It’s the 30th and I’m still on track for Jamuary. In fact I have #30 mostly set up even before 9 AM (several instances of Aalto that are set up for 8-voice drones with linear frequency detuning…).

I’ve been evaluating my recordings to try to decide what to include on an “official” release. So far it’s 12 Yes, 4 Probably, 6 Maybe, 2 Doubtful and 5 No. This is a worse ratio than typical for me, but I’ve taken Jamuary as an opening to experiment a bit more, and also to rush through a bit more than usual… and outside of Jamuary if something wasn’t working out I’d just delete it instead of bulling on ahead.

Some general lessons I’ve picked up from the exercise:

  • The big one is that I can do it. I really can record and finish and post a track every day. Some days it’s easier than others, of course.
  • The weakest of my tracks are the ones that feel too random. Generative sequences without enough repetition, or ostinatos without a good contour to them, or takes when the improvisation just didn’t result in a good “story arc” for the piece and couldn’t easily be fixed with some editing.
  • The other weak tracks are the ones where I tried too much to go rhythmic. It seems to me like for those to work, I need to keep it dead serious and fairly droney. Getting even a little bit whimsical usually doesn’t work so well.
  • I feel like most of my mixes are good (especially considering they’re done “live”) and I’ve gotten comments about that in the past. But sometimes I go overboard on sound design with one of the voices — usually too brash or too distorted — and it doesn’t sit well with the rest. When I distort hard I probably also should be filtering hard by default.
  • My fadeouts are often a bit too fast and need some fixing afterward. This is not a new realization, but I might have been a little worse with it during Jamuary or simply encountered more of them. Maybe the lesson will stick now though?
  • I’ve been dipping into Bitwig’s Note Grid a bit more, and I think it has a lot of potential as an interesting hybrid between modular and DAW sequences, not to mention generative potential. If I tame it, that is… just randomness into a quantizer isn’t great. Anyway, it’s something I plan to explore more in the future.

I’ve “beaten” Soulstone Survivors… that is, I have completed all the in-game achievements, and all the Steam achievements except three related to a “secret” holiday level. I feel like I’ve gained a pretty good understanding of the game mechanics, which are more complex than you might expect from this sort of game and certainly worlds beyond Vampire Survivors.

I’ve found that classes that lack access to at least Holy, but preferably Chaos and/or Arcane, can struggle — so it’s best to use Mastery runes to unlock those. Arcane Power and/or Bloodlust are incredible multipliers for any attack that stacks debuffs on the enemy. Chaos Golems are a great tanky distraction. There are several great Arcane and Holy attack spells, too.

I relied on guides quite a bit at first, but some of them make ridiculous claims of success with them which I think came down to luck of the draw, and were pretty disappointing in actual use. One of my favorite builds was my own discovery. Sentinel with Storm of Arrows, Spread Shot, Frag Shot, Bloodlust and Chaos Golems — and if you’ve unlocked it, add Chromatic Bolt and take the Executioner and Generalist runes. This is the build where I got the sub-8 minute completion time achievement (7:32 — the best I did with a build from a guide was 8:11), and also completed Dhal Zhog with all curses through Tier 6 without even needing a revive.

Anyway, I will probably keep playing the game, but a bit more casually and sporadically now that everything’s unlocked. It’s too soon to go back to Guild Wars 2 I think. What next, then?

I’ve been reading Too Like the Lightning and I don’t know why I haven’t given up on it. It’s pretentious. The narrator comes off as a smarmy creep all too often, and that’s before (spoilers). I can’t tell if it’s the author’s honest version of a utopia but with obvious flaws they didn’t see, or a sort of transparent straw man argument against wokeness, or both.

To name a couple of things: churches and proselytization are 100% banned. There’s a kind of counselor who can talk to people about matters of faith — only in the most abstract ways, using very cautious language full of hypotheticals — but any three people talking about faith is categorized as a “church.” And yet this is in a world where people choose their own governmental/societal affiliations regardless of geography; can you imagine there is nobody who insists on freedom of religion, at least for themselves?

Gender, in this future, is also an outmoded and somewhat distasteful concept. Everyone is a “they” whether they like it or not; gender identity is not a factor. And it doesn’t work, because the creepy narrator keeps interrupting the story to apologize to the reader for gendering people “he” or “she” based on the narrator’s own perceptions of their personality traits making it supposedly obvious. The person’s own identity or preference of pronoun is never a factor — which just makes things worse.

I feel like both of these completely miss the point. People want freedom both of and from religion, not to ban everyone from being able to worship in private or among like-minded people. People want freedom both of and from gender and its complications, not to deny both identity and choice and declare that nobody is masculine or feminine.

Maybe the author agrees with me, and there’s a sort of double irony thing going on here. But the book comes off a bit as “this is the future that woke-ists want and it’s a disaster.” Really, it’s the ambiguity that is bugging me… and again, maybe that is the author’s intent. That’s pretty much the opposite of what I want in my escapist fiction though.

Add to that a conflict that honestly doesn’t feel like it has any credible stakes, and some plot points that stretch credibility quite a lot, and did I mention the narrator turns out to be REALLY gross? I honestly don’t know why I haven’t given up. There’s something compelling and I’m not sure what it is. Or maybe I’m just being stubborn about it — usually if I give up on a book it’s in the first couple of chapters.

Not recommended.

still jamming

Still going strong with Jamuary. It was a struggle a couple of times, but never for lack of ideas. Creative block is really not a problem for me, as long as I have the motivation to start. Apparently “try for a full 31-day Jamuary” is enough motivation to overcome sickness, tiredness and ennui.

Then there are technical issues. With one particular jam, I wanted to actually use Bitwig’s clip launcher as intended, with short MIDI sequences in different columns, cuing up the next clip to be switched to. But it interfered with my usual recording method (just record the master channel to an empty clip cell), and something — I never figured out what, why, or how to stop it — kept switching me to column 4, and not at the end of the currently playing clip. So I tried setting up the handy loop recorder module in VCV Rack, played what I thought was probably a fantastic take (despite the scrambling of my selected sequences)… and discovered I’d recorded 7 minutes of utter silence. I yelled at Bitwig in ways that I usually reserve for Microsoft products at work, downloaded the old Voxengo Recorder and tried again. The result was actually pretty good, at least.

(Lesson learned: limit my clip launcher sequencing to exactly zero or one clips. That doesn’t seem to be how the software is intended to be used, but it works without a hitch and it’s how I’ve used it 99% of the time anyway…)

I’m listening to my first 15 jams at work today and thinking that a fair number of them are album material. At the start of February I’ll most likely curate, name, master, and publish them as my first 2023 album, then go back to working on the project I’d started in mid-December.

Someone else’s Jamuary entry mentioned Lancinantes, a drone-oriented VST plugin which had escaped my notice before. It’s just three additive oscillators with gradually shifting random harmonics, plus a sub oscillator and noise, with a filter and delay and reverb. While I might have wanted more control over the harmonics, each section can be overdriven, and the result turns out to be something I’m not sure I could patch as easily as I might have guessed. It was cheap, so I picked it up.

I don’t think I mentioned that I picked up a Lite2Sound PX from Rare Waves. From the description and samples, it’s sensitive enough to “hear” the wind disturbing the sun or pick up the sound of a radio from reflections on its surface. In my experience though, whether you get a loud or quiet, interesting or boring signal, or silence can vary despite the automatic gain correction — and sunlight seems to be silent, amybe thanks to our windows blocking UV? So far the best thing to point it at has been the Nixie tube clock, which plays a sort of rich chord drone. But I should grab the little Olympus recorder and take it on an excursion; I want to see how it treats sunlight ripples on Lake Creve Coeur among other things.

Speaking of recorder, my brother gave me a vintage Hohner melodica for Christmas. It’s a bit more solid than other melodicas in my experience and has the sound to match. Some lovely chords, which would be great drones if my breath held out. I’m going to have to record that and make use of it for sure.

Aside from music, I’ve been occupying a little of my time with anime — because the delicious chicken tortilla soup I love so much isn’t so easy to eat perched in a easy chair while also reading a book. After a couple of failed “pick something on NetFlix” sessions I settled on Orbital Children and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I started to describe the plot to my wife and she wanted to know if it was basically like Assassination Classroom, where the premise seems ridiculously bizarre and yet it’s surprisingly heartwarming. Well… not quite that bizarre, and not quite as heartwarming, but still satisfying.

I really was hoping I’d love Exception, with an adventurous far-future SF premise, gorgeous visual design and style, and music by Ryuichi Sakamoto. But I was irritated by the writing, on multiple levels. Eh.

I’ve been spending more time playing Soulstone Survivors. You have a low-polygon fantasy character who runs around autoattacking, as you move and aim. It starts off with your basic dungeon crawl goblin stabbing, and ends up with speeding around like a greased pinball setting off explosions and lightning and holy wrath and poison clouds all over the place like a mech pilot whose Alpha Strike button got stuck, while leveling up about six times per minute and increasing your damage, area of effect and attack speed every time… and you have to turn the effect opacity down to about 10% to see the HUGE red warning zones where bosses are doing the same right back atcha. It’s frankly kind of ridiculous and stupid, but it’s compelling somehow. And I think it’s going to let me ignore the Diablo 4 release because I’m still not happy with how Blizzard treats its employees.

plenty of jam

It’s Ja(n/m)uary 7 and I’ve managed to record and post something for each day so far. While I’m generally prolific, starting and finishing something daily is on another level. It’s a musical marathon.

I sold my BeetTweek to a local in person (and we used the short trip to the meeting spot as an excuse to get some Greek food for dinner, cupcakes to make up for not getting them on our birthdays, and the international grocery store).

I’ve got Function and Mini PEG installed now. Function of course is exactly as I remember — great feel and knob ranges, everything just right. Mini PEG is a little on the odd side, but I think it’ll be quite useful. It syncs the total length of a rise/fall cycle to the tempo of an incoming clock, regardless of the shape and curvature. You can get some interesting things happening by combining cycling with the trigger input. Basic usage (which is already quite flexible) is intuitive and needs no manual or cheat sheet, but a look through said manual reveals a bunch of hidden features which honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever use.

I have played a bit with stretching the bounds of hardware/software integration. Warps in VCV Rack as a wavefolder sounds pretty great, but honestly in the context of a mix the difference from the analog folder in Shapeshifter is minimal. With some patching techniques, the latency going into, out of, then back into the DAW can present challenges. I will probably play with the other effects a bit more before deciding whether I want a hardware Warps again — honestly it could just be I miss that sweet glowing knob.

I got Marbles in VCV Rack successfully sequencing Eurorack stuff, but dealing with the routing was a bit awkward; I had to put VCV in a PreFX chain of a Grid device to sort it out, and also carefully tweak levels so the signal coming out of Optx was still one volt per octave. I can’t see myself using it this way on a regular basis, so whether I keep the hardware Marbles depends really on… whether I want to use Marbles in hardware. I just got some good use out of it in today’s Jamuary jam, but I could have easily used 0-Ctrl instead. But I’ll just hold onto it for the foreseeable future, keep working it and decide whether it’s pulling its weight.

In a couple of the jams I’ve been using the Thingamagoop 3000 again, and really enjoying it for drones. I’m glad I never sold it off though it sat idle for a good while — it’s back, baby!

Jamuary 1

I haven’t posted much to my YouTube channel in a long time, but decided it made as much sense as anywhere for posting my Jamuary entries. (Also posting on Instagram, but I trust it slightly less.)

And now, to crawl into bed. zzzZzZZzZzz