, C, etc?) Or whether they are speaking of an output, slot, header, or port. Some users are helpful and patient, others adopt a "of course, you don't know this?" tone. Which is insane.

- tom moody

February 17th, 2018 at 1:04 pm

Posted in computers-R-stupid

expert sleepers setup notes (2)

I made some revisions to my PDF of Expert Sleepers Ableton Setup Notes.

Expert Sleepers (UK inventor Andrew Ostler aka "OS") makes Eurorack modules that allow a computer to talk to other Eurorack modules, converting MIDI and audio events in a Digital Audio Workstation into control voltages that can drive modules in a rack.

At least, theoretically. The problem is making sense of a cloud of tutorials, demos, and user forum threads in an environment where (i) OS assumes you will fill in information gaps that you couldn't possibly know* and (ii) the products, DAWs, and operating systems in question are undergoing constant revision. My "notes" are a quixotic endeavour specific to Windows 7, Ableton 9[x], and a handful of modules at a certain stage of development, which means they need to be revised constantly and the sand castle may soon collapse. Possibly this is why I heard cricket sounds when I posted the notes on the ES forum; another reason might be consumers have already moved on to next in a constant stream of shiny new objects emerging from OS's workshop.

*Example: In a video showing how you can control several hardware synths and sequencers using pitch and gate cvs coming out of the ES-40, ESX-8CV, and ESX-8GT modules, OS shows a tantalizing glimpse of his setup in Ableton. You can see a series of "aux" channels that he doesn't explain or show the routing for. These are necessary to drive gates separately from cvs. The curious consumer must delve into forum threads to find answers, separating the wheat of Ableton/Windows solutions from the chaff of Logic/Apple solutions. Eventually I got it, and now need to add a new "Section C" to my notes.


- tom moody

February 17th, 2018 at 10:56 am

Posted in computers-R-stupid

spot the screenshot

Alex on Film has been running a series of quizzes that test your powers of recall, observation, and movie knowledge.

See if you can name the films behind these screenshots, grouped into themes. My identification rate is extremely low but that didn't stop my pitching in on severed heads, tattoos, people looking in rear view car mirrors, views through crosshairs, and hangings.

Mostly I don't answer unless I know. I've skipped several quizzes either for lack of a contribution or because I thought I could safely miss it, e.g., eyeball mutilation (I have my limits).

- tom moody

February 17th, 2018 at 9:43 am

Posted in films

a little light trolling late last year

reference [hooktube]

- tom moody

February 15th, 2018 at 9:15 am

Posted in around the web

"The Curious (Remixed)"

Am already several songs into my next "release" and have been forgetting to "promote" this one. The scare quotes are due to the awkwardness of applying a capitalist frame to an amorphous art project/object (to use a Zappa term). The music could be a product of a hundred decisions based on the dictates of personal and artistic discipline (tonal or atonal? verse or chorus? percussion or found sound?) and not be useful in a commodity sense. Someone else might be able to slip it into a game or elevator but that's not why it was made.

This track was posted earlier in a slightly more ambient form but wasn't working in the context of an LP of fairly tightly-organized tunes so it was edited: whole passages were removed and ear-candy tunes added. The phrase "it's sure to bring out the curious and the kooky" is my line reading of a bit of Firesign Theatre dialog, from Everything You Know Is Wrong. The other human vocal is a field recording of a noisy neighborhood kid, considerably compressed, EQ'd and filtered.

- tom moody

February 15th, 2018 at 6:58 am

Posted in music - tm

Breece D'J Pancake


I took a fiction writing class with this author, when we were both undergrads at UVa. According to the Wikipedians, he "has become a semi-mythical figure of American Literature" whose "vivid, compact style has been compared to that of Ernest Hemingway." Like Hemingway, he "died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound" (although much younger, at age 26). I didn't learn about his unfortunate death or impressive reputation until years later.

Back then he signed his stories "Breece D. Pancake." The Wikipedians say "the unusual middle name 'D'J' originated when The Atlantic Monthly misprinted his middle initials (D.J., for Dexter John) in the byline of 'Trilobites,' a short story the magazine published in 1977." [1] Perversely, Pancake adopted this flub as his writer name; in the Afterword to The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake, John Casey, our teacher and Pancake's biggest advocate, calls the acquiescence a "celebration" of Pancake's first published tale, which "eased his sense of strain -- the strain of trying to get things perfect -- by adopting an oddity committed by a fancy magazine." [2]

I remember Pancake as a (sorry, it must be said) lumpish, brooding, but oddly entitled presence at the table where we sat and critiqued work. His type of fiction didn't interest me much at the time, and none of the stories we read were as good as the ones in this collection. Just achingly honest tales of rural America, without the bleak melodrama that came later. Possibly I missed it; possibly because I was one of those "middle class" students from the Washington DC area that James Alan McPherson, in his Foreword, says Breece, a West Virginia native, had a hard time fitting in with. (McPherson also taught Pancake at UVa.)

Lumpish or no, Pancake clearly had some pull outside the classroom. Casey fawned and fussed over his writing in front of the other students. At the time it seemed a condescending form of sympathy for an outsider who had drifted into the system. McPherson frames Pancake's outsiderdom as a matter of social class; to me it was a matter of the relative (lack of) interest in bucolic-details-as-story-material. It seemed old fashioned, but Casey ate it up.

I also didn't know until I read the Foreword and Afterword to The Stories that he had been workin' the refs in his off hours, confidently marching into his teachers' offices and saying he wanted to study with them. (His exact words to McPherson were "Buddy, I want to work with you." Gag me.) His chutzpah and the quality of the stories he thrust on them got him an amazing amount of special treatment. But they also gave his benefactors perhaps more than they bargained for.

This anecdote from McPherson awakened me to a world of mentor-boundary-crossing I couldn't have even imagined back in the day:

In the winter of 1977 I went to Boston and mentioned the work of several of my students, Breece included, to Phoebe-Lou Adams of The Atlantic. She asked to be sent some of his stories. I encouraged Breece to correspond with her, and very soon afterward several of his stories were purchased by the magazine. The day the letter of acceptance and check arrived, Breece came to my office and invited me to dinner. We went to Tiffany’s, our favorite seafood restaurant. Far from being pleased by his success, he seemed morose and nervous. He said he had wired flowers to his mother that day but had not yet heard from her. He drank a great deal. After dinner he said that he had a gift for me and that I would have to go home with him in order to claim it.
He lived in a small room on an estate just on the outskirts of Charlottesville. It was more a workroom than a house, and his work in progress was neatly laid out along a square of plywood that served as his desk. He went immediately to a closet and opened it. Inside were guns -- rifles, shotguns, handguns -- of every possible kind. He selected a twelve-gauge shotgun from one of the racks and gave it to me. He also gave me the bill of sale for it -- purchased in West Virginia -- and two shells. He then invited me to go squirrel hunting with him. I promised that I would. But since I had never owned a gun or wanted one, I asked a friend who lived on a farm to hold on to it for me.

Pancake gave McPherson a gun; he asked Casey to be his godfather! This was a twenty-something-year-old man. From Casey's Afterword:

Not long before Breece and I got to be friends, his father and his best friend both died. Sometime after that Breece decided to become a Roman Catholic and began taking instruction...
Breece asked me to be his godfather. I told him I was a weak reed, but that I would be honored. This godfather arrangement soon turned upside down. Breece started getting after me about going to mass, going to confession, instructing my daughters. It wasn’t so much out of righteousness as out of gratitude and affection, but he could be blistering. And then penitent.

McPherson also recalls Pancake standing in the corridor of the fiction department shouting over and over "I'm Jimmy Carter and I'm running for President!" -- prompting more paragraphs of contorted, hagiographic justification (akin to Casey's riff on "D'J") -- about the New South and Pancake's place in it.

Pancake appears from the essays to have been bipolar or BPD, yet the teachers catered to him, built him up, hung out with him, at least until McPherson moved to Yale and stopped opening Pancake's mail. (Breece was his bosom buddy till he wasn't.) Regarding his suicide, McPherson quotes a letter from Pancake's mother stating that "God called [Breece] home because he saw too much dishonesty and evil in this world and he couldn’t cope," an explanation that covers a lot of territory.

Pancake's book sat on my shelf for several years; I was motivated to read it, finally, after encountering the fiction of Daniel Woodrell, an Ozarks writer who has been compared to Pancake. I prefer Woodrell, for the simple reason that his prose does not make me crave oblivion. Pancake's writing exudes a primal, all-encompassing pain; it's a freakishly intriguing body of work but not a very fun experience. Woodrell tempers the pain with stoic humor, at least; Pancake is rarely funny.

In Pancake's universe, if there is a mine, it is played out; if there is a field, it is shriveled; if there is a car, it is a wreck. People suffer black lung, cancer, brain damage, "spells." An animal will be slaughtered or a woman called a whore at least once per story. Characters can never quite escape them hills. In Woodrell's world people want to stay in the Ozarks. Some commenters on The Stories find resilience and life-affirmation in Pancake's work. This is surely not the case. The best reason to read it is to understand, to live, the levels of despair one might experience before the trigger is pulled, in a West Virginia that serves as a petri dish for all the toxins of Milton Friedman's America. The exquisite craft of Pancake's old-soul, Hemingway-informed prose makes it possible to go this deep.

Still, I don't like the stories much. They seem half-baked, or adolescent to me, for all their brilliant channeling of greater writers. More symptom than fiction.

1. The "John" was added by Pancake, the Wikipedians state, "after converting to Catholicism in his mid-20s."

2. For a writer whose last name is an oddity, to allow a thoughtless gatekeeper to choose an even odder one as his permanent "brand" seems more like an act of self-dislike than one of "celebration." As Pancake's champion both in life and posthumously, Casey seems to have avoided any darker explanations for his behaviour.

[revised after posting]

- tom moody

February 6th, 2018 at 4:43 am

Posted in books