You’re So Special (Not)

I have a Facebook friend who is a sincere and very loving Christian. He likes to post inspirational messages. If perchance he posts something I can agree with, I make a point of telling him so. I would never get into a religious wrangle with him, because he’s too nice a person.

Today he posted this quote from Malcolm Muggeridge: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” I suggested, mildly enough, that I thought this was a bit self-aggrandizing — a bit lacking in humility. To my surprise, he and one of his friends defended the point that Muggeridge was making.

After meditating on it for a few minutes, I’ve decided that this is one of the defining flaws of Christianity. Certainly not the only flaw, but a more important one than I had heretofore considered.

It would appear that many Christians sincerely believe that the entire Universe is about us — about you and me and the rest of the human crew. There’s God, who created the whole thing, and we humans are his super-duper special creation, with whom he is uniquely concerned. The rest of the Universe exists solely as a backdrop for the giant morality play that unfolds here among us. God’s primary concern, in all of Creation, is to guide us in making the moral choices of which he approves. Everything else is of secondary concern, at most.

I think that sums up Muggeridge’s view. Entire galaxies, spinning in the heavens, exist not in their own right but solely and entirely as illustrations for our benefit of God’s infinite power or sense of beauty.

On alternate Thursday afternoons, from 2:00 to 4:00, I have a stab at believing in God. One of the things I’ve concluded is that if there is such an entity (a proposition that Read more

Skip the Voltage

Here’s the hard truth about analog modular synthesizers. As much as I’m attracted to them, they’re sorely limited in all sorts of ways. Also expensive.

For the last few days, while working with the Buchla Skylab, I’ve been contemplating what we might call process music — music in which tone production is sort of ongoing. Perhaps influenced by the composer/performer while it plays, or perhaps entirely automated, but that’s a less significant criterion.

This notion inspired me to put together a little piece called “Jungle Nights” in my computer using Csound:

I won’t claim this is a terrific piece of music. I’m not even sure it’s finished — I have some more thoughts about how to improve it. But it illustrates fairly well the idea of music as process.

The thing is, you couldn’t do this piece using the Skylab, not even if you cheated and added an outboard reverb and delay. The main tone and the drumming you couldn’t even come close to. The hissing noises and the little tone bursts could be Read more

A Reasonable Debate

Today I got embroiled in one of those pointless, demeaning, infuriating political discussions on Facebook. I can usually hold my own, but I started to feel ganged up on. There were three of them and only one of me, so I had to pull back, take a deep breath, and collect my thoughts. In any case, the one-sentence comeback style that predominates on Facebook is not conducive to reasoned discussion.

In an attempt (perhaps forlorn) to elevate the debate, I feel I should lay out the political and social situation as I understand it. Then, the next time one of these discussions is in the offing, I can simply say, “Please go read my blog. I’ve addressed that question there, in detail.”

To begin with, I think we all, both conservatives and liberals, have pretty much the same core desires. We all want to live in safe, pleasant communities. We all want our children (if we have children) to be healthy and well educated. We all want to have a few nice things, and to be able to pass on a decent standard of living to our children (if we have children). We all enjoy having the freedom to make important life choices for ourselves, free of government interference (though of course I’m tiptoeing along the edge of an abyss with that statement, because “freedom to choose” is a hot-button issue). We all want to be able to achieve our goals, whatever they may be, and to have a sense of accomplishment. We all want to be appreciated for the hard and sometimes unpleasant work we have sweated over on the way to achieving those goals.

Where we differ from one another, sometimes drastically and sometimes painfully, is in our understanding of how those desires can best or most practicably be met.

Second, I think we need to begin by acknowledging that the society we live in is very, very complex. Any action any of us takes may impinge on others, possibly in unintended ways. We are interdependent.

But already, at this point, we face a philosophical divide. There is a strain of conservative thought that Read more

This Is Your Brain on Voltage

Details are still being fine-tuned, but it appears I’m going to be writing the manual for the Buchla Skylab. Calling this instrument a compact, high-density system would be a bit of an understatement. True, the output module is pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get affair, but the other nine modules all have hidden functions and exotic sonic capabilities.

As configured in the sneak peek (below), it won’t even make a sound. You have to plug in at least one patch cord. But patch the Twisted Waveform Generator directly into the output module and you’ll be diddling the knobs for half an hour. Above all, this beast has a warm, organic sound. The touchplate performance interface is highly configurable — and the module in the upper left corner houses four digital step sequencers.

The Skylab has landed.
Slide the food under the door….

The jar of pens and pencils and the desk calendar are not included when you purchase a Skylab.

Hardware Junkie

Recently I’ve been lusting after a modular analog synthesizer. Seriously lusting.

For a long-time advocate and champion of music software, this may seem an odd obsession. But perhaps it’s not quite as odd as it seems.

We can think of music-making as a process, or as a conceptualization. If you’re writing notes on score paper, that’s a pure conceptualization. It’s all happening in your head, and you have to become conscious of it before applying pencil to paper. If you sit down at the piano and doodle, that’s a process. Your unconscious intuition can guide it pretty effortlessly, sometimes with wonderful results. (If you’re doodling a solo on “Take the ‘A’ Train” or “‘Round Midnight,” you’re processing someone else’s concept. But for purposes of the present discussion, that’s a side issue.)

As much as I love Csound — it’s free, it’s incredibly powerful, and I’ve even written a book about it — using it is entirely conceptual in nature. You conceive an idea, you write some code, then you run the code and listen to the results. If you don’t care for the results, you stop playback, write some more code, and then click the Run button again. The concept precedes the results: They don’t coincide in real time. Okay, you can write code for a few knobs and sliders and then Read more


Just about everything in my life is very pleasant and satisfying, except that I have nobody to share it with. For most of my adult life, I’ve lived alone. The reasons for this are complex, and need not detain us. But periodically I do make half-hearted attempts to rectify the situation.

Online singles/dating websites are one of the saddest, funniest manifestations of modern life. Here’s a profile paragraph (unedited) posted by a woman on one of the big sites. I couldn’t resist sharing it, because it says so much, while saying so little:

“I am a happy, enthusiastic, energetic person. I enjoy intimacy and intelligent conversations. I love my work and my life in general, but would love to meet someone who I can relate to on a deep level and have companionship with and who is passionate about personal growth and who is open to evolving their consciousness and participating in a relationship where there is mutuality and respect and where both people feel whole and can help bring out the best in one another. I’m looking for someone who shares many of my interests, values and vision for relationship and who is capable of creating a partnership where we can bring out the best in one another and help change the consciousness of the world by our example.”

The run-on sentence doesn’t bother me unduly. What’s fascinating, and yet horrifying, about this passage is that it consists entirely of cliches. It tells the reader nothing whatever about who this woman is … other than, possibly, that she is a person who has no real interior life at all, other than a sort of half-digested stew of cliches.

Her profile ends with this: “I am a very articulate passionate person and find it easy to express myself.” Uhh, yeah. Can I get back to you on that?

I think I’d be better off with a mail-order bride from Thailand.

When Computers Go Bad

This week my main music production software, Image-Line FL Studio, has started crashing. It crashes (sometimes, but not always) when I try to load the piece I’m working on, and usually takes the computer down with it. Twice this week I’ve seen the Blue Screen of Death.

Before you Macintosh hotshots start taking potshots, I should perhaps explain that FL Studio is a Windows-only program. It’s also extremely powerful. Not free of quirks, to be sure, but over the past two or three years I’ve gotten very comfortable using it. I would rather not switch to a different program.

Not only would I have to learn a different user interface, I’d have to port my current project over to the new program. This would mean launching the project several times until it succeeds in loading, then exporting about 100 short MIDI files, then importing them one by one into the new program, parking each of them on the bar line where it belongs, and also recreating a few automation moves that aren’t in the form of MIDI data, and so can’t be exported.

Sound like fun? No, that does not sound like fun. And having tried it briefly, I’m saddened to report that when FL Studio exports the content of a single track within a multi-track pattern as a MIDI file, it fails to save the blank measures at the beginning of the track. This makes the process of reassembling your work in another program, even if you’ve made meticulous notes as I did, needlessly difficult. This snag arises from the fact that the developers never actually think about what you’re going to want to do after you export the file. My goodness, why would you want to extract the data from our wonderful program and import it into our competitors’ program? Perish the thought!

We’re all at the mercy of our creative tools, but some tools are more susceptible to collapse than others. If you’re directing plays, you’re at the mercy of Read more


Music is supposed to be profound and deeply moving, right? And intellectually challenging, too, that’s essential.

Uhh, maybe not always. Sometimes you need a little bubble gum. Or I do, anyway.

This morning, while poking around on my backup hard drive, I noticed an mp3 called “puppies.mp3.” Whaa? I tracked down the sequencer file, which was two years old but providentially still loaded just fine. (This is not guaranteed always to be the case.) The tune was about 95% done, but still a bit slack.

I don’t know why I abandoned it and then forgot about it, but I may have been embarrassed by how cute it is. It sounded salvageable, though, so I spent about six more hours on it, throwing down two or three hundred new edits, a few large but mostly small.

I can get unbelievably picky about note lengths — those were the small edits. Also, I have a tendency to play ahead of the beat while recording, so I had to nudge 30 or 40 assorted notes back just a hair so they’d sit better. The large edits included deleting one measure in the middle, adding two measures at the end, entirely changing one of the melody sounds, and adding a little chime in the background to brighten it up.

I love having technology that lets me do this stuff.

I’m not sure of the title. For now, we’ll call it “Square-Dancing Puppies.”