May 192017
 

MoogFest

I was probably 18 when I bought my first synthesizer, a Moog Rogue, back in 1981. Whatever happened to it escapes me through the fog of an extended adolescence, but I do know that life at the time was consuming me on so many other fronts that I found little time to explore the discipline of studying the making of music. What brought me the desire to make electronic noise in the first place was Industrial Music, specifically the work of Throbbing Gristle.

Fast forward thirty-five years and Caroline and I are on our way to MoogFest 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. We are not planning to buy equipment, we are going to attend a dozen workshops and an equal number of concerts and gigs. That was until we walked into the Moog Pop-Up Factory set up just for the occasion. It is May 19th, 2016. The adventure begins.

Moog was featuring the self-contained Mother 32 semi-modular synthesizer with a discount of $100 running for the duration of the event or until they sold out. My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) started raging as I was certain that this deal was too good to pass up and by the time I was done waffling it would be gone. So I took the plunge and dropped the $499 right then and there to dip my toe once again into making car alarm sounds.

Fresh from the betrayal of my self-imposed discipline to not give into GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) we head to the quirkier side of the shopping area and explore stuff that has little to no meaning to our curious eyes and ears: the real modular stuff. Earlier in the day the organizers of MoogFest sent out an email with a link to a video from some guys out of Brno, Czech Republic, working under the name Bastl Instruments. The clip featured a beardy guy walking through the woods playing with a “Bit Ranger” and some sticks. The video was kind of corny, a bit gimmicky, but it also left an impression. Nearly right away after walking into this hall, the beardy guy is standing right in front of me, it’s Peter Edwards of Casper Electronics who had recently joined forces with Bastl.

Sticking with the theme of being “self-contained” I felt I could justify supporting these starving Czech engineers/artists and bought one of their Bit Rangers. With it I wouldn’t need any other modules and they assured me that it would play nicely with my newly acquired Mother 32 by using a simple patch cable to make the connection. I was satisfied I had everything I would need for the coming years to make audio doodles in my spare time.

Patricia aka Max Ravitz

Onto the main reason we had traveled to North Carolina: music and workshops about the future. The rest of the day passes with me not buying another thing. Friday comes around and we are busy learning and exploring up until early evening when we head over to see a demo by Antenes who is making her own unique form of “Switchboard Synthesizers.” By 8:30 pm we are at a packed larger venue to see Grimes performing, but we’ll have to leave early if we are going to make a gig over at the Pinhook. In a small club with a capacity of just 150 people we watched Afrikan Sciences (Eric Douglas) followed by Patricia (Max Ravitz) both on modular synth rigs. I was hooked. This was the first time in over 20 years someone made sounds that made me want to dance – modular synths in the form of Eurorack was going to be part of my future.

For those who don’t know, Eurorack was first created by Dieter Döpfer as a modular synthesizer system back in 1995. The modules were specified to be 3U in height (5.25 inches or 133.35 mm high) and their width would be measured in Horizontal Pitch (hp – 1hp is equal to 0.2 inches or 5.08 mm). These dimensions were taken from server racks that were standardized by AT&T in 1922. While 5U systems had been in existence since at least the early 1970’s they had been falling out of popularity until Dieter revitalized interest in modular systems and is still leading the way with his Doepfer brand.

Two days after I walked away with the Mother 32 I was about to be snared to dive deeper by one of the exhibitors. It was Rick Burnett of Erogenous Tones who is about to play an instrumental role in my fall down the rabbit hole. Knowing I knew nothing about Eurocrack (yes, it is often referred to as that) he goes on to enthusiastically explain how my system would benefit from a second voice. I’d forgotten to tell him of the Bit Ranger as I was still seeing it more as a toy than a serious musical instrument, oh how wrong I was! As this guy takes me under his wing he is seducing the absolute novice with magical thinking about how the keys to the modular kingdom were to be found by acquiring more gear. Armed with the facts that I simply needed another voice, an effect, a filter, and a mixer I’d now be seriously ready to tackle the world of using modular synths to build a solid hobby.

Rick sells me his Levit8 mixer, another guy convinces me I need a Colour Palette for filters and because you can never have enough filters someone else sells me a WMD Aperture. By the way, this line “You can never have enough…..” is applied to everything Eurorack. Another vendor hooks me up with the Noise Engineering Loquelic Iteritas (my second voice, okay technically my third but the Bit Ranger is not in Eurorack format). Finally I pick up the WMD DPLR delay effect – system complete. Until I learn that I’ll also need envelopes, voltage controlled attenuators (VCA), more effects, modulators, an interface to my computer, a mixing board, better monitors, sequencers and a multitude of other things that promise to ensure “I’m never able again to maintain cash savings.”

With the festival over and me back in front of a computer in Phoenix it was obvious that I’d need a case or rack to put my new acquisitions in. Researching modular cases it was clear that this industry serving those interested in Eurorack was backlogged and unless I wanted something off the shelf and generic I’d be waiting a good amount of time and paying for it. My thinking was that I was building a piece of art that I would have to want to play with, fall in love with even and that if I compromised my aesthetic sensibility I might quickly get bored of my evolving instrument and want to move on.

The Original Oscelot

It was the hand crafted work of Steffen Ahmad of WeedyWhizz in Germany that captivated my imagination of what a great Eurorack case should look like and so on May 25, 2016 just six days after my first purchase I put in an order for a 9U/104hp case with TipTop uZeus power. The cost of a handmade red and black 21 inch wide three row case was $999 with shipping; I was getting deeper and still didn’t know that this was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Better order the patch cables today too as maybe the case will arrive sooner than I think. Four days later I see that I’m going to need the ability to connect my modular rig to my PC as I’ve determined that I must get Bitwig (my DAW or Digital Audio Workstation of choice) talking to my new modular system. Welcome to the world of near instant gratification, mail-order modular components. I’d heard their names while at MoogFest and now was my moment to establish connection to the mother ship. First up is AnalogueHaven over in Santa Monica, California. I order the Expert Sleepers ES-3 with confidence and prove one of the first lessons the experienced wigglers try to share with the novice – learn what you have before you go in 100 different directions.

Another clarification is in order: “Wiggler” is a common term given to someone who is turning knobs in an effort to make music. There is an entire forum dedicated to this form of music called “Muffwiggler” which certainly suggests a different vision of things. The guy who started the forum was inspired by two guitar pedals, the Big Muff Pi and the Wiggler – hence Muff Wiggler. The political correctness of the term is not the subject of this post, it is what it is and the forum has become so instrumental in helping people from around the world with this complex subject that a world without the Muffwiggler would be a tragedy for thousands.

You can only know so much about a complex electronic instrument by reading about it or watching videos. Ultimately you must get your hands on it and figure a few things out, such as whether the device is incompatible with your current configuration. While the ES-3 is a remarkable unit for sending control voltage (CV) signals to other modules it requires an audio interface that can handle DC-coupled signals. DC-coupled means that capacitors that might otherwise filter certain frequencies out are left out of the design so the full spectrum is allowed to move between devices. Typically your home stereo doesn’t need to play very low or very high frequencies so they are filtered out but in modular setups those frequencies can be key to moving signals through our system and modulating other sources. My brand new Apollo Twin Duo did not meet that criteria and at $900 I wasn’t ready to part with it. Seeing I had a lot more to learn before hooking my DAW to my still boxed up Eurorack components I figured by the time I learn how this stuff works someone else will have come up with a solution.

From calling it my Eurorack, rig, modular system, modular synth, synthesizer, gear, and probably a few other things it is my wife who recommended a name that was going to stick. For the previous couple of weeks all I could talk were are my plans about this instrument. Constantly Caroline was hearing about different modules, voltages, patch cables, knobs, jacks, subtractive synthesis, sequencers, and skyrocketing costs. She told me that I should call my synth The Oscelot. She explains by way of, “How do you titillate an ocelot? You oscillate its tit a lot.” Because she foresees me oscillating the knobs a lot she thinks it fitting for me to name my synth Oscelot – done.

June comes and goes still no word from Weedywhizz and my case. I still don’t understand how to use the Mother 32 and the other pieces remain in boxes. July comes around and I learn that almost all retailers of modular gear here in the states offer 4th of July sales. This also occurs around Black Friday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and on occasion Memorial Day. Seeing how I’m going to have all this empty space in my case I figure this might be as good a time to order as another as the next sale might not happen until late November. At this time I didn’t yet know the sales cycle.

July 2nd and 3rd are a flurry of insane indulgence where after having read countless articles, forum posts, and watching a hundred or more videos I’m ready to seriously build on being overwhelmed once my case arrives and I can finally turn this equipment on. Mind you that I’m reassuring myself that the reason I don’t know how to use the Mother 32 yet is because I need all this other gear. I’m now certifiably suffering from GAS. On order are the obligatory Mutable Instruments modules that everybody new to Eurorack must have such as Braids, Clouds, Warps along with the Make Noise Maths, Wogglebug, LxD and Pressure Points. Also in the order is my first Disting from Expert Sleepers, a Buff Mult, the Verbos Multi-Envelope, Kermit from The Harvestman, and a Polaris filter from Intellijel.

Visit to AnalogueHaven in Santa Monica, California

It’s Monday, July 4th in America, aka Independence Day. Steffen from Weedywhizz finally sends me my shipping confirmation; it’s my day of celebration on a whole new level now. I’m certain it will be here by Friday, it just has to be. Ten days later and nothing. I need therapy, time to buy more gear. I’m off to Los Angeles to make a pilgrimage to the temple of Eurorack – AnalogueHaven. I call Shawn Cleary a day before to schedule an appointment and on Saturday I’m walking through the door. They have everything and a lot of everything. I have no idea where to start, so Skylar offers to demo anything I have questions about.

By now I’m wondering if my case has been lost in shipment and with the AnalogueHaven guys being so helpful I feel obliged to at a minimum buy me a skiff. Make Noise makes a powered little 3U/104hp rack commonly called a “skiff.” During my tour of the synths on display I start to dig the functions of the Ultra Random Analog from Steady State Fate, the polyphonic potential in the Flame 4Vox, another couple of Mutable Instruments units called Peaks and Rings, the Xaoc Batumi which is my first LFO, another Noise Engineering module called Basimilus Iteritas Alter which is a drum unit, the Arturia BeatStep Pro sequencer with CV outs, and finally the MixMode as I won’t be able to listen to a thing tonight if I don’t have a way to mix and output sounds.

Temporarily satisfied that I have a real working modular synth system I head back to Phoenix. On Monday it is now two weeks later and still so sign of my Oscelot case. I try not to panic. When it’s three weeks later and nothing, is that depression at the door? Then on the very next day and two months after I placed my order the case is delivered. It’s beautiful and I’m entering Nirvana.

Time to gut the skiff, open boxes, and start migrating stuff into the Oscelot. This thing is huge and is certainly larger than anything I’ll ever really need, but that’s okay because I have room to grow. Or so I thought for an hour or two. Twenty-seven modules later and the writing is on the wall, I’m running out of space, but no problem as I have the skiff to refill.

For the next two months I try turning on the Oscelot every day and patching something. I’m not so much interested in the idea of making a song as I am in exploring sounds possibilities, so doodling in audio is just fine for me, but not for people who know me. It’s feeling like I’m being asked a few times a week if I have something to share with others yet or if I’m going to release something in the future. My retort is to ask the person if they watch TV followed with a serious question when was the last time they created an episode?

The fact of the matter is I’m like an infant that just inadvertently made a sound that could be construed as “mama” and I’m told to get serious and write something on par with Moby Dick next week. I was in my 40’s when I started to blog, almost 50 when I wrote a book; I’ll probably be close to 60 before I let anyone hear the bleating fart sounds being tortured out of the feral cat called Oscelot.

A rainbow of blinking lights and colorful patch cables

Obsession with this new hobby has gripped me hard and in order to maximize my time with my new best friend I drag it to the office. I stay later in the day and I come in on Saturday and Sunday as I get to turn the volume up beyond what is civil while the crew is at work Monday through Friday. At its new residence in the office it has another adherent, my old friend Kirk. When I’m not on it, he is and then on the weekend things get kind of wacky as Kirk is a natural on the mic with the ad-lib’s. Add a delay to a voice and you can talk your way into hysterics.

From that July order spree there were still a few things that hadn’t been delivered and it was already moving into September. These waits are normal and bring to mind a quote by Tim Churches who was talking about a module he’s had a coding hand in called Ornament & Crime which I feel says volumes not just about that module, but about the entire modular industry. He said, “This isn’t a traditional product designed, manufactured and sold by a single entity – it’s a post-capitalist artifact of the after-hours sharing economy, and thus mash-ups and overly complex pastiches are to be expected.” And so it is that many of the modules one might like to buy can be out of stock for extended periods of time (in some cases for years) as supplies are difficult to find or other circumstances distract the attention of a module’s creator.

Then on September 12th Perfect Circuit Audio notifies me that the Stillson Hammer MK2 from The Harvestman has shipped and that they were expecting my Mutable Instruments Blinds to ship in a couple of weeks. Once I got the Stillson I knew I wanted to order some drum modules but with the extra modules I’d soon be out of space in my case and skiff. Guess I have no choice but to reach back out to Germany.

Kirk Milhollin and the Oscelots

On September 27th I placed my order with Steffen Ahmed for another red and black WeedyWhizz 9U/104hp case. This time it cost $1,009 due to currency fluctuations; oh well, $10 wasn’t going to change this equation. The equation I refer to is the one of cost and level of investment someone is going to make who embarks on such an endeavor. People just starting out typically want to have an idea of how to budget for this stuff, the cost of cases and skiffs can be roughly calculated at a per hp price. Consider that a Make Noise powered skiff with 104hp is about $250, a Doepfer A-100PMS9 case with 504hp is $1250 and my handmade case with 312hp was $1000 you get a range of price from about $2.50 per hp to about $3.25 per hp, though if you shop around you might find something as cheap as about $1.75 per hp (ADDAC Monster case with 1,379hp).

The larger the case though comes with its own issues; the cost to fill it. It would be a relatively conservative rough estimate to suggest that spending $23 per hp is about what anyone would be forking out to build this type of instrument. So a case with 3x3U rows at 104hp each would equal a total of 312hp and cost at least $7,000 to fill. A much cheaper route would the DIY build your own modules way, but that’s not the path I took as to be honest I wanted as much instant gratification as I could afford.

Knowing I have another case on the way gives me license to start buying modules again. Next up are the Quantum Rainbow, Skorn de Bask, Make Noise Tempi, and an Intellijel uVCA ordered on October 13. Over the next weeks I order the Evaton Technologies CLX which can act as a clock and an LFO, a Make Noise Telharmonic, and the Ornament & Crime. Finally I order the Folktek Matter drum/oscillator voice and a Resist for modulating it.

Uh oh, here comes Thanksgiving and another big sale. But before Caroline and I can take off for a 10-day trip in Oregon over the holiday, Oscelot 2 is delivered. Six months since I bought the Mother 32 and I’m on my way to having 728hp of capacity. It’s feeling crazy and it will get worse before ever getting better.

Control Voltage in Portland, Oregon

Up on the coast I get notification that the sales have begun. From AnalogueHaven I nab six more modules the day after Thanksgiving, but my next order will happen in person on Saturday. We left the beautiful rocky Oregon coast to venture into Portland, one of the modular synth capitals of the world. I’m not sure but I’d wager there are more manufacturers in this city than any other. With them come an amazing synth shop nearly fully dedicated to Eurorack modules – Control Voltage.

All the while I’ve been building my ensemble of cases I’ve been doing what many of us do when not wiggling, I’m configuring and reconfiguring my cases virtually on Modulargrid.net. So even before you buy your first module you can start dreaming of what you will one day own and build by dropping images into a placeholder case and then endlessly move them around until you achieve the perfect configuration.

Knowing what I already own, what has been ordered, and what I will buy at Control Voltage I also know I’m going to be buying a new skiff bringing me to 832hp of modular Eurocrack addiction. At the shop I meet Joseph who is now working full time with 4MS and Eusebie who I will meet again on subsequent visits, both are incredibly helpful. Satisfaction is within my grasp and can be mine for the swipe of a card signifying I am transferring my cash to an account that allows me to consider a bunch of new modules as now being my property. Going into my carry-on bag is one 4MS VCA Matrix, a Soundmachines Lightplane, the Malekko Heavy Industries Varigate 8+, and another Intellijel Buff Mult.

Eurorack Modules

Back at home in Phoenix I get to work rearranging my cases in the endless pursuit of finding an optimal layout that will probably remain forever illusive. In my frenzy I ordered even more stuff, sales are hard not to get excited about when 10% off an order could save me the price of an entire module. So before I know it I have another bunch of modules including some Hexinverter Mutant drums, a Neutron Sound Orgone Accumulator, a couple of Soundmachines Lightstrips, the Intellijel Planar, the AntiMatter Brainseed, and a couple of modules from the incredibly entertaining Jesse McCreadie of Animodule.

Only a couple of days go by before I get an email from Brian Clarkson of Orthogonal Devices in Japan that the ER-301 Sound Computer/Sampler has been shipped to me. Back on October 31 I had read about a new very expensive module that had recently gone up for order. If it was truly a work of art and genius if it really did all that was claimed. At nearly $900 it felt way out of my league and I left my office dreaming about it. A friend and I were on our way to meet someone else for dinner, he was driving. We weren’t 10 minutes up the road before I pulled out my phone and slayed the monster of FOMO. I punched in my Paypal info and had my unit reserved, I was winning. Good thing too as not longer afterwards it was sold out and would remain so for almost six months.

Orthogonal Devices ER-301

On December 7th the last module of the year arrives, the ER-301.

Years before when I was playing with Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects I came to learn of Chris Meyer who was offering some crack tutorials for After Effects with his wife Trish. I signed up for Lynda.com because of them, I bought their books, I was in love with After Effects. By 2016 they were a distant memory due to my previous two years being immersed in my virtual reality project. Then as I embark on this modular endeavor in one of the forums I see the name Chris Meyer, a coincidence for sure but no way it could be the same guy. That other Chris Meyer was a video guy, not a synthesizer nerd. After seeing his name pop up a few times on Facebook I take a closer look and sure enough, it’s the After Effect guru himself.

Turns out he had a Learning Modular course on Lynda that I just had to sign-up for, which turned out to be super helpful. He wrote a great resource on his website in the form of a glossary of modular synthesizer terms. The guy is incredible for the amount of material he shares and I’m about to knock on that door and test just how helpful he can be.

I remembered that he’d posted an image of a damaged Eurorack case that was GIANT, as a matter of fact it was a Monster – the ADDAC Monster case. My cases were approaching full status and my curiosity for playing with unique modules was not subsiding. I pinged Chris and hoped he’d take a moment to answer a novices questions about his big boy toy. Sure enough he answered promptly but my knowledge of power supplies, busboards, +12V/-12V and +5V rails is non-existent so I’ll have to read more and ask a lot more.

John Wise and the ADDAC Monster Eurorack Case

A flurry of emails between André Gonçalves of ADDAC and myself starting in late January allow me to build up the nerve to cross a serious rubicon, I’m going to order me 1,379hp of new Eurorack space, I just don’t know exactly when yet. Turns out that I needed another 60 days and then on March 25th, 2017 I write to André and tell him to bill me. Over the next weeks he sends me photos of the progress and how it will be packaged for shipment. Then on May 1st the Monster arrived, it is all mine.

By now you know what comes next, order more gear. Again I put orders in with AnalogueHaven, I stop at Perfect Circuit Audio on a trip to Los Angeles, I make a stop at Noisebug in Southern California on another trip over to Los Angeles and finally I drop in on the guys at Control Voltage in Portland again. Mail order is also in high gear with orders coming in from Iron Ether and their Pithoprakta, a guy is selling his Benjolin which I can’t find new anywhere so I take it. Over on Kickstarter back in February I got the first order in and nabbed serial #1 of a giant 4-voice oscillator coming from the brilliant mind of Paul Schreiber at Synthesis Technology called the E370. At 54HP it is enormous, but doesn’t ship until the end of the year.

It took me nearly 10 hours to empty my two WeedyWhizz cases and two Make Noise skiffs and mount all the modules in the new Monster. Lucky me it’s about 10:00 pm when I first power this thing on as it lights up like a Christmas tree. I say lucky because I get to turn off all the lights and marvel at this work of art. Earlier in the day I had already powered it on and let it sit for a while, then I powered it off and back on cycling it quickly to make sure there weren’t any apparent anomalies. Then I plugged in a buffered mult and sniffed around making sure nothing smelled out of the ordinary. Then to be extra cautious I plug in another relatively inexpensive module and fire it up again, sniff sniff….nothing.

ADDAC Monster

So here I am on the one year anniversary of finding myself with a new hobby and there’s been a lot learned along the way. The age-old cliched and worn arguments of Ford vs. Chevy, Coke vs. Pepsi, PC vs. Mac, iPhone vs. Android is alive and well in the world of modular with the sides being Analog vs. Digital. This is inherently dumb as who cares what creates the sounds if the music has entertainment value? Nobody cares how a catchy track is made and on what gear, they want to like what they hear. I’m nearly certain there were arguments 40,000 years ago as someone bore holes in a bone and invented the flute from others in the group who fought for banging rocks and clicking twigs vs. flutes.

It’s not impossible to teach old dogs new tricks, it just might take longer. Then again I don’t run into many people older than 40 who are venturing into complex new trajectories where they are allowed to put their incompetence on display. My biggest impediment to springing forward is money and time. Here we are with an ability to purchase a computer capable of running artificial intelligence algorithms for about half the cost of a new car, but $10,000 is still quite a bit when your synth hobby is costing you almost four times that amount. Then there’s time: I operate a small company of about thirty people and finding free moments to teach myself about control voltages, subtractive synthesis, Euclidean rhythms, chords, measures, keys, notes, beats, midi, and mixers is already at a premium. One of my dreams is that I might have the ability, time, and equipment in retirement to dedicate myself to writing, photography, video, coding, music, reading, cooking and who knows maybe even some knitting.

When one delves into modular synthesis they will learn that this field comes with as many opinions as there are modules, now estimated in the thousands. It is often said, “Learning this can only be complicated by owning too many modules too quickly,” but how much is too fast too soon? I’m now up to 124 modules which equates to one new module acquired every three days. I certainly have not had enough time to master even one of them. You will often read the advice to go slow and get a few modules to start and learn them in all of their intricacies and only then start adding to the collection. While this is probably valid, I find the opportunity to explore combinations of modules interfacing other diverse units to be an exercise in sifting through the complex of infinity where it’s simply fun to play among audio doodles that don’t require explicit function or performance qualities. Again, it need not be the goal of a hobby to impress others with your prowess but to relish in ability to slowly increment your body of knowledge and skills.

A painter with a palette of one color will surely make something incredible once they’ve developed enough skills. I’d never argue against the idea that the cave paintings found in Chauvet made with charcoal black are astonishing glimpses of early human creativity but the vibrancy found in Marc Chagall’s work allow us to peer into the imagination of a dream where reality is giving way to the unexpected. It is my hope that as I explore from a palette of over 120 “colors” that I may discover a new method for weaving a tapestry drawn from frequencies, beats, drones, found sound, randomness, and complexity so I may discover another aspect of my voice for altering the cultural landscape.

Ultimately I will approach the fulcrum both equipment and skill wise where the output will start to demonstrate a basic level of adaptation allowing me to communicate for others what I’ve learned along this path. I harbor no illusions of stumbling upon something that will have anyone take notice of my efforts, on the contrary I require this exercise in order for me to edify myself at a stage in life where I’ve witnessed many another person fall into intellectual stagnation. Growing older I’m delighting in the knowledge that I have an ability and a large interest in exploring unexplored territory where discovery and the complex is still a magical journey.

Apr 122013
 

Caroline Wise and Jutta Engelhardt in Frankfurt, Germany

We are all rendered helpless at least twice in our life; birth and death. Yet at birth we are tenderly cared for with love, attention, and laws that attempt to ensure our successful transition into a functionally competent young adult that will be ready to contribute to our society. Approaching death we are often alone without love or the attention of our families nor our friends, as they may already be gone or they too are suffering the isolation that plagues our later years.

From the wealthy enclave of Santa Barbara, California to Europe’s banking capital in Frankfurt, Germany, we all too often find the elderly are a burden and frustration while we have all benefited from these parents and workers who probably did the best they could while they were young and able. But in our impatience we are quick to satisfy our own needs with an indulgence verging on the obscenely vulgar, while at the same time seeing the needs of the elderly as unreasonable.

How do we justify ignoring these vigor impaired people who were once so important to our very existence? How do others live with themselves as they reveal their anger or disdain in the way they treat these people nearing the ends of their lives, as though they are but nuisance obligations that no longer deserve respect?

The negligence we offer the elderly while lavishing doting care and affection on dogs and cats is an abomination of our broken social contract that allows us to merrily put on display our shallowness by only embracing the young and beautiful, in addition to the cute and furry. If it weren’t for the fact that most of us will suffer the pains of time, maybe then I could understand that a fringe was being sacrificed for the betterment of the whole, but these people who paved the way for us, are our future, they are who we will be someday.

Alone and often depressed in their private lives they bloom in smiles and laughter when once again they find themselves in a setting with their friends and family; even when enduring the pain and hardship of illness or loss that has brought them into the situation of being hospitalized or placed in hospice. Where were we when they needed us to help ensure they wouldn’t hurt themselves? What of the societal responsibility to protect them from inadvertent self-abuse through their own neglect?

For a moment one can find hope in the despairing moments our elderly loved ones spend in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, as we once again see their spirit and ability to fit in with those around them. But all too soon they will find themselves returned to the lonely isolation that distanced them from our ideas of normal. They are not to blame, just as an infant cannot take responsibility for their own helplessness. Babies have not yet made friends nor can they communicate very effectively in a complex world they are yet to comprehend. On the other hand the elderly are trying to comprehend a world that has become faster and more advanced in the complexities that often exceed their abilities, do we help these people or push them to the side?

Too often our own sense of responsibility to ourselves leaves us with the easy and selfish choice of tossing these once productive and caring people to the curb of obscurity to die alone after suffering a growing sense of failure; why else are they now alone in a world that works best when we are laughing and sharing in our success?

My mother in-law is a survivor of World War II and as a young girl had to deal with the hunger and destruction of the country she was born in, along with the death of her brother in battle and the subsequent abuse from a mother who suffered too with the incomprehensible loss. Now, as after the war, she is at the mercy of those around her who try to find the time to share with her while she’s losing her sense of place and likely her home, so others may care for her and her encroaching weakness.

During her early life she studied medicine, gave life to two girls; my wife and her sister. She helped countless others who were in desperate need of life saving services in her capacity while working for the local blood donor service. Not only are those who give blood of importance to the ill and critically hurt, but those who make it their life’s work to accept these donations enable the conduit between those who are in need and those who work tirelessly to save lives. And yet most of her days are now spent with a newspaper or television. Some of her friends have already passed. Guilt tells her that her needs are not important, one mustn’t burden those who are entangled with lives that surely have no time for someone becoming frail of mind and or body.

This sweet woman needs little more than a buttered bread and her family’s love. Other sweet old ladies have trouble getting either. Even on these occasions when my mother-in-law is for a moment the center of attention, I know this will be short lived, not only because we will return to our “busy” lives, but because she can no longer be in this life much longer.

I do not know with any precision how much longer she will be with us, but I do have to face that within weeks she’ll again be alone. When she’s gone we too will be a little more alone, as the cycle of our own aging process moves us closer to the lonely door of death.

Feb 272010
 

Economic theorist Joseph Marcusia of Phoenix, Arizona

As humankind’s relationship to the earth has evolved from cave dwelling to the farm to the city, and from primitive tools to computers, our economy has changed with the times as well. 100,000 years ago people were trading, utilizing economy with methods such as bartering and using objects that would represent a thing of value, this would be the basis for what we would ultimately call money. Obsidian, feathers, and shells may have been money for our distant ancestors. The first coins known as the Lydian Lion are thought to have been minted around 650-600 B.C in what is present day Turkey. The Chinese printed the first banknotes during the Tang Dynasty in the 9th Century. In the late 20th century it became popular to present a piece of plastic that represented the monies an individual had access to. Over time our concept of money changes, likewise our basic workings of economy evolves.

Upon these layers of economic history our relationship to the terms of our financial reality are created and altered. Mistakes and great successes are strewn across the landscape as some methods of commerce and trade succeeded while others failed. In 1798, after 200 years of operation, the worlds biggest company, the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt. From 1299 right up to 1922 the Ottoman Empire controlled the vast majority of the Middle East, Western Asia, and southeastern Asia. Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire was for an era a cultural and business center but would cease to be an empire in the flash of an eye and be relegated to a second world city called Istanbul situated in Turkey and is no longer a center of economic or political power. Trade and economic conditions greatly alter the balance of power for humanity, it is our reluctance to change with the times that allow for the disruption of trends catapulting other nation states to rise in importance.

11,000 years ago humans invented agriculture, 6,000 years ago the first writings appeared, 700 years later we entered the Bronze Age. 2,700 years ago the first Olympic games are held and 2,200 years ago trade from China with the west is established on the Silk Road. 1,500 years ago the Roman Empire falls. 570 years ago the printing press is invented. More than 300 years ago the Industrial Revolution gets underway marking a major turning point in human history. An age of scientific exploration thrusts humankind forward on a trajectory that brings us to the modern age.

Consider that it has only been 74 years since the first work on a programmable computer was begun by Konrad Zuse of Berlin, Germany and then in 1968 the first bits of data were sent over copper wires. Less than 45 years later we are sending data, photos, gardening tips, video, recipes, and purchasing stuff over wireless connections on devices that fit in our pocket and are able to communicate globally, while satellites 22,000 miles overhead coordinate our location on earth using GPS. Our lives are changing dramatically, but our economic system is not – it is time for a fundamental change.

But this change cannot happen in a vacuum and it won’t happen without humanity’s interaction and that cannot happen within the limits of how people are presently educated. It is time to consider that we may be at the edge of a sea change. While education and the masses’ ability to reason are an important factor to the acceptance of an economic paradigm shift it is not the aim of this writing to tackle that particular issue here and now.

The proposal put forward here is for a rethinking of the relationship between government, business, and labor and how to value a future where jobs are not as prolific, the necessity to work is diminished, but the need to trade time for income or create a value proposition is still relevant.

The World Income Stabilization Economic Theory proposed by Dr. Joseph Marcusia is designed as a method to secure economic stability for the individual during the years when career choices for young adults are still being decided and as a protection when the nature of the evolving working environment for those already employed (as during the 70’s with robotics and away from manufacturing as America has been doing for the previous more than 30 years) toward the paradigm shifting displacement of workers (as in automation and the development of information services) and possible long term unemployment. 150 years ago, 64% of America’s labor population worked on farms, today that total is just 1-2%. Labor markets change, but so does population and with the march forward of systems of efficiency, we are likely to have more laborforce going forward than we have work opportunities. How do we as a society afford these people the chance to be valuable contributors to the efforts of a society that rewards participation and hard work?

What is being suggested by Mr. Joseph Marcusia (photo above) is a melding and a modification of the popular economic models that are already familiar to the economic community. First is a contemporary reinterpretation of the Progressive Tax also known at the Negative Income Tax melded with the current workings of Ordoliberalism also known as Neoliberalism and Social Market Theory while still working with the best methods learned from Keynesian economic theory and Monetarism as written about by Milton Friedman. Second, an incentive structure that should motivate working age people to better their station in life. This incentive element of the plan is only now becoming possible through systems of data harvesting, analysis, and tagging of information to an individual.

Before moving on to this suggestion for an economic paradigm shift and reevaluation of its place in society, we must grapple with the idea of what defines work. Our future appears poised to shift our antiquarian industrial age thinking to reconsider what qualifies as work with a question arising from this situation that will ask us, what is the employment value of this task that may not be able to be done for income, or what if the value is intangible and thus difficult to create a monetary equation for? One thing is certain, systems of automation and greater efficiencies in mechanization are already hard at work displacing humans, if machines of labor, thinking machines, and machines not yet envisioned are the likely outcome from where we are today, it is easy to envisage a not too distant future where unemployment figures will continue to mount with no solution of how to reestablish these once productive hands to have meaningful purpose in the global economy.

What is work? Volunteering on a farm is work, but by its very definition, volunteering is just that, a trade without income exchange. Writing this paper is being done outside of payment, it is an exercise for the sake of noting one’s thoughts, there will be no remunerative satisfaction in accomplishing the completion of writing, but might value come from this as someone else reads it at some point forward? What value is assigned to one who tends to an elderly immobile relative whose retirement funds do not allow for in-home care by professionals or care in a facility? While this effort to support a loved one is admirable, it does not pay rent or buy food for the caregiver.

And even before we address the definition of work and the ideas of accountability regarding work habits, performance, and productivity, we as a society will have to overcome our perception that many people prefer a lazy existence of welfare support with no apparent return to the good of society. I posit that the vast majority of the worlds peoples prefer community involvement and have an inherent need to be productive and contributing members of society. If we find a correlation between education, poverty, and geographic accessibility to finding a place in an economy we can address issues of education. Poverty can be alleviated through the new economic model that is being suggested below, and with that adoption, geographic location stops being an issue, the work does not need to come to the people, the economy comes to them.

On our path to redefining work, to creating a global education structure, and valuing a person for the very act of simply being a part of our population and world, we humans will have a difficult journey towards enlightening ourselves and throwing off the shackles of hostility regarding cultural differences and accepting that this next phase in our economic and intellectual evolution will be a rocky transition that will make some people angry, some violent, and may bring out tendencies of racial intolerance; one race may desire to see themselves in a superior light where equality amongst populations would diminish their role. On the contrary, all those striving for betterment would elevate their role, reward would be in direct correlation with those achievements. But let’s push these concerns aside for the moment.

How does the World Income Stabilization Economic Theory work? We’ll begin with new workers, eighteen years old, fresh out of school, and ready to enter the workforce. At this moment, young persons are typically not trained in a method of knowledge or work skills that allows them to add real value beyond entry level manual labor or entry level service industry work. Many entry level jobs go nowhere, they are considered dead ends with no real career progression but they are essential to our society in any case. Turnover in these entry level jobs is high as the young person soon recognizes the limitations of the pay and the demands placed upon the least educated in our society and thus will strive to better their employment opportunities by moving jobs and ever so slightly incrementally nudging their income forward. It may not be that the job just quit is necessarily bad but the pay or inflexible hours may be an impairment to changing one’s path that would allow personal improvement regarding education or skill acquisition.

How do we encourage the reluctant acceptance of remaining in a dead end job to one that allows the unskilled worker to be afforded the latitude to improve their career potential or remain satisfied in a benign task? We do it with pay, increasing income, and financial stability. High service industry turnover is most likely due to unnaturally high expectations of earnings capability and little time for personal improvement that creates a situation of frustration where a worker never feels they are “getting ahead”. If we change this economic dead end, can we shift the burden of economic expectations from the type of unskilled work the person is doing to the idea that it is not the work itself that is not delivering economic stability but the person’s own intellectual inadequacies that are contributing to their low pay? Increase your skill set, your education, your community involvement and you put yourself on a path to better opportunity.

My proposed solution: starting potential income for high school graduates is fixed at $100,000 per year, with a tax rate beginning at 96.5%. The future employee or unemployed young worker initially earns $3500 per year net, or enough nominal pay for transportation, clothing, and the means of helping this individual find work. Upon landing a job, this person’s tax rate decreases to 86% allowing for a yearly pay of $14,000 or about $7.00 per hour. Earnings increases would come in one of two ways, either every two years (or to be determined periods of time), an adjustment according to a percentage of inflation would be deducted from the tax rate, maybe taking the person to a tax rate of 85.7% after two years on the job. The other method for adding to earning potential and the preferred model is based upon improving themselves, either through formal education, continued training on-the-job, or a combination of both.

If the future worker prefers to begin a college education, upon acceptance from a post-secondary educational institution the student is placed in a tax bracket that gives the student a high enough income to pay for their various expenses (e.g. a 90% tax rate would result in an annual earning of $10,000). The parents of the child would see a 2% reduction in their tax rate while the student is enrolled and is performing to academic standards. Tuition would be paid out of the taxes from the student’s total potential income of $100,000. So, while the student might be earning $10,000 a year or 10% of their total potential income, the school would be given the amount of, say, 7.5% of the students potential income or $7,500, dependent upon which course of study was being followed. Certain courses of study might require 12% of the $100,000 per year income to compensate the university or college. This expenditure could be capped at some given percentage, maybe 15% of the $100,00 with the remainder of tuition charged by more expensive universities to be paid by the individual or family allowing the university to function much the way they are today while at the same time reducing the potential overall debt load of this future college grad.

Each year the college student remains enrolled and in good academic standing their tax burden lessens to offer incentive to complete their studies. This would also apply to the part time student, for the workers who have taken an entry level job. With each segment of college credits completed the formula for determining the tax rate for these workers improves, giving them a raise for continuing their formal education. The idea here is that an educated population will be less prone to violence, poverty, environmental ignorance, financial ignorance, substance abuse, and economic volatility. Upon each successful credit year of completed course work, the individual would see a 2% increase in wages so that over a four year degree by the senior year the student would already be earning $22,000 per year while studying. At graduation if the person goes to work they would instantly see a 10% pay increase taking their pay to $32,000 per annum, if they do not find work and are not participating in some program of self improvement they would see their income drop back to $6,000 per year until they become employed. If after sustained unemployment the worker joins a training program, their earnings will return the base worker wage of $14,000 per year plus half of the income increase they earned during college, bringing them to $18,000 per year until their vocational training is completed, at successful finding of employment they again would see their income return to $32,000 per annum.

If the high school grad becomes unemployed after working at least one year in a job, their income drops to 6% or $6,000 per year – unless they are enrolled in formal education or enroll to begin a college degree. Same goes for the person who went from high school directly to college. Utilizing a scale of sliding income based upon participation and general individual improvement we motivate the citizen to take an active roll in improving themselves and in great likelihood, their community and the general safety and health of our communities.

This economic theory is designed to be a tool to further the stability of the individual during the formative years when career choices are still being decided. It also rewards those who take the less glamorous jobs in society, recognizing their value and commitment, and allowing them a track to increase their income without having to sacrifice their enjoyment of the endeavor they have trained for.

Successive raises after graduating with a college degree would be earned at the rate of inflation for five years, after which it will be halved and can only increase based upon community involvement or further education, training, or career advancement within the place of employment. The individual would now be in direct control of the potential income they might earn and may be more motivated towards self improvement. Tax rates going forward would be calculated on the individuals accomplishments regarding community activism, education, volunteerism, job training, and cross training.

These programs that allow an individual to progress up the income ladder would not be limited to 18 to 22 year olds but would be encouraged at particular periods in one’s life, such as at 35 for some refresher courses, 45 years old, 60 and maybe 75. Along the way people would be encouraged to participate in their communities and donate time to non-profits, hunger programs, community beautification, international aid programs, tutoring, mentoring, etc.

As an individual enters a professional occupation including acting, engineering, sports, medicine, law, politics, business ownership, finance, etc., they would be if they so choose to, be decoupled from the economic model and allowed to move into the free market, as it presently works with their taxes working similar to the current model.

Taxes and tax revenue. The government would calculate the $100,000 income across the number of people who are in the program. Say 135 million working age people were in this program, this would equate to $13.5 trillion of GDP plus the earning and economic activity of professional industries. As education increases tax collections would decline although there should be a relative decline in social services required for a better educated populace. If the base $100k income were to rise at the rate of inflation, that could potentially offset some of the decline in tax collections brought on by individuals pushing their way up the economic ladder.

The overhang in surplus taxes versus earned income in the early years of this program as people move towards this new incentive structure would afford the government a tax base that would offset our current deficits and obligations regarding social security and medicare.

Allow the citizen to escape the business cycle and to prosper during slow economic times when further education and community service will not only benefit the individual but the community and the businesses that employ and ever increasingly more knowledgeable population.

Interest rates, credit, inflation would all continue to function as they have. This theory is solely being suggested to act a safety net that affords a wide swath of the population to guarantee their own economic survival.

Milton Friedman theorized that using large-scale deficit spending by the government is needed to decrease mass unemployment, why not go one step further and totally eliminate unemployment? And John Maynard Keynes advocated using monetary policy actions by the Fed over fiscal policy to stabilize output over the business cycle, create a new function to be governed by legislative branch to take policy actions to stabilize employment in the private sector by utilizing this new paradigm.

The money supply would thus be removed as a factor effecting workers but could still be controlled by the Fed for effecting the business cycle allowing recessions and decreases in employment to control inflation and demand but at the same time would encourage workers on the fringes of industries that might be disappearing or downsizing to maintain an income over a period of time that encourages stability in the workers life and economic stability as long as the citizen moves actively into retraining and improvement courses designed to help them transition into a needed field.

Employers would initially pay at the minimum wage for entry level jobs and the 32% level for college grads, the remainder of gross income is a function of the tax base governed and paid for by the Fed. So incomes stay as they are now but the balance of the theoretical income can be counted by government coffers as tax revenue. These monies are a function of the statistic of how many working age adults are part of the population.

A portion of the $100,000 income would be locked into a new Social Security program for retirement, say $10,000 per year, guaranteeing the recipient at least $12,000 per year in retirement pay or more depending on how investments and returns performed over the years this money was accruing interest.

Retirement is based upon the highest level of income you achieved and calculated against how many years the person worked, for how long they worked at that income and how long it has been since they were able to earn that level of income. Social security might be calculated to be approximately 50% of net income at age 30 to set a base and to give incentive to young people to try to excel [inherent problem here as some may be kept back in order to curtail future financial expenditures].

This system is in part based on the Negative Income Tax or Progressive Income Tax as developed by politician Juliet Rhys-Williams of Britain in the 1940’s and then later in the 1960’s by Milton Friedman in his book Capitalism and Freedom. The idea was to establish a minimum level of income for all, thus eliminating the minimum wage, food stamps, welfare, and social security programs.

In studies during the late 60’s through the early 80’s in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, North Carolina, Indiana, Seattle, and Denver it was learned that workers would decrease the hours worked eliminating two to four weeks of labor per year as their income was guaranteed. To offset this, it will be necessary to begin offering European style vacation plans, meaning twenty-six days of paid time off. Sick days would be booked against this. Beyond those days off and a percentage of pay would be deducted for a full fifty-two weeks to act as a disincentive, not only a one time one day pay exclusion.

If mundane work cannot be successfully managed by a worker, there must be an alternative for the person to offer value to the community so they are not parasitic. What type of volunteerism, community cleanup, walking around neighborhood security patrol, local garden work, or other endeavors could a citizen be employed by? What is elemental and imperative here is to create a system of incentives and strict controls that eliminate the ability to defraud and to not perform. This system would have to be tied to some type of strong identification combined with state and federal computer systems that track a workers education, community, volunteer, and work history.

Ultimately the WISE Theory will evolve to reward and give economic purpose to people who are not employed in what would be considered traditional jobs, while not encouraging citizens to simply take advantage of a welfare state and not make positive contributions to society. Through education, community involvement, volunteerism, global networking via health and education services, people will lend their knowledge and hands to help others and in return will be guaranteed a livable income that will allow for a respectable level of comfort.

While the word is not used in American contemporary society, what is at work to some extent and what might need greater recognition regarding economic theory in the United States going forward is Ordoliberalism also known as neoliberalism. This theory was developed by German economists and legal scholars beginning in the 1930’s and continuing through the 1950’s. It is the economic model attributed with dragging a destroyed German economy out of World War II and driving the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) that brought about West German economic prosperity in Europe. Many will suggest that it was the Marshall Plan as designed by the United States soldiered in and created the conditions for the Wirtschaftswunder but the loans and regulations from the United States were only a part of the total program. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer brought Ludwig Wilhelm Erhard into his cabinet in September, 1949 as the Minister of Economics. The ruling party implemented a free market economy that has been referred to by many a name by now including Ordoliberalism, neoliberalism, and social market economy. The role of government in regulating conditions that effect a positive outcome in the business environment is a well known process. It is a central tenet of Ordoliberalism that a strong central bank be committed to monetary stability and low inflation. We have just that in the United States with our Federal Reserve and Mr. Bernanke.

As a matter of problem there are difficulties regarding language and media demonizing of particular words such as “liberalism” and “social” which have come to represent state sponsored welfare and communism. The fact is that the minds that fostered the theory of Ordoliberalism (neoliberalism) flatly rejected socialism, but they also rejected laissez-faire capitalism – which the current American Republican party seems to espouse.

It is the goal of the World Income Stabilization Economic Theory to bring together the best aspects of Neo / Ordoliberalism, Keynesian economics, Monetarism (Milton Friedman) and this new model of economic theory to develop an economic method that will work for a growing workforce facing a shrinking workplace.

For those who might read this and argue that this is income redistribution and or Marxist/Communistic or Socialistic economic theory, this is not a proposal for a single party dictatorship, nor is it a suggestion for a power grab by the state to acquire business and dictate economic rules upon business owners. It is a realization that people going forward are not going to find economically viable work they are trained for, educated for, or capable of doing but will still require economic stability if the cohesion of a population is to remain a unified and peaceful community.

Under the Real Business Cycle Theory fluctuations are accounted for by real shocks, the four shocks can be trend, business cycle, seasonal, and random. This theory sees recessions and periods of economic growth as efficient responses to the economic environment, I suggest that a stabilized economic model guaranteeing a minimum of wage with a maximum of incentive will raise the fortunes of a vast majority of society although we will still be burdened with those who look to game the system or who lack the skills, potential for education or may be inherently predisposed to not being able to function with responsibility.

This solution does not initially curtail consumption but it does work to guarantee a type of employment and incentivize a population to improve their education and respect for the world around them. Through this education will have to teach that consumption is not a means to happiness, without the need to work to produce something of value, it could be possible to break the cycle of production and consumption to one of respect, appreciation, and knowledge complimented by a service industry that caters to enhancing our education, entertainment, ability to travel, and experience the flavors, sights, and sounds of the world and our shared cultural heritage.

Jan 082006
 

Today is the last day….well Friday was but oh, well. Today is the last day of winter break. It’s so sad. I wish there was one more week and that would all I would really ask for, or more but I can take just on more week. I had a lot of fun over my winter break. Well at first I was really bored and stuff, but then I started haiving more fun!

 Posted by at 8:48 am
May 042005
 

Today there was a concert at my school. It was fun!! It was chorus and handbells, and, of course I was in it, but only in the chorus. I think it would be fun to be in handbells. When ever they play it sounds sooo interesting to be in. You would think, "Wish I was in it or wish I could hear that all day long." It sounds so soothing and it is so amazing and you would think again, "how wonderful is that?!?!"

 Posted by at 9:32 am