Month: November 2020

Novembeat: a Recap in Progress

Yeah, so I slipped almost immediately. Day three–what could have possibly been on my mind this November 3rd?–and four and five disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again.

ON THE SIXTH DAY, I emerged and forced myself to use an interesting combo I’d rolled up for one of my missed days.

“Caye” emerged from an interesting sound I found in the Volca Modular. Something like an Alto Clarinet almost. A far-away, longing sound, like sitting on the jetty, watching bigger ships moving in the distance. I paired that image with some found percussion and a harp loop from some Samplified pack or another, then tried desperately to get the Volca Keys to do something resembling playing nice. It’s so brassy, but I think I managed to get it somewhere near where I wanted it at the very, very end (around 4:36, as I quickly pull the filter off). It’s not a perfect tune, but it got me out of my funk a bit.

DAY SIX, PART TWO, BUT I’M COUNTING IT AS DAY SEVEN.

It is no surprise that I have a fondness for the Durham, NC-based acid-funk power quartet, the Mountain Goats. Recently, I’ve spent a little while tracking out some of my favorite songs on the OP-Z, and, well, this is one of them. Everything is going through the OP-Z, and I have a sizable amount of Reverb and Chorus effects on my whiny vocals. Just the way I think John would have wanted it to be if he had an OP-Z instead of a Casio back in 1996.

DAY EIGHT: THE OCHO started as a challenge on a Korg Volca Discord Server I help moderate. You’re learning all sorts of things about me today!

They picked a few synths out for me to use and I figured if I wasn’t going random with this one, I could cheat further and add in some NTS-1 effects and Midilooper assistance. This recording came at the tail end of about an hour of just noodling around between these joyous devices. I had a chord progression on the OP-Z from my next tMG cover (name that tune and I will venmo you $10!) and then I just kind of plugged things together and went for it. The A-55 preset (tee hee) on the MicroKORG is a long-time favorite: I’ve had this thing for at least a decade, and I always jump to it when I want to figure out a melody.

The routing here was fun to figure out. The Volca Drum is providing clock for the OP-Z, which is sending MIDI to the Midilooper, which is sending Track A (channel 2) to the Volca FM and Track B (channel 3) to the MicroKORG. A potential next step for this setup would be to run MIDI Thru from the Korg to the NTS-1 on channel 4, and loop some effect parameter changes from the OP-Z. That was one step too complicated for this run, but maybe next time. I will definitely pull this combo back together in the near future. Between the variety of sounds on the Drum (which I used very sparingly, in a show of remarkable restraint), the limitless FM potential of the… FM, and the timeless MicroKORG–not to mention the one-size-fits-most OP-Z–I suspect this small rig could span the gamut of electronic music without breaking a sweat.

DAY NINE, yesterday I was somewhat dreading another big setup like the above, so when I rolled up the MicroFreak, I skipped the rest of the dice and went with this.

Simple bassy patch on the MicroFreak, and maximum wubs on my shiny new Werkstatt (which is replacing the Wavestate on my roll table). The PO-33 was a bit of an afterthought, but I’m happy it had some Nicotine/Bactine to contribute. The fun discovery here was that you can set up the Werkstatt’s filter to respond to pressure on the capacitive keyboard on the MicroFreak, letting you PLAY the wubs. I am not very good at that yet, but I got it down well enough to record this quick and fun number. Again: a very interesting early discovery that shaped my path. Novembeat is all about happy accidents, and I think this one is the happiest so far.

Today marks the 1/3 mark of the challenge, and even though I’ve already skipped a couple days, I’m feeling energized and ready to keep pushing ahead. I received some killer suggestions from some other Discord pals, so today might be totally insane or simple and mundane. Maybe a mix: Insane in the Mundane. Feature image forthcoming.

Novembeat 2020

You don’t need me to tell you it’s been a rough year. One cost of 2020 for many has been a persistent general malaise if not outright unflinching depression. For me, this year has taken a lot of projects that I derive genuine pleasure from (music, reading, writing) and twisted them to feel like chores less worthy of my time than doomscrolling foreign real estate listings.

Enter: Novembeat. It’s a challenge, kind of. It’s an inspiration, maybe. It’s a community, without a doubt. This month, as established by a few years of this event (visit novembeat.com for more info!), I am going to try to create a tune every day. But Jason, you hypothetically say, back in December 2019–two posts ago, might you hypothetically add–you talk about participating in “Jamuary” and then didn’t make it more than four or five days! Yes, true, I’ve tried this sort of thing before with disappointing results. I could argue that in January of 2020, I was mid-move with an infant and a 9-5 requiring an hour commute. My environmental factors at the time were not conducive to a marathon of music-making.

But now? Baby, I don’t leave the house! The kid is a little more self-sustaining and I have a whole room full of musical gizmos at my disposal. Plus, I’m adding a little fun to the mix with the addition of needlessly complex rules and philosophies for myself!

  • Tenet One: I gotta finish the month. I need this. Even if it’s a quick ditty, I’m putting something out there every day.
  • Tenet Two: I need to use things I don’t use very often. I’ve been accumulating gear without using the gear I already have, and that’s a shame, because I like the things I have!

With those two core goals established, I named the gear I have and want to use* and made a list. That doesn’t quite cover it: I made a D&D-style d20 roll table and plopped the 18 pieces of gear on there in alphabetical order. A 20 is a critical success and I can pick what I want to use. A 1 is a critical fail and someone else tells me what to use. Every day, this will determine what gear I get to play with, with a d4 determining how many I use. Here’s the table:

I’m excited for when I have to make a full song with the Monotron Delay and nothing else.

Day one brought me the combination of Arturia’s MicroFreak and my beloved Casiotone 701. I’d never used the two of them together before, and the growing pains were real. Like many other Casio keyboards, the Casiotone has a selection of 16 simple beats, with zero external clock control, limited customizability (aside from a touch-pad “fill”), and some genuinely jarring bass line accompaniment. After about a half-hour of playing around I was ready to record, and I realized I wrote a 4-chords-and-a-bridge sadboy Mountain Goats song. I have never written lyrics before, but they showed up unbidden and really bummed me out.

Screenshotted for posterity.

It wasn’t the vibe I wanted to establish for week one, day one, so I scrapped it and started a new MicroFreak patch: something wavetabley that would sparkle in an arpeggio. Rearranged my sadboy chord progression to highlight the bassiness of the Casiotone, played a few loops, swept the filter, and called it a day. You can listen to it here:

In terms of music I’ve made, it’s not my strongest showing. I didn’t have my boots on. But that’s part of Novembeat, too. Tenet One. I’m putting something out there every day, so at some point I need to commit to it and follow the tune through to its logical conclusion. I think I did that here, and I intend to do it at least 29 more times throughout the month.

I should also add a thank you to Kumie (Kumie?) for his blog post inspiration, as well as the whole of the Red Means Recording Discord community for being such inspiring and talented musicians!

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