Category Archives: Audio

Sounds and music.

My Musical Hiatus 2003-2015

I didn’t release much in the way of original music from 2003 to 2015. There was just the Positronic Empire album, which is more of an EP, and the Agaritine album, which is all software-created remixes.

I was focused on other things. From 2003-2005, pretty much all of my time was focused on finishing college. After that, I spent a decade establishing myself in a career in software, going from total n00b to a manager with a team of 5. That didn’t leave much time or motivation for music.

Most of the drum beats for 2008’s Positronic Empire were written in 2005 just as I was finishing school. I dug them out a few years later and finished them during a week of vacation. In 2012, the remix album Agaritine was created using the Echo Nest Remix API (which is now called Amen).

It wasn’t until 2015, after having built one of everything software-wise and having founded multiple startups, that I got back into music in a big way. Since then I released 13 albums as Bloodless Mushroom, three as Toilet Duck Hunt, an album and an EP as OJ Champagne, and a handful of singles as Rain Without End, and an EP with Sasha and The Children, a band that I performed live with for about a year.

In the middle of the pandemic, I got burnt out on music and didn’t really have any creativity flowing. I think creativity requires new experiences, and lockdown turned the new experiences knob down to zero. I’m only just now getting back into it as things have opened back up and will probably release another album this year. I don’t know if I have much more in me after that. I’m also sensing (and planning) a new wave of major life change, which may or may not bring musical creativity along with it.

Whether I do or don’t create more music isn’t particularly important. I’ve done a lot. I’ve released more music than most professionals do in their lifetime. I doubt that I’ll be remembered for my music, but that’s OK. I’ve only ever made it for myself and for my creative enjoyment.

Gear Hoarding

I’m thinking back to the time when I bought my first piece of music gear on eBay in 2001. It was a Yamaha TX81Z FM rack synth module, fairly beat up. It had a lot of cheesy, useless-sounding patches and a few really nice ones. I had a Yamaha DJX keyboard that my mom had bought me the previous Christmas. Together, with those two pieces of gear, I wrote Forest of Worlds at the house at 4026 Westway in Toledo. I didn’t have much other gear, just a bass guitar (I think it was an Ibanez Ergodyne EDC705, but it might have been something else) and an electric guitar, a modified Peavey Predator with a multi-effect pedal. There was really nothing I couldn’t do with that gear given enough talent/skill. Which I didn’t have yet.

Before Forest of Worlds, I had never written any music using the keyboard. Sure, there was a track where the DJX was playing drum sounds on my first album, but that wasn’t keyboard music. Before that, I had only written tracker, fractal, and guitar tunes. While it opened a whole new world of synthesizer music and spawned some beautiful-to-me songs like Trepidation, Encounters, Gliding, Cosmic Serenade, Quelet, Montagne, and others (in spite of the core of Bloodless Mushroom being a mix of fractal and tracker tunes), it also created a monster. From that moment on I started hoarding gear, collecting things less because they served a useful purpose and more because I could. I wanted to have every possible sound at my fingertips. I wanted to experience and explore everything out there in the world. And I pretty much did.

While the time spent playing and practicing made me a better musician, the gear hoarding did not. In fact, it actively detracted from my musicianship. I spent too much time fiddling with gear, noodling, and just shuffling things around, and not enough time practicing and writing music. I did create the SoundProgramming website from my explorations, which has helped a lot of people explore gear and get manuals for it, so it wasn’t all wasted effort.

Now I have every sound imaginable at my fingertips. I have so much software and so many libraries that there’s nothing I can’t do electronically (my sample library is more than 600 gigabytes). Since Bloodless Mushroom was always more of a tracker-and-fractal project, I never needed anything more than a laptop to write music in the first place. I certainly don’t need a whole room full of gear. In fact, the more in-the-box I work, the more creative I seem to be.

Just give me a keyboard (with MIDI). Practically any keyboard will do, but full-size keys help. Just give me a bass guitar and regular guitar and a cord to connect them with. The make and model doesn’t even matter, as long as they stay in tune. I do not need more gear than I can carry on my back. Well, as long as I’m not playing/writing drums. A real electronic or physical kit won’t fit on my back.

Proof of this just-plug-something-in-and-go is in the Rain Without End songs. They’re really just me multitracking guitar and bass. And it sounds good. Not perfect by any means, but I can put together nice-sounding ideas that people enjoy.

I must confess that using three GM-capable synths like I did for the Gymnopus album sure does sound good, though. All that can be achieved in software like Kontakt, of course. It just requires more detail work. If I do that work, the quality will be far beyond anything I could get with a 17-year-old hardware module.

What I’m trying to say is this: I don’t need to take any of this stuff with me. I can get what I need wherever I am, and I don’t need much.

New Version of the Vorbital Player Music Player

There’s a Windows music app I’ve been maintaining off and on over the last 10 years or so. Today I released an update with some significant user interface improvements.

The idea behind the Vorbital Player is to have a simple and uncluttered interface that just plays music and audio files and doesn’t try to manage your music library.

You can get it here:

https://zetacentauri.com/software_vorbital.htm

AlgoRhythmia Now Available for OSX

AlgoRhythmia was my first “complex” desktop app. By complex I mean difficult to build and with a deep interface that could be explored and tinkered with extensively.

It’s a drum machine that can generate random beats. It can also “mutate” existing beats and cause them to change over time.

This is the windows version, but the macOS version looks identical.

It started as a Windows app. It used DirectX, a very Windows-centric audio engine. Because of this, I never tried to build a version for another operating system. Well, now I have. And it is available for OSX.

You can get it here.

DrumPads Released for OSX

DrumPads is an app with 12 virtual drum pads that lets you use the keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, or an external MIDI device to play any of 100 high-quality drum sounds.

DrumPads for Windows. Looks identical on OSX.

It started as a webOS app. It was later ported to Ubuntu and sold via the Ubuntu Store. Then ported to Windows and ended up becoming my most popular app with 330,000 downloads of the free version. I spent some time porting it to OSX a while back, but never had a version in the App Store.

Now I do.

You can get it here.

Vintage Live Dr. Kilpatient Recordings

I posted two Dr. Kilpatient live albums recorded in 2001 on YouTube.

The first is And The Key of Love, from the largest live lineup we ever head. With a larger lineup, we evolved from our industrial circus rock sound to more of an electronic funk band.

The second is Fuck Jason Champion, an album titled as a goodbye tribute to me because I was moving to New York City. I came back 4 months later. That place wasn’t my style.

Enjoy this glimpse into the history of Midwestern circus rock.

Rain Without End – Flickering Flames

I recorded and released a song called “Flickering Flames” in January. It’s an instrumental track with bass and three guitars. Here it is as a YouTube video:

The cover art is a painting I created the first time I tried abstract painting. The cover art for “Rolling Clouds” was created the same day.

If you’d rather listen on Spotify, it’s here.

Rain Without End

I’ve been practicing bass and guitar more than I ever have this year thanks to being in Sasha and The Children, the hardest-working band in Portland.

In my non-band time I’ve been jamming with myself, recording a bass and guitar track and playing along. I’ve kept a couple of these and released them under the Portland-appropriate name Rain Without End. It’s fun, so I’ll probably create more as time permits.

It’s on all the streaming platforms if you’d like to listen. Here are a couple:

Rain Without End on Spotify

Rain Without End on YouTube

Sasha and The Children

Most of my creative time for the last eight months has been spent with a theatrical folk pop band called Sasha and The Children.

This group is pretty different from any of the other music I’ve been involved with. Everyone is incredibly talented and we work extremely hard, with four practices in a normal week.

I’ve been playing bass, doing live sound, recording engineering, and produced the first EP, Can’t Fall Asleep.

We’ve been playing live shows in Portland, at the Jade lounge, Local Lounge, The Big Legrowlski, EastSide Bar and Grill, and the Rose City Book Pub. If you’re in town, come see us play live. We’re pretty good.

We’re on all the streaming platforms, including Spotify.

Brian Eno Rage

I’ve spent the last few days listening to pretty much the full Brian Eno discography.

It has made me incredibly angry.

After all, he’s the “king of ambient”, and I was afraid that listening to his music would just be depressing since one important aspect of the music I create as Bloodless Mushroom is ambient and I knew I could never aspire to such greatness. So I just went on doing my own thing and generally avoided listening, but was still worried that I was just copycatting things (even without having heard them).

I’ve been afraid to listen to a few artists over the years, but I won’t go into that here.

But, in my own hyper-opinionated view, Brian Eno’s music is “just OK”. Some of it is really good, some of it is average, and some of it is not good, but it is not all overwhelmingly one way or another.

So I’m angry.

Why did I spend so much time being afraid of what I’d hear? Why was I worried I couldn’t reach that creative level? Why was I worried that everything I created could probably be boiled town to copycat-ism?

Must be brain damage.

In any case I have nothing to worry about. Just keep going and keep working on getting better at the things I do. It sounds how it sounds, and even if some parts share similarities with other artists, it is still very much its own unique thing.

Six Weeks of RCRDList – Screwups and Successes and More Screwups

On the first of the year I took over as curator of the RCRDList music discovery email list. It was created by my friend Zoe and she doesn’t have the time to maintain it because she’s in grad school. It’s presumably a temporary takeover, with me assuming she’ll want it back when school’s over, but we haven’t figured that out yet.

It was a bit of a rough start. I did well enough picking music, but there were a few bad links or mis-sized images here and there, but nothing terrible. It was obvious that I misunderestimated the phenomenal amount of work she put into it.

I also rewrote the MusicSrch search engine to fix a bunch of broken things and add some services that weren’t in yet but would be useful for RCRDList. That has been very helpful and has saved me a lot of time.

Then I got into a bit of a flow and managed to get a few days ahead fairly consistently. That’s how Zoe used to manage it — create a buffer big enough to absorb the fluctuations of day-to-day life. I think she was usually pretty far ahead, certainly more than two or three days.

Then life happened. My band Emergency Brunch played 3 live shows in January, with two in the same week. And my old band from 2004, Dr. Kilpatient, reunited for a brief show because the third member was in town. And, of course, those things require time and practice and hauling stuff all over the place, made even more complicated by riding public transit. Things became even more difficult as a wave of the winter blues overtook me and made me lazy/distracted/befuckited for a week or so.

Not only did I miss a day, I missed a few. And some weeklies. A whole group of very important people was left in the dark.

Zoe, I failed to feed your baby. More than once. I’m sorry. I will do better.

I also haven’t spent enough effort on descriptions and headlines. In the mad rush to get emails out, many of the descriptions were pretty uncreative. It was enough that RCRDList friend Trixie pointed that out on Twitter. Thank you for caring enough to say that, Trixie. You’re absolutely right.

I thought about asking for help. And I might at some point, especially for the genres that I find hard to listen to — country and folk. The trouble is that getting someone new up to speed on the selection and editing criteria would be a serious time investment on its own. RCRDList is far more detailed than “pick and random thing and email it”. But, even having help with just the selecting would make life easier. I listen to about 4 hours of music for every band that’s featured, and finding time for that is not always easy. The day job gives me some time to listen while I work most days, at least.

As I write this, I’m a day ahead and working on the next and I have enough time to finish Monday’s weekly. There are problems with the workflow that I need to solve, with the most obvious being that I have to enter every URL twice — once for the dailies and once again for the weeklies. I can copy and paste from the daily emails, but it’s still a manual process. The thing with computers is that you should only ever have to enter a piece of data once. Anything else is extra work. I have an idea that involves saving links from a MusicSrch search and using them to generate (at least partially) a daily email and save those links toward a weekly, but I’m sure I’ll need to do a significant template redesign and many hours of codemonkeying to make it work, but it will pay for itself in time savings if I do.

I’ve also done some work toward growing the list.

It’s the same amount of work whether an email going to 1500 people or 15,000. As it is, when a band finds out they’ve been featured it’s more of a morale boost than anything that really moves the needle for them. You can’t pay the rent by selling an extra 1-2 copies of an album. I’d love for it to make a meaningful difference for a band to be featured by RCRDList. Sometimes it does. With more than 1000 features by now, the odds are good that at least one musician who was ready to give up decided to keep going because they were on the list. I’d really like it to make a meaningful difference every time an email went out.

I used a Facebook ad to grow the following there a little. It wasn’t much, just enough to change the “seen by 3 people” post average to “seen by 5 people”. It’s still a tiny following — less than 100 people. It was enough to figure out how much it costs to grow the audience. 76 cents per like with a really basic ad. If I had a better ad it would be a little less, but that still means increasing the reach is no small (or cheap) task.

Twitter has also grown a little. I made it official policy to follow a featured band. Sometimes they follow back. It’s also useful for the “have we already featured them?” check, and it might also be neat to do a “where are they now” for featured bands in the future.

So far the thing that has made the biggest impact for the smallest expense is Project Wonderful. It’s an ad network that lets you target specific sites with specific bids. It doesn’t have that many music sites in the network since it’s geared more toward webcomics, but there are a few that have been really effective for growing the list. It’s grown by about 3% in the past month. That’s not amazing, but the ability to hypertarget ads means that each new subscriber costs less than 10 cents to add. I started by using a terrible ad that I made and then switched to a few nice ones made by a talented graphic designer in Venezuela. I always hate contributing to the race to the bottom in wages that a place like Fiverr causes, but the alternative would be my horrible programmer art, which probably has a greater long-term negative effect on the world.

Even though RCRDList includes some affiliate links, during its lifetime it has still made less in commissions than I’ve spent on ad experiments in the past six weeks. That’s OK. Money isn’t the point of this thing. It’d just be a nice side-effect if it took off. Even if it is a labor of love, nobody wants to work for free if they don’t have to.

I’ll never understand people who are bored. My problem is and always will be running out of day.

New Bloodless Mushroom Album – Omphalotus

I’ve released a new Bloodless Mushroom album called Omphalotus. It’s 9 chiptune-esque postmodern classical instrumentals.

This new album hovers close to the line between EP and LP. I call it an album because it’s one complete concept that delivers the full odd electronic experience.

It’s available for streaming on all the major platforms:

Spotify

Deezer

iTunes

Google Play

YouTube

Writing Lyrics, But Do I Have Anything To Say?

I’m working on a new musical solo project, pretty unlike Bloodless Mushroom (my long-running experimental instrumental electronic music project that you probably know about by now).

The whole point of this is to have something to perform live at open mic nights. I love playing, but I also love going to them to see the other performers. This will give me an excuse to do both. There’s also something on my bucket list — play in two different bands in the same show (and a solo act counts). And hey, Emergency Brunch definitely plays open mic shows.

There’s a problem. Not that I can’t sing – that can be cured with practice and lessons and effort. If that doesn’t work I can do spoken word, chanting, yodeling, or farm noises.

No, the problem is that I don’t really know whether I have anything worth saying. Sure, I have plenty of opinions and things I care deeply about, but does the world need to hear about them? Or should I just leave them inside my head? Does anyone actually want to hear about Spanish cheese and punching fascists and how much Google sucks?

The last time I even wrote a song with lyrics was about 23 years ago, and that was some not-very-good comedy-punk that I never recorded (the band name was Dead Cement). Or 17 years ago if you count drunken NWO jam session improv.

The name Bloodless Mushroom originated with the word “bloodless”, and I chose that as a word that reflected my watery spine toward the idea of writing and performing music with words (before that I played grunge-punk as “Navy Blue Fred”, based on a Flintstones t-shirt I used to own).

I had a good reason for dodging words altogether. Most of the songs I grew up listening to were dreadfully stupid, with the most common words being “ooh” and “baby”. The last thing the world needed was another dumb rock bombast-bro talking about his dick.

So here’s where I try the thing. I’m new. And a bit scared. And may fail. And don’t know what will come of it. But it’s time.

I know I’ll be my harshest critic, and don’t know if anything will make it past my “this sucks” filter, but I hope it does. And one of the nice things about open mic shows is that they’re a good place to try and refine new things, discarding the ones that don’t work. Even when they’re strangers, it’s normally a friendly and supportive audience, and that helps.

If you see a new Bloodless Mushroom album it doesn’t mean I’ve given up. There are three finished albums in the publishing pipeline right now, with one releasing Thursday.

Dr. Kilpatient – The Prototype IV Soundtrack

My old band Dr. Kilpatient re-released an album we recorded in 2000, the Prototype IV Soundtrack.

It’s the soundtrack to an imaginary science fiction film and was the combined songwriting effort of myself and Tomasz Kordowski (The Doctor Himself). Marc Haney also played guitar on a few of the songs. It was a blast to create, and I’m glad it’s out in the world again.

It’s an instrumental fractal surrealist circus rock album.

It’s available for streaming online:

Spotify

Deezer

YouTube

Tidal

DrumPads Now Open Source

Of all the audio apps I wrote for Zeta Centauri, DrumPads was by far the most popular, with more than 300,000 lifetime downloads.

It’s a pretty simple app. It’s a set of 12 virtual drum pads, each of which plays a sample when you tap or click it, or hit the corresponding keyboard key. It also had MIDI support and included a bunch of samples from freewavesamples.com. It let you use arrow icons scroll through to samples to change the kit, which could be a fairly long process. It was notable for me in that it was the first app I had ever written as a with a touch-only interface.

It started as an app for webOS tablets back in 2011. Soon after, webOS was discontinued, abandoned, and set aflame by Leo Apotheker, one of the most incompetent CEOs in modern history. I ported it to Linux and it was in the Ubuntu app store. Then I ported it to Windows and posted it online. And I almost got it ported to OSX. It built, but it never came together well enough to make it past the App Store goons. There was a pretty capable free version and a paid version. The free version was very popular, but the paid version only sold a few dozen copies.

Now that Zeta Centauri is no longer a business, there’s no reason not to release the full version for free.

The source code to DrumPads is now available on GitHub, along with a full version Windows download. Enjoy. 🙂