Archive for June, 2016

Westercon and Clallam Bay Comicon

Who’s going to be at Westercon in Portland? That’s this weekend! Anna has a share of a dealer table, so you’ll find us at least some of the time in the dealer room – at both conventions, actually, because that’s how it works out sometimes.

To be honest, we weren’t originally planning on Westercon, but a bunch of friends from afar are showing up, so we decided hey, let’s go for it.

About the only new thing here aside from my Overwatch addiction – my username is solarbirdy, surprise – is that I got a 6m long MIDI cable so I could try to get the electric piano’s MIDI output over to the desk.

See, I’d got this keyboard only after I’d bought a very large MIDI-only keyboard controller (because reasons), and said MIDI-only keyboard controller – a Roland A-30 – is nice, but it’s huge and kind of a pain in the ass to set up for small things. I have to get out the ironing board to use as a support, it’s wider than the desk, etc, etc, etc.

But I had some idea that the electric piano’s MIDI didn’t work, and it didn’t when I tried it, but I dug out how to reset its internals, and did so, and that made the MIDI port come back online, which was great, except that also turned on this auto-accompaniment feature which takes away like a third of the keyboard and wow it is terrible, like a parody of piano music, terrible in that oh-god-oh-god-how-do-I-stop-this kind of way, in that either-this-has-to-go-or-I-do kind of way, in that I need to stop this right now or there are going to be detonations kind of way, and I’m just saying we got unnecessarily close to tire explosions before I was able to dig out how to turn that shit off.


So, yeah, basically, it’s been quiet. See you at Westercon or Clallam Bay? Hope so! I may nerf you, but I still love you.

field recording is more than it used to be

This is a good article on field recording. I don’t mean that in a technical sense of the mechanics of field recording – it’s not a DIY or howto article – but in the aesthetics and the artistic intent.

Here’s an example track they included; it’s really neat. Give it a listen.

65 woman-fronted metal bands Decibel can’t bother talking about

This is kind of a guest post, a sharing – with permission – of a list of female-fronted metal bands that Decibel magazine can’t seem to bother talking about. It was assembled specifically in response to both an older article ranking bands, and a more recent idiotic article claiming that “social justice warriors” are destroying the underground metal scene. (Other metal magazines and websites are not impressed either. See also.)

So, courtesy Ian, let’s go down this list of 65 female-fronted metal bands of at least equal quality to their d00d counterparts. Why don’t you know the majority of them? Editorial choice. Period.

From A to F we have: After Forever (symphonic metal, Netherlands), The Agonist (metalcore, US), Amaran (power metal, Sweden), Amberian Dawn (symphonic metal, Finland), Angtoria (blackened symphonic metal, Sweden), Arch Enemy (death metal, Sweden/Germany), Asrai (gothic metal, Netherlands), Astarte (all female black metal, Greece), Ava Inferi (art/doom metal, Portugal), Battle of Mice (post-metal, US), Battlelore (power metal, Finland), Beautiful Sin (power metal, Belgium), Benediction (gothic metal, UK), Birthday Massacre (Hot Topic metal, US), Blood Ceremony (doom, US), ChthoniC (black metal, co-vocals, Taiwan), Delain (pop-gothic metal, Netherlands), Diathra (doom/gothic metal, Belarus), Doro (power metal, Germany), Eyes Set to Kill (metalcore, US), Eths (nu metal, French), Epica (gothic progressive metal, Netherlands) Evanescence (pop-goth metal, US), Eyes of Eden (symphonic metal, Germany), Fairyland (symphonic speed metal, France)

F to L: Firebrand Super Rock (heavy metal, Scotland), Forever Slave (symphonic gothic metal, Spain), Gallhammer (terror-doom/black/crust metal, Japan) The Gathering (Progressive metal, Netherlands), Holy Moses (thrash, Germany), Kittie (alt.metal, Canada), Flyleaf (nu metal, US), Hammers of Misfortune (doom, US), Iwrestledabearonce (spazz metal, US), I:Scintilla (industrial rock/metal, US), In This Moment (metalcore, US), Jarboe (unclassifiable, US), Jex Thoth (extreme doom, US), Julie Christmas (alternative metal, US), Kylesa ( female guitar/ vocals, sludge, US), Lacuna Coil (pop/death metal, Italy), Landmine Marathon (death metal, US), Leaves’ Eyes (symphonic metal, German-Norweigan), Lita Ford (glam metal, US), Ludicra (shared-vocals/black metal, US),

And finally, M to W: Madder Mortem (progressive metal, Norway), Made Out of Babies (post-hardcore/noise metal, US), Melencolia Estatica (one-woman black metal, Italy), Nashville Pussy (camp peckerwood metal, US), Nightwish (symphonic metal, Finland), Octavia Sperati (gothic/doom, Norway), Otep (nu/feminist art metal, US), Penumbra (gothic-progressive metal, France), Pythia (heavy metal, UK), Rolo Tomassi (mathcore, UK), Saros (death/doom, US), Sirenia (symphonic metal, Finland), Subrosa (unclassifiable, US), The Devil’s Blood (Satanic classic metal/rock w/ female vox, Netherlands), The Project Hate MCMXCIX (Sweden, melodic death/art metal), Tristania (symphonic doom/goth metal, Norway), Unsun (pop-goth-metal, Poland), Within Temptation (symphonic metal, Netherlands), Walls of Jericho, metalcore, US).

You’re welcome.

pickup chamber with animated spectral analysis

I’ve been playing with that ‘added pressure adds bass response’ idea, for use with these piezo pickups. I made a little wooden chamber that would let me add light pressure, as with the bridge pickup design. It would be held down with a clamp for testing, but would isolate that pressure from the piezo itself.

Anyway, I made a bunch of recordings, two for control, and eight with a range of pressure in the chamber. The controls were made with the pickup taped to the front of my zouk with double-sided tape (standard attachment), and with the pickup directly clamped to the front (also a standard attachment) and come first and second in the recording. The other eight were with the pickup in the test chamber, with increasing amounts of pressure on the crystal, applied by inserting paper as seen here:

With thin cardboard and two sheets of paper

Note again that the clamp is not adding pressure to the disc in any way.

Audio samples in a single mp3, here. There is some extra noise in these recordings; I was trying the modular approach again and that’s the result. I think the TRS connectors are inherently noisy. But that’s a separate matter.

I also ran spectrographic analysis on each recording, and combined those into a single animated gif that cycles through the recordings in order. Here’s the key for both. The gif is repeating, so each frame is labelled in the upper left.

 1: taped to top
 2: clamped directly to top
 3: in chamber, no paper
 4: in chamber, thin cardboard (0.46mm)
 5: in chamber, cb+1 sheet  (+0.11mm)
 6: in chamber, cb+2 sheets (+0.21mm)
 7: in chamber, cb+3 sheets (+0.31mm)
 8: in chamber, cb+4 sheets (+0.42mm)
 9: in chamber, cb+5 sheets (+0.52mm)
10: in chamber, cb+6 sheets (+0.63mm)

You’ll note in both the graphs and the audio that bringing in the chamber at all, even with no additional crystal pressure, caused a big drop in high-end oversensitivity, and boosted the low-end. That was interesting; I have suspected for a while that the crystal side of the disc would actually be better as a source-facing element, but there are physical issues to doing that, since the wires have to attach on that side.

Adding pressure continued to boost low-end response through test 7, without inhibiting high-end response. After that, I think additional pressure began to overcome the benefits, and you see a return to a more midrange-heavy sound – though in all cases, I think it’s better than either traditional mount.

This is consistent with tests made in the bridge pickup from last week, and reminds me of a diagramme I saw of a period crystal microphone that implied the crystals themselves would be set up forward-facing.

Anyway, data! And lots of it, for lots of your crystal/piezo experimental needs.

on the (dis)united kingdom: brexit, scexit, and irexit

I was up all yesterday and last night watching votes come in on Brexit, and I’m as surprised as the next supervillain, or, for that matter, the next Briton who has been googling exactly what is the EU, anyway? after the vote.

I posted a bunch on my old LJ/DW account pair, which you can read here if you want, but that’s just tracking financial reaction. I’m really thinking about just the UK, at the moment, and what happens politically now. In that, I’m assuming in this that the EU manages to stay together without the UK, which will certainly be the number one project of everyone over there for the next five years.

Scotland will treat this as an abrogation of promises made in 2014 to entice it to stay in the UK. A big one of those was continued and certain EU membership.

Scotland, of course, voted overwhelmingly – and across all of the country – to stay. Northern Ireland voted soundly to stay as well, but less overwhelmingly, and doesn’t have a recent close referendum on leaving. Both the SNP and Sinn Féin have called for new referenda on separation, and everyone’s treating the Scottish call more seriously – including, I note, the Scots.

But I’m not sure that’s the right analysis. I think it’ll come down to borders.

The biggest question in both cases comes down to free movement. Within the EU, you have free movement; border controls are not really a big issue for Europeans.

But outside the UK, there are, of course, plenty of border controls. If those controls reappear, I think Northern Ireland tells the UK to fuck off. The smart thing for Sinn Féin might be to wait ’till those border controls start showing up.

It won’t be like this, because that’s Africa and the racism is fierce.
But it’ll be controls of some sort, and this is the image to use.

And if those border controls reappearing are part of Scottish independence, I can’t but wonder if that means the Scots will stay.

Scotland and England have had free borders for a very, very long time. In the last vote, that was brought up, but you’d’ve had EU co-membership, making the issue moot. In a new vote… not so much.

So I think they might well have it backwards. Irish reunification, yes; Scottish independence, no.

And, of course, across all of it, ample chances in destabilisation. Supervillains and day-traders, be on alert, opportunity goddamn knocks.

it’s not a lair, really, but…

This building isn’t a Lair. It’s not. It might be a retirement villa for the successful supervillain, though – I know I’d be happy to have it. But no matter how you classify it, it’s lair architecture, in oh so many important ways.

And it’s unremittingly lovely, and I want to stress most strongly, this is not a drawing, this is a real, actual, extant place, no matter how much it looks like some 1960s futurist vision, possibly in space. This exists.

This, like the previous, is also actually real.

So is this.

Here’s the listing. When that goes away, here’s an article that I hope will last longer. Lots more photos. Enjoy.

the bridge pickup improved

A couple of months ago, I tried making a Cortado-based bridge pickup for the octave mandolin. It worked okay – better than the ad-hoc clamp arrangement I’d bodged together for last January’s Conflikt show, but not what I’d hoped. It was a lot more stable, but still needed lots of equalisation help.

I’ve built a new one, with a new design! It’s much better. Here’s an mp3 of the previous design alternated with the new design, on octave mandolin – no eq of any kind, no effects, just raw output from the old design vs. the new. (Old design is first.)

While working with the previous attempts, I’d figured out what really improved things was the right kind of pressure on the piezo disc itself. My thumb was pretty optimal, but you can’t exactly do that and play at the same time. The clamp wasn’t bad, but it was slippery and awkward and actually came off on me during rehearsal, so I didn’t trust it. Most piezo-style pickups live under the bridge of an instrument, but you can’t do that the usual way with this one, it’d be destroyed by the pressure.

So I went about trying to fix that.

First was to take the bridge plate and add a wide, flat channel – one wide enough specifically to contain the entirety of the Cortado piezo element. I made it by wrapping sandpaper around a flat piece of metal, and scrubbing back and forth to excavate out the wood I needed removed.

This is actually a new bridge plate.
But it’s made of the same material, so no real diff.

You need to sand away enough wood to make room for the piezo and all the tape wrappings, and some extra. But you do not need to sand away enough for the wires soldered to the disc – you want to avoid those entirely.

Keep sanding away wood until the bridge slides freely over both the new channel and the piezo, like so:

What this makes is basically a wide clamping chamber around the pickup element itself. It doesn’t do any clamping yet; it just creates a space for it. At this stage, in fact, if you hook it up and try it, there’ll no change in sound from the previous version.

(In fact, the “old design” recording I used in the sample is actually this version at this point in the process. I verified that it sounded exactly the same as the previous version, as predicted, which means I’d re-established the old baseline. Important for science!)

But now, of course, I have a clamping chamber! We just need something to apply pressure.

So what’s our clamp? Pieces of paper. Post-it notes, to be specific, just because they were handy. The right number of sheets in this exact case turned out to be four.

Five also worked, and did not feel like too much pressure inserting the papers under the bridge. But it did sound like a bit much compression, tonally, so I went back to four.

(Here’s that sample track again, alternating old design and new, old first.)

The beauty of this is that since it takes several thicknesses of paper, and since that paper be changed out without taking apart the pickup, you can use any number you like. You could even adjust the tone on the fly.

Interestingly, the pickup didn’t even get quieter with more paper. I’d worried about that, but didn’t need to. In fact, adding more sheets made it louder, meaning that the pressure is not so much “damping down treble” as it is pulling up bass. Which, in turn, makes me wonder if it’s not so much “resonating better” as moving the zero/no-vibration point of the crystals’ charge state from all-electrons-in or all-electrons out (doesn’t matter which) to a more middle-range position, which…

…hm. Actually, that’s interesting. No, that’s really interesting. That would explain why the pickup got louder with more clamping, rather than muffled or…

…huh. This is an hypothesis. If I’m right, I can make my next crystal mic substantially more modern sounding, by enclosing the piezo in a small clamping chamber, which is, like this, attached to the resonating disc of the microphone, and possibly…

…possibly I should take my SRMD meds now or I’m going to be up until 5am next Thursday playing with crystals and possibly taking over the moon again, aren’t I? Yeah. I am. Okay. BRB.

So. Yeah! I’m super-pleased with this result. I’m also thinking that maybe this could be used on other items that have flat surfaces which need pickups – like, a piano, maybe – and instead of the bridge, as here, you use a weighted flat bar of some sort across the pickup plate to create the clamping chamber. Then you’re off with tonal control via paper again. I have no need for this functionality at the moment, but it strikes me as legitimate nonetheless.

And most importantly for me, I now have a much more conventional DIY pickup for the octave mandolin. Here y’go, doc – just plug ‘er in, and we’re off.

Much better.

another weekend of noodling with electrics

I have some mics that react badly to phantom power, so I made a phantom power blocking took. I had an old Smarties block handy, so I made it out of that.

It seemed appropriate. ^_^

I also went at improving an effects box I built a while ago called the Trash-o-Matic 68000. You would have heard it on Daleks Behaving Badly (Dalek Boy), a joke track that really needs a shorter edit, because it takes way too long to build up.

The best part of this box is the Berthold Ray effect circuit that I legit invented. That must have happened in a pretty heavy Science-Related Memetic Disorder attack (or spark hyperfocus, if you’re a Girl Genius reader), because I was trying to figure out how the hell it worked and I am here to tell you that this is some serious-business Oscillation Overthruster bullshit right here.

It’s basically a multi-store self-reducing sampler feedback effect with frequency shift that’s using the device’s amplifier as a delay loop and sending the amplified samples back to the input via a combination of the internal system ground and negative phase of a balanced signal lead. Both matter. I… don’t entirely know why.

Anyway, the whole thing is noisy as hell, and much of that is the platform I was building onto, and I was hoping to fix that. I was able to reduce noise levels somewhat – no, that’s unfair, meaningfully, it’ll be easier to gate out noise now – but it’s still buzzy as hell.

I’m kind of interested in seeing if I can re-implement the Berthold Rays in a less trashy environment. Sure, it’s fun in this mess of noise and grind and crunch, but it’d be nice to have in a cleaner box as well. Maybe I’d use it more then.

I’ve never used it for music before, but here’s a little bit of noodling I call “Broken Music Box, Found After a Fire,” played on Irish Bouzouki and run through Trash-O-Matic voice 6, with full Berthold Ray attack:

three-gear meshes that actually work

A nice little bit of fun on Friday. You’ll see, pretty often, illustrations of gears for some sciencey or engineering-invoking illustration or logo, and they’ll be all shiny and pretty and stuff, right?

Problem is, those gears can’t turn. They’re wedged together. Play with it in your head, you’ll see one gear is forced to turn in two directions at the same time, and of course can’t.

So Numberphile – who has a youtube channel – decided to come up with some three-gear systems that actually work. They’re really cool. Enjoy:

not so much a primary lair, but…

A new lair is on the market! Yes, it’s small, might be a good starter lair for the aspiring supervillain, but I’m really thinking more a… rural redoubt, perhaps. And it’s got extra bedroom space for the minions you might bring along.

As I understand it, the Tesla Death Ray tower behind the lair is included, so that’s definitely added value there. A starting supervillain wanting to use this as a primary lair should convert it to a shield dome emitter, but, of course, that goes without saying.

Not Fancy, But Strong – that’s all rebar and poured concrete!

Features include a spacious meeting room for discuss your plans.
Note the built-in control panel by the couch –
I presume that’s for the ejector chairs that fling your enemies into the fire pit.

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