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:
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.
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.