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Plague Diagram: Evidence

First two weeks of sales have been doing well. I’m unloading to European distribution and will keep some for shows and the website. Vinyl and shirts are still available from me, visit PlagueDiagram.com

A few local stores are carrying Plague Diagram – If you’re in Chicago its the best and cheapest way to grab the beautiful 180 gram and clear vinyl. Some more stores have expressed interest in carrying a few copies and they’ll be announced when they’re carrying it.

Plague Diagram

Check the metal sections in these Chicago stores:
Reckless Records – Milwaukee Ave Location
Bucket O’ Blood

Seattle:
Wall of Sound

Europe:
Toolbox – They’ll be in stock in the coming weeks.

Richie Hawtin interview on Plastikman Arkives

Trash_Audio NAMM 2011

Between our chaotic time in LA, putting this video together and the Plague Diagram release, my brain is a giant pile of shit. Therefore my description will be limited to: NAMM is a boring date. NAMM likes to talk about itself, isn’t that attractive and expects you to front the bill. Trash_Audio plays along by happily getting it drunk but instead of banging NAMM, we put it in a clown outfit and dump it in some random alley. Thanks go out to Scott for letting us invade his home!

Plague Diagram – OUT NOW!

It has been an incredible amount of work to get to this point and I’m proud to announce that Plague Diagram is now out!! Pre-Orders got shipped out today.

The album is free to download, has a $3 Hi-Def download option, is available on 180 gram, clear vinyl (limited edition of 500) and there is a sick shirt – all physical orders come with stickers. I’m partial to the vinyl release as it was the reason the album was held up for a few months and it sounds sick – lots of clear highs, sub bass and transients that punch at your chest! Not to mention, the vinyl edition is beautiful in its minimalistic design. Also with the vinyl purchase, I’ll pass over the vinyl digital masters if you request it in your order. The video below is of the assembly process.

This is a 100% independent release, having no help from labels or outside funding. Any promotion, interviews or help would be appreciated as I’m only one person. Contact info@surachai.org for inquiries.

Plague Diagram Notes
Isolation (Featuring Alessandro Cortini, Richard Devine, Otto von Schirach)
Ashes (Featuring Nordvargr, Andre Sanabria)
Void (Featuring Otto von Schirach)
No Names (Featuring Richard Devine)

Artwork – Bridget Driessen
Digital Mastering – James Cigler
Vinyl Mastering – Shawn Hatfield
Devised by Surachai Sutthisasanakul

Plague Diagram

Aalto By Madrona Labs

For the past few years I haven’t really been interested nor following softsynths. Because of the versatility of my modular system and the reluctance to click and drag knobs – I’ve been avoiding softsynths like I avoid being in the sun. This has changed! Madrona Labs has created Aalto, a softsynth unlike anything I’ve used and heard before. It’s refreshing to sit on a plane and wish it was longer so you could continue to work on a patch! Also it’s cheap if you want to compare it to other softsynths, only $99! So support the small independent company and get it!

Below Surachai interviews Randy Jones about Aalto but first here is Richard providing an example of some of its capabilities using 3 instances of Aalto in a session.

Aalto Virtual Synth – Buchla Forest Patch from Richard Devine on Vimeo.

What are some synthesizers that you prefer and draw inspiration from?
Anything that’s a good instrument. I have had a lot of synths over the years, some more inspiring than others. My all time favorites would have to be the Arp 2600 and the Oberheim 4-voice and the MS-20. And Minimoog. And the Polymoog for sheer wondrous insanity. Oh yeah, an honorable mention for the SH-101. I guess at this point in my life I find myself trying to sort of put all my gear crushes into perspective and think about what constitutes a really good instrument. The sound of a Polymoog is awesome, there’s nothing quite like it. But, you know, it breaks and it takes up half your studio.

The little SH-101 doesn’t scream “awesome” at you when you first play it, it just kind of does its thing and the sounds sit nicely in a mix, music tends to come out. And I’ve had two and never had one break on me in any way. That’s important.

But mostly what’s inspiring me day to day is the Soundplane instrument we’ll be finishing this year. It’s going to make a whole new level of expressive playing beyond the keyboard much more accessible.

I hear the Buchla comparison often and while its the closest softsynth I’ve used that has similar features, how do you feel when people jump to that comparison?
Well, I put that comparison out there explicitly. Aalto is definitely inspired by certain things that Don Buchla designed. The first and most obvious way is a couple of kinds of sounds it makes, the low pass gate / vactrol “plonk” and the timbre control of the VCO. The work that Morton Subotnick did with the Buchla—Silver Apples, Touch, Four Butterflies and so on—is really inspiring composition made with these very vital, organic analog sounds. And I wanted some way to make similar sounds with my main tool, my computer.

Now you might say, why try to replicate something from the past? Why not make new kinds of sounds? And that’s definitely important. But if you want to have a musical dialogue, the way one composition responds to another one over time, to celebrate what you are inspired by and make something new with that, you have to be able to share a sonic language. You take an element X from someone whose music you are responding to and flip it, make it your own. But if element X is expensive or unobtainable, it’s hard to have the conversation.

So basically, I like certain Buchla noises and I wanted a way to make them. Really those noises were the start of the project. Fulfilling my own gear lust with math and programming, in a way. I spent one year of part time work just getting the oscillator and gate right. From there I added things that seemed right to make Aalto its own instrument. It makes a small subset of the sounds that the Buchla 259 does, the ones that I could do technically and that were important to me. I’m careful to point out that if you really want to make Buchla sounds you have to get a Buchla.

The filter is Oberheim SEM all the way, because I love the way that instrument sounds. It’s a breath of fresh air when you’ve been listening to Moog style filters. I had a four-voice that I actually sold to fund my development. But before that I recorded its filters with sawtooths and with noise running thorugh them, over the whole range of settings. Then I did A/B tests and tweaked my DSP algorithm until I could not tell the difference anymore. Yeah, this took a while.

The waveguide / delay was actually inspired by a Live patch that Robert Henke showed me. He had a feedback patch going, with an EQ and a waveshaper in it. He had the system tweaked so that all these wild sounds were coming out of it: horns, flutes and so on. Unlike anything you can do with Live’s instruments. Of course, you can’t do this patch with analog circuits, because you have no way of precisely controlling a delay over that range, precisely controlling its frequency response, etc.

Design-wise, I think Aalto’s dials turned out really well and are a unique feature. Essentially they are an oscilloscope and knob rolled into one. The wiggly line you see in the dial is actually an accurate representation of the last 30th of a second or so of signal, mapped to the same radial coordinate system that the pointer is on. These are actually influenced by Max/MSP’s multislider object, which I think is a great design.

There are several reasons I dislike softsynths and you seemed to have addressed the majority. I don’t like menu/page diving – I love the fact that everything is available on the panel, especially the patch bay. What inspired the design and layout of this instrument?

Just that, it’s a performance instrument and everything should be right there. Switching pages or diving through menus are not musical kinds of activities, they’re more office work kinds of activities. That’s not how I want to play music.

I don’t know if I can keep being this much of a hard-ass in terms of design, but with Aalto I completely stuck to my rule: every control that affects the sound is visible, all the time. That makes it more playable than any other software I know.

Another issue I dislike on softsynths is that some of them try to do too much, they try to be a polyphonic/monophonic all-in-one synthesizer that not only is overwhelming but very uninspiring. While ‘limited’ isn’t the right word to use for the Aalto – a sense of selection and harmony seems to emanate from the components. How did you select the modules?

I tried to keep the number of controls to a minimum, to make a set that you could learn intimately. Even if a knob is not one you’re using, if you can’t remember what it does, you have to think about it. I’m trying to reduce the cognitive load required to use the interface so that the player’s brain can be full of music. And then on the other hand with a synth you have the goal that you want to make a wide variety of sounds. So I tried to make a small collection of modules that would not change, but that could be used together in many different ways. It’s a fun balancing act. You see good statements of this kind of design in the Arp 2600 and the Buchla Music Easel.

The sound of Aalto is unlike any other softsynth I’ve used. Reaktor is the closest comparison I can make in terms of high quality output but even then – there is something organic/ unpredictable and ‘warm’ about the Aalto. Are there specific sound aesthetic sound you were trying to achieve?

Organic is a way of describing lots of sounds I like that seem to be missing from the world of softsynths. I was going for sounds I liked, sounds you would want to play, sounds that sit well in a mix. That last is really important. People flip out when they hit one key and a synth makes some insane poem from Mars, and that can be inspiring. But as you do more production you realize it’s important to have sounds that play well with others.

Aalto is pretty heavy on the CPU and what you get in return is a lack of audible aliasing. Aliasing is what makes most digital synths sound bad. Basically any interesting digital processing you do will tend to cause aliasing. It can come from the raw waveform an oscillator puts out, which is the most obvious place, and also from the envelopes, the filter, and from multiplying signals that are themselves alias-free. The fundamental reason people think analog sounds better, and they’re usually right, is that it doesn’t alias. When you make an alias-free digital synth, people think it sounds analog. Really it just sounds good.

Adding interesting distortion without aliasing is particularly hard to do digitally, still a research topic. I came up with a new twist which is how I’m implementing the waveshape control in the oscillator. Since the sine is generated from a simple calculation, and the saw and the square from the sine, the whole thing sounds really alive. No wavetables anywhere.

What features are you especially proud of? I love this instrument for its non-musical capabilities. Keeping the gate open while creating a patch is infinitely useful if you don’t want to a self running patch.

Yeah, right? I can do this with my MS20– why does every softsynth have to sleep until you send it a MIDI note?

The think I’m happiest with is probably the ease of patching. I wanted to encourage people to make their own patches by making it very easy to connect signals and very clear what’s happening when you do.

Even though it’s such a simple thing, I’m also really happy with the patch sharing. You can copy a patch to your clipboard in a plain-text format, so you can email it to a friend, post it to a forum, whatever, then anyone can paste it right into their copy of Aalto. There are a few people on the Madrona Labs forums sharing patches already, and someone is working on a random patch generator — I can’t wait to see what happens with that.

Madrona Labs Aalto

Sonic State’s NAMM Videos

Trash_Audio is glad that Sonic State’s motto is, “news first and fastest headlines from the high tech music world” because well, lets put it this way: If there was a 100 meter race between audio websites, Trash_Audio would be drunk, trying to talk to your girlfriend and wearing a parachute while Sonic State was in some other country winning the race. Sometimes it’s better to leave it for the go-getters.

Tip Top Audio shows off the new case!

Make Noise’s Phonogene

Livewire is BACK!

4ms Matrix Mixer and

Sonic State NAMM Videos

Tip Top Audio – Happy Ending Kit

Tip Top Audio has now given people no excuse to dive into the modular world. At an incredible price tag of $149, a full 3U row of space and the best power the modular world has to offer – this is absolutely the cheapest way of getting a professional brand name rack.

Because of the angle of the ears on the The Happy Ending Kit it can be rack mounted or used as a desktop without switching anything out. I couldn’t imagine a better time than now to enter a world of incredible aural possibilities and serious debt. Like a smart drug dealer, Tip Top Audio gets you into the world for cheap – gives you a taste then you’ll be chasing the modular dragon for life. I claim no responsibility for the inevitable financial ruin you’ll find yourself in. I’m just a messenger.

Tip Top Audio Happy Ending Kit

Richard Devine – Official Contributor

Richard has a twitter feed that the best audio websites can’t hang with, talks to me everyday about things that end up on Trash_Audio, and is Asian enough to fill in for me for any public event – We here at Trash_Audio have decided to make him a guest contributor to our site.

There is no one else on the planet that has more experience with vast amounts of audio equipment than Richard and I personally trust him above anyone else when looking for opinions for gear. He has been part of Trash_Audio since the beginning by letting us interview him and always supporting us. He also happens to be one of our best friends so I guess we just have to deal with him.

We’ll be getting information before anyone else and first access to his videos and articles. Also we have compromising video footage of him that we’re holding ransom until he fulfills our demands. While we don’t use everything Richard tweets about, I suggest you check out everything he posts.

Everyone welcome Richard Devine to Trash_Audio!

Richard Devine on Trash_Audio

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All photos by Halfanese. It’s his birthday, wish him a happy birthday.

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