The SynthDefs for my Christmas EP

As threatened, I have once again made some Christmas music.

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The notes in the 5 movements all come from the same pop song, but in 4 of the movements, they pass through a class I (accidentally) wrote called MidiMangler. It’s undocumented, but the constructor expects the kind of midi events that come from SimpleMIDIFile in wslib and the .p method spits out a pbind.

The instruments are some of the sample I used a couple of years ago, but the organ is new. It’s based on one from but modified to be played with a PmonoArtic.

SynthDef(\organ, {| freq = 440, gate=1, amp=0.25, pan=0 |
    // from
    var lagdur, env, saw, panner;

    lagdur = 0.4;

    saw =,, 0.8) *, Rand(0.0, 1.0)).range(0.7,0.8));

    env =, 0.7), 1, Rand(1.0, 2.0), Rand(-10.0, -5.0)), gate, doneAction:2);

    amp = / 4) * (, 0.1), lagdur) + 1)); // tremolo

    panner =,,1), env * amp);, panner);

The other instruments are the default synthdef *cough*, a Risset bell and Karplus Strong – taken directly from a help file with no changes. These are presented at the bottom for the sake of completion. The other sound is a bomb sample I found on freesound.

The video is taken from an atom bomb test video, but slowed down and stretched. I used ffmpeg to do this. The original film was 24 frames per second. I used a ffmpeg filter to create a lot of extra in-between frames and then, separately, changed the frame rate to be much slower. The original film was a bit over 20 seconds and got stretched out to 15 minutes. The really low frame rate is a bit choppy, but I think more tweening would have just increased distortion. The commands for that were:

% ffmpeg -i trees-bomb.mp4 -filter:v "minterpolate='fps=180'" 180trees.mkv
% ffmpeg -i 180trees.mkv -filter:v "setpts=33.4*PTS"

The other day, I read someone putting for the idea that apocalyptic thinking is so profoundly unhelpful as to be self-indulgent. Climate change is not going out with a bang, but a very prolonged whimper, whilst, for the duration, failing to make any significant changes. We can address it and avoid many of the worst impacts, but we need to get very serious about it immediately. If we can build thousands of expensive, terrifying bombs just in case there might be a war nobody wants, surely, we can afford to spend some of that resource averting a disaster that we know is actually coming.

SynthDef(\bell, // a church bell (by Risset, described in Dodge 1997)
    {arg freq=440, amp=0.1, dur=4.0, out=0, pan;
        var env, partials, addPartial, son, sust, delay;

        freq = freq * 2;
        sust = 4;
        amp = amp/11;
        partials =;
        delay = Rand(0, 0.001);

        //bell = SinOsc(freq);

        addPartial = { |amplitude, rel_duration, rel_freq, detune, pan=0|
          *rel_freq+detune, Rand(0, 2pi), amp * amplitude* (1 + Rand(-0.01, 0.01))), pan)
                    Env.perc(0.01, sust*rel_duration* (1 + Rand(-0.01, 0.01)), 1, -4).delay(delay), doneAction: 0))
            ).tanh /2

        //addPartial.(1, 1, 0.24, 0, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1, 1, 0.95, 0, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(0.67, 0.9, 0.64, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1, 0.65, 1.23, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.8, 0.55, 2, 0, 0); // root
        addPartial.(2.67, 0.325, 2.91, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.67, 0.35, 3.96, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.46, 0.25, 5.12, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.33, 0.2, 6.37, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));

        son = Mix(partials).tanh;
        son =, 0.06, Rand(0, 0.02));, sust * 1.01), doneAction:2);, son);
SynthDef("plucking", {arg amp = 0.1, freq = 440, decay = 5, coef = 0.1, pan=0;

    var env, snd, panner, verb;

    freq = freq + Rand(-10.0, 10.0);
    env =, decay, 0).delay(Rand(0, 0.001)), doneAction: 2);
    snd =

        maxdelaytime: 0.1,
        delaytime: freq.reciprocal,
        decaytime: decay,
        coef: coef);

    //verb =;
    panner =, pan);, panner);

12 Days of Crimbo

I had a plan in the fortnight before Christmas to write 12 songs in 12 days. I nearly made it in time!

I’ve posted all of the pieces as a free album on Bandcamp. My only request is that if you download it and can afford to, please donate to one of the listed charities, such as Crisis.

While I didn’t get twelve pieces in 12 days, each piece only got a few hours of attention. Because Christmas music tends to be tonal, I looked into more instrumental synthdefs and because of the constraints on time, I tended to borrow and adapt instead of inventing totally new sounds. I’ve not got a pretty good additive bell, based on Risset, a good karplus strong plucked sound and decent jingle bells. These shall go up shortly on the sccode site.

I used glitched jpegs as still images for each track on Bandcamp, so when I decided to also upload the tracks to youtube, I created a glitch movie maker script. It’s based on a workshop I saw Antonio Roberts do at Tate Britain. He opened up a jpeg file, typed some junk into it and then it glitched. I wrote a script to insert junk into jpegs. It first looks at the aiff, to decide how many jpegs will be needed, makes all of them, then turns them into a music video. I’ve posted it to github.

This is an example of the script’s output. All 12 pieces are up on YouTube also, if you would like to have a look.

The Holiday Rush Is On!

If you’re like me, you’ve barely started your Christmas shopping. I know it’s naughty to put it off so long, but sometimes it takes me a while to think of just the right gift. And sometimes I need deadlines for motivation. And, this is really a bit of a personality flaw. I was on a first name basis with the person responsible for assessing late fees at my uni when I was 20.
If you were thinking of getting a bespoke noise music for a Christmas gift this year, fear not, fellow procrastinator! I can deliver two more noise pieces in time for the holidays! If you want a physical disk, be warned I send them via first class post from London, so I can no longer guarantee arrivals of physical disks in time for Christmas for anyone overseas. It will probably get around England in time.
If you are ordering a digital delivery gift and aren’t sure how to give it, you could try burning your own disk or using other physical media such as a memory stick. Or I could generate a QR code you could put into a card.
Don’t delay too much longer, as I need a bit of time to make the piece and to do my own Christmas shopping!
Noise music doesn’t end with Christmas, so if you need to give a gift in January or for Valentines Day, I’ll be here to help. I’m working on some exciting plans for noise in 2015!
Bespoke noise music makes a great gift. There are only two order left in time for Christmas! Get yours in NOW!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you’d like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

On the road to Oregon

I’m on my way to Portland via car and there’s a wee bit of ice on the ground. Which is to say an epic amount. Brother Bob and I have stopped at a motel in Salem.
On my first two days back in the states, I started my day by biking on the wrong side of the street. The first day, for a few blocks until I was confused by oncoming traffic. But returning to the customs of one’s birth are never confusing for long (except when they are (i love tautologies)) and I look forward to many days of biking to wrong way in England.

Today was my first time driving a car since last July and only the second time in the last year. But I’ve got several hours under my belt from today. Brother Bob is from Los Angeles and has no experience on ice. It’s truly an alarming situation when I am considered the more winterized driver.

This area hasn’t had a significant snow storm for the last 50 years and therefore: no plows. No salt. No sand. Just bare packed ice. The blizzard was days ago and as far as I can tell, there has been no effort to clear the roads. Oregon is some sort of asinine libertarian paradise, which means the state has no resources to deal with anything. And to enhance our freedom, it’s our own personal liberty whether to use snow chains or not. For x’s sake, I want a nanny state to tell me about how to most safely use the roads. If chains are required, a bloody sign of some sort would be nice. And I swear, nobody can drive here even under the best of circumstances, so a layer of bare, packed (un salted, un-sanded, un-gritted) ice on the freeway is not helping matters.
So despite being less than 50 miles from my destination, I am spending the night in a naff hotel in the naff town of Salem. Because it’s the capital of this low-tax utopia, it is probably worse off than any other town in the state, but it’s also the southern end of the ice. So hopefully, in the morning, I’ll be able to slowly roll to a place that has heard of the idea of snow plows.
The airport here has been closed. The Amtrak stopped. Greyhound, put to sleep. This actually the only way I could have come to see my family. And despite all the many wrong pronouns, I’m sure it will all be worth it.

Coming Out for Christmas

On Christmas Eve, I had my handbell playing debut. It was only my 4th time holding them. They’re heavy percussion instruments, like a disassembled marimba or something. They’re exactly what the name implies: bells you ring by hand. I had some big ones, F4 and D#4. I feel like I’m ahead of the curve for only my 4th attempt. So far ahead, I finished the piece several bars ahead of everybody else. (It’s hard to come up with page turns that work when everybody reads the same score.)
My third time playing them was the day before, the 23rd. Since the bells were in Palo Alto, I stayed over the whole holiday in the South Bay. I came down for rehearsal and then had lunch with my dad. The rehearsal foreshadowed the performance for me. My mind wasn’t on the bells, but on coming out to dad.
I met my dad at a chinese restaurant. Sarah gave me a lift and my dad invited her to lunch also, much to my relief. After we started eating, I said that I had been thinking about things a long time and I was very happy to say that I was taking T.
My dad chewed on his noodles.
Finally he said something about how it might change my attitudes.
I said I didn’t think I would become a conservative, and then immediately regretted the way I’d said it.
No, my dad explained, I might start eating like my brother and want to consume vast amounts of meat!
I have been kind of craving protein lately . . .. (This kind of seals it for me in my research of the cultural equation where meat is masculinity. I need no more evidence.)
So he more or less didn’t really react. Sarah said it’s what she had expected. I hadn’t known what to expect. I felt weird about it and stressed for the next few hours.
After lunch, Sarah and I went up to the San Francisco zoo for Daniella’s birthday party. There’s an ice rink there and it was open into the night, even though the rest fo the zoo was closed. Sarah and I were super late, so Daniella’s friends passed the time looking for the lions, until they finally started skating and we joined them. Sarah wanted to look at sleeping animals in violation of zoo rules, but all we saw were gigantic sleeping reindeer and some chilly looking flamingoes.
(About 48 hours later, some zoo visitors got a very close look at one of the lions. Some poor kid was mauled last night by an escaped lion, right next to where we were hanging out two days previous. Sarah was perturbed to learn this on the news, but I don’t feel like we just had a brush with danger.)
The next day, Christmas eve, I was sitting in Sarah’s living room, trying to get a p5 glove to work with SuperCollider when my dad called with a question. He said I sounded terribly depressed. I said I wasn’t. He said he had a question for me. I said ok. He decided he shouldn’t ask me over the phone. I said ok. He hung up.
I spent the rest of the day worrying about what he might have wanted to ask. So when I played handbells, my mind wasn’t totally on it.
After services, Sarah, Daniella and I went to the house of Sarah’s mother and grandmother. They made Swedish pancakes for dinner. It was fantastically tasty, but extremely sugary. I got into a punchy, post-sugar mood and then we went to another xmas party and then another with a glass of wine or so for me at each.
I woke up on Christmas at the crack of noon. Oh crap, I was supposed to go to Brother Bob’s early to help with cooking. Instead my holiday threesome (Sarah, Daniella and I) rolled into Bob’s house at the same time as my dad. My brother and his wife showed up shortly thereafter. We all chatted and then Bob put me to work cooking. My dad came into the kitchen and asked to talk to me. We went out into Bob’s garage.
My dad looked me seriously in the eyes. I have a question, he said. “Are you suicidal?”
“What?” This was not what I was expecting.
“I spent some time on the internet reading about what you’re doing. I want to make sure you’re not suicidal.”
Oh!! He read statistics about unhappy closetted, non-transitioning people. My dad was worried about me. My heart felt slightly warmed and relieved. No, no, no, don’t worry about that, I said.
Ok, he said, In that case . . . “have you ever contemplated a cue ball?”
“What?” I asked. He repeated himself. I had no idea where he was going with this. “No, I can’t say I have.”
“You should ask your uncle about his grandfather.”
“He was a pool shark?!” One of them was a dentist in San Francisco about a hundred years ago. Maybe he played pool on the side? Here was some new family history.
“No” my dad said and paused in the way he does when he’s about to make a clever point. All this setup is the clearest part of the day in my mind. But the punchline? I can’t remember how he delivered it. My great grandfather was apparently very bald. That could happen to me. I can’t say I haven’t worried about going bald, but um. at least we were in familiar territory. My dad was trying to talk me out of something. He does that a lot. This had become just another mundane scheme to be discouraged. I felt great relief and my heart warmed even further. I might have smiled.
He turned serious again, bringing up health risks. He repeated a few times that he didn’t want to bury me. I assured him that we were in agreement there as I don’t especially want to be buried. He told me that no surgery was without risks, which is true. Then he told me that he thought my mom got her brain tumor from her last surgery, which was for a stomach problem. I expressed doubt on this, but he started talking about how her brain tumor was so agressive it could have dated from a time so recent to it’s discovery. He said that 90 percent of all brain tumors come from the lung getting punctured.
I was losing the thread again. Mom’s stomach thing didn’t go near her lungs . . .. Maybe he’s confused about top surgery? I told him that I didn’t think my lungs were going to get punctured. He just wanted me to be careful, he didn’t want me to die before him.
I told him that I was moving into male risk categories and that I would possibly live shorter, but not that much. I looked at the corner of the garage. “I’d rather live shorter and be happier.” I said. Then I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder. “Dad, you told me something really smart a few years ago. You said that if I put off dealing with my troubles now, they would just be worse later. And I didn’t want to hear it because of this. But now I’m doing it and I feel really good about it.”
He awkwardly turned to leave the garage. I felt profound relief at the termination of the conversation. And then I drank moderate amounts of alcohol for the rest of the evening.
While waiting for the train back to Berkeley this afternoon, I noticed that I was feeling kind of anxious and wondered if maybe I should have not decreased my zoloft. But man, if all I have from that is mild anxiousness the next day, well, I think I can manage.
I am so tired right now. Daniella asked me today how my mom would have reacted to my transitioning. She would have been extremely upset. But the brain tumor changed everything, didn’t it? I want to think that if she could possibly think anything now, that she would think that I did the best I could when she was sick. I think that makes up for a lot of things that happened before. And precludes any afterwards. So what’s there to think about what my mom might think other than that I did my best and if it wasn’t good enough, well, it was my best. She sent me an email months and months before she got really sick, before the surgery my dad blames, about how she was having memory problems. And I didn’t write back for some reason, I don’t know. (It wasn’t good enough, but it was my best.) And my dad struggles with that too. How could a quarter of somebody’s brain go bad without me noticing? It must have been sudden. It must not have been noticeable. It’s not my fault. Of course it’s not. She followed a very typical trajectory for people with brain cancer. Nobody notices until it’s really bad and then she lives for maybe six more months. What causes it? Well, what causes a tiger to escape from the zoo one day but another? Our very existence is so improbable, what’s a few near misses along the way? What’s a fluke when our whole existence is a fluke? I might have been anyone, prior to the moment of conception.
I imagine my parents, my dad in grad school, my mom no longer working, holding their baby. This impossible thing they just made, in their arms. And them, with money tight, dreaming dreams. Of what I would be. Their little girl. Only god could know what lay ahead. No mortal would ever do anything if they knew. And so I didn’t go according to plan, but what did?
Happy Holidays.


Wedding Photos are finally online. These pictures taken last August by the staff of London, Ontario’s Crystal Wedding Chapel. Note that we weren’t lying about getting Elvis to sing.

Only one person has written to say that she’ll be coming to my New Years Eve shindig. Are the rest of you (are there more of you?) just silent? I won’t be buying much beer, I guess. (No, it’s not in danger of being cancelled. Many of Ellen’s friends are coming.)


Ellen and I went down to San Jose for xmas with my family. She went willingly, god bless her. Ellen is really nifty.
We went to Brother Bob’s house. Also in attendance were: my brother Paul, my Uncle Chuck, friends of my late mother: Bunny and Seymore, my Dad (Ed) and my Dad’s um friend Danielle.
I hardly talked to my uncle. He’s doing some car racing this year, but not much and I don’t know when. Talked to my brother some. He’s not dating anybody, gave up his consulting buisiness due to a shortage of clients. He re-wried the electricity on his house.
Bunny and Seymore report (ok, mostly Bunny reporting) that they’re not well and that they haven’t done anything fun lately and have no hobbies. Seymore has a wound on his foot, which is healing. Bunny says I look so much like my mother and went on at length how angelic my mom looked on her deathbed.
the assertion of an angelic appearance is true. The progression of her ilness was such that worries and pain ceased. not that I enjoy being reminded of such things. Nor are the holidays entirely stress-free to start out with.
My dad smiled a lot. More than I’ve seen him smile for maybe . . . ever. He told several amusing stories about when he was in the army. Ellen said, “I like your dad. He’s really cool. He smiles a lot.” It was pretty cool to see him seem so happy.
Brother Bob says he attended three funerals in the last week. Distressed, but otherwise doing well, I guess. He seemed happy to have everyone over and made outstandingly good food.
the person with whom I spoke most was Danielle, who I had never met before. She is a former “Volunteer of the Year” with the Women’s Philharmonic. She goes to the SF symphony regularly with my Dad. My Dad has season tickets. She is also Yoyo Ma’s Masseuse, something she talked about at length, relating how she sent tapes of farm animal sounds to his children. And in what circumstances the farm animal sounds were listened to. If you need the dirt on farm animal sounds in the Ma household, she’s got it.
she’s a new music fan, which is certainly a good thing. the world needs more fans of new music. Especially ones that buy CDs. I got her a CD of Meredith Monk and was worried that she would already have it, but she wasn’t familiar with Monk, so I was safe.
She also talked for a long long time about how her deceased husband was a Southern Baptist minister and how fundamentalists are spiritually awesome, even if polically bad. She’s a catholic and a fundie. She doesn’t like progressive churches because in those churches god is like Santa Claus: always good. She helped out with Billy Graham’s crusade and helped organize three of his local stops. I asked her, “what does spirituality mean if it’s working for evil?”
My brother stood up suddenly. My dad asked him why he was standing up. My brother said, “it’s 9:00.”
Danielle considered the evidence against Graham and conceeded that he was indeed working for evil. She then started talking about the bad way the Southern Baptists treated women and started talking a lot about how some women in the 70’s were so committed to feminism that they actually came out as lesbians but, even though they tried, they just couldn’t bring themselves to . . .
My Dad stood up. It’s a bit after 9:00.
I said. “Indeed. some people are bisexual and some people are not.” And thought, “I can’t beleive I just said ‘bisexual’ in front of my Dad.'”
Danielle started explaining that queer issues (she didn’t say “queer” she said “homosexual” as some would-be liberals are wont to do) were even more important to her than women’s issues with the Baptists.
I stood up, explaining that while I did tend to run later than the rest of my family, it was time for the 9:00 standing.
She went on further to me about women who just couldn’t bring them selves to. First talking to me (when I suddenly got very interested in the pomegranites that were out around Bro Bob’s house) and then at length to Ellen who very politely nodded.
Ellen is so cool
And so, Danielle seems very nice and certainly has interesting things to say. Plus she’s a maseusse and my Dad seems happy, which is very good. I’m happy to see him smile so much.

A few days of sun and rain and de-snailing and de-fungussing (is there one or two ‘s’es in fungusing?) improved the state of my xmas tree greatly. It’s in the house dropping needles everywhere, even flinging them across the room. The cats keep trying to explore it, but the dog wants to explore them, so they’re not interacting with it. They probably think it’s a pine scented litterbox. Or is it fir scented? When your father-in-law is a forester, knowing the diference between pine and fir trees can be very important.
I was putting up ornaments yesturday and realized that my mom gave me almost all of them. The last candle that was burning when she was alive burned out yesturday. The holidays suck suck suck. Oh my, do they suck. If you see Santa, please tell him where he can stick his holiday cheer.

I went out to look at the tree again this afternoon. It smells funny. I’m hoping it’s just the orange gaurd anti-bug stuff and we can just wash it off. At least there’s no sign of the snails. I can’t figure out where they might have gone though. The tree is not touching anything and the pot is in a saucer thingee that has a couple of inches of water in it from the last rain. So either the snails are all drowned trying to escape, they jumped for it, or they’re hiding and waiting for their chance at the Coffees of the World gift-pack.
Earlier I described a mushroom as “evil looking.” It’s joined some sort of axis of evil with the snails. The mushroom is two or three inches tall. The stem of it is yellow and textured like a banana slug. The cap is grayish-brownish like American Cheese that’s been sitting in your fridge for too many years with what looks like spots of white mold growing on it. (Can mushrooms mold? Aren’t they already fungus?) No one would go out in the forrest and get confused mistaking this thing for an edible mushroom. Unless it were hallucinegenic or something. (Lord I hope I have not just described myself as growing hallucinegenic mushrooms in my blog.) It just looks poisonous. And dank. And too much in the reality of midwinter festivals like Christmas, but not enough in the spirit.
Christi’s cat is the enemy of all plant life. She chews on everything. We had to put our Poinsettia outside because she was eating the whole thing (and somebody heard a rumor they might be toxic). Would she smiliarly chew on an evil mushroom? And if it were hallucinegenic, would she lead to her death from the highest point in the house, believing she could fly? (I’ve seen anti-drug videos. I know she would have a bad trip or leap to her death if she were tripping.)
If we had a pet Chicken, it would eat all the snails.

The rain around here finally let up, so I decided it was time to drag the Christmas Tree back indoors. It’s a potted tree, now on it’s third year of life with us. Last year we seem to have pushed it too close to a wall, so I discovered all the low limbs on that side are dead and being eaten by snails. It’s covered in snails. Weird little ones. I sprayed the tree with orange oil to get rid of them, but they’re still swarming
(Do snails swarm?). Anyway, it’s weird. Who ever heard of snails attacking a connifer? Maybe banana slugs might. So now the tree is all sticky with orange anti-bug stuff and snail slime of dead and wounded snails (and the little bastards that got away). And I noticed that there is a weird evil-looking mushroom growing on the wall side (henceforth refered to as the dark side) of the tree. I’m all for nature and the slithery slimy poisoness things that lurk in the forrests, each of them playing a major role on in the eco system. I’m even ok with them lurking on my nice patio provided they don’t kill too many of my plants or my dog or anything. But dragging a million snails, bettles, bugs, things that creep in the night and fairy-tale looking evil mushrooms into the house and putting christams presents under there is a differnt story. What if we wake up Christmas morning and gather around the tree only to find the Coffees of the World set I’ve given to Christi is now swarming with slimy snails? Yuck. I’m hoping that the short hours of winter sunlight falling on the now-exposed dark side will chase the slimy creatures away. And another day of rain should wash off the sticky orange oil and perhaps the sticky snail slime. (Can’t you picture this? Precious homemade ornaments in the family for years covered in snail slime because one year the latte liberal of the family decided what we really needed was a live tree complete with live snails!) Arg! This is a disaster! I should spray the tree with my moonshine-sih meade! I used to have a situation with unwanted compost bin inhabitants. Then I had a batch of beer get kind of funny, so I poured the bottles into the compost bin. The microrganisms in the bin were extremely pleased. The creepy crawly things were not. Anyway, all of this explains why the tree has been looking kind of sick all year.