2014 in preview

Gasp! Did I just use a multi-word title for a non-reblogged post?

I thought I would start the year with a list of resolutions. But I’m not sure “resolutions” is the right word. The word almost connotes goals that are started but quickly discarded. Instead, this is my list of possible accomplishments for the year. I expect the list to change some over the next 365 days.

  1. Make an initial list of accomplishments to achieve for the year There, that wasn’t so hard!
  2. Read the Bible deliberately and consistently, and learn more of what it really says
  3. Get back in the saddle again, and ride my bike farther and faster than I ever have. Getting fitter than I have ever been would be an awesome side-effect
  4. Be a better husband and dad
  5. Reconnect with relatives I have ignored over the years, and connect with those I have never met
  6. Learn Czech and Hebrew, and improve my Norwegian
  7. Extra credit: build a simple conlang that incorporates at least one feature from each of those languages
  8. Clean off the keyboard and learn how to play a few songs with skill
  9. Run a half-marathon. There’s that getting fitter than ever thing again
  10. Tend to this blog more often
  11. Declutter

Alrighty then, let’s see where this goes.

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Loopy

Cruise control

Whenever I hop on a stationary cycle, I find that my legs naturally latch onto the beat of whatever music is playing. That is a good thing when my legs are tired, because it helps me keep going beyond my too-tired-to-keep-going point.

Most health club music tends to be in the 120-130 BPM (beats per minute) range, which typically translates to pedaling at 60-65 RPM. With concentration I can manage to a crank-and-a-half 90-97.5 RPM pace for a few minutes before going out of sync and soon reverting back to 60-65 RPM. My legs are like moths to the beat’s flame.

Now this is fine if only ever pedaling in place. This is not so fine when it comes to venturing out on the roads and trails. Why? The human body adapts to the training it is given, and by the time the weather warms up I want my legs ready to go the distance at any RPM.

I have plenty of music on my MP3 player, but most of it isn’t really conducive to wide range of cycling speeds. I went through just about every song and counted beats. The BPM range was staggeringly limiting. I needed to expand my musical horizons.

Jammin’

Music Maker JamOver the Christmas holiday, I ran across Music Maker Jam by MAGIX in the Windows Store. Music Maker Jam is a free app that lets you make music by assembling loops.

A loop is a short bit of music made purposely to be repeated as part of a larger musical piece. The vast majority of popular music produced today likely includes some, or is even composed entirely of, looped music. Not just electronic instruments like synthesizers and drums, but acoustic instruments like guitars, trumpets, pianos. Even short pieces played by entire orchestras are made into loops.

I bought a few inexpensive loop libraries from within Music Maker Jam for a few bucks each and experimented. I had fun and created a couple MP3s. The app is great for what it is, but I soon found myself wanting to go beyond its walls. There is no way to enter short bits of melody. I found assembling a piece longer than a minute or two to be increasingly tedious. The loop libraries’ terms of use was a little too restrictive for my taste. To be fair, this is the most entry-level edition of the software. MAGIX does offer more fully-featured editions, but I didn’t like the correspondingly much higher prices.

That said, no matter what your musical ability, if you have Windows RT or Windows 8 give Music Maker Jam a try. It is pretty fun to play with.

Trippin’

ACID Music Studio 9Then I remembered I had an older copy of Sony Creative Software’s ACID Music Studio. I installed and played with the trial of the current version. It felt more polished than what I remembered of my old version, what little use I made of it. It didn’t take long to know that this was more in line with what I was looking for: plenty of editing power, the ability to add loops and melody, and ACID loop libraries are all royalty-free. Bonus: connects to instruments via MIDI (musical instrument digital interface), which I will put to use if when I manage to dust off the keyboard.

The cost to upgrade to the current version was quite reasonable, around $25 with holiday discount. And it included my choice of a reasonably large loop library. I put my Christmas cash to use. (Thanks, Mom- and Dad-in-law!)

Shifting gears

After about a month of playing with ACID Music Studio, I think I am starting to get a better feel for how to choose and combine loops in ways that sound good. It is not as easy as grabbing a percussion loop, a bass loop, and a melodic loop and calling it done. If it were that easy, we would all have album deals.

Somewhat surprising to me, is that I cannot simply set the tempo to 160 bpm (for pedaling at 80 RPM) and expect a good result. A lot of loops don’t work so well at that tempo, and instead become a blur of noise. At the same time, most loops do not sound good at all at 40 bpm (also for 80 RPM).

So, I keep experimenting. I figure by the time the weather is warm enough for outdoor rides, I should have at least one song made for indoor pedaling at each of 50, 60, …, 100 RPM. Time will tell!