Keys open doors to creative music making in a community-led process. Photo (CC-BY) Cassie / Angelandspot.

What an extraordinary thing an interface can be, a map to making music.

A new community-generated album from users of the now-legendary monome grid instrument yields a variety of musical outcomes. The results are instrumental and lovely, breaking off on lots of different stylistic vectors, but glued together by the notion of key and pitch. Let’s let contributor Joshua Saddler explain this – and the holiday album – as well as share some of the music. If you celebrate Orthodox Christmas or more generally the idea of “Holidays” (ahem), or if you just like good music, you can overlook the fact that the latter arrives a bit late on the Western calendar. But both albums are terrific, and I suspect the approach to the music in key, to sharing samples and field recordings, could well be an inspiration in your own music-making endeavors. Sometimes rules are liberating.

If you want to get a jump start on musical New Year’s resolutions, I can think of nothing better. Joshua writes:

A monome instrument, sporting custom-designed art included in the packaging. Photo (CC-BY) bm.iphone.

The monome community has released not one, but two albums for the holidays. Both are freely available at

The first, MCRPv11 (Monome Community Remix Project, volume 11), was released mid-November, five months after the MCRPv10 album (which CDM has previously covered).

As with all MCRP albums, there are guidelines and a theme. Participants submitted a field recording and a short instrumental sample in the key of G/E-minor. The participants then chose as many samples as they wished from the shared pool (though they couldn’t use their own samples), and had a couple of weeks to assemble their tracks. Sounds ranged from falling rocks to ocean waves to modular synthesizers to toy ukeleles and dogs barking. From this pool emerged fifteen startlingly diverse tracks.

Have a listen, and head to Bandcamp for downloads in any format you desire:

I appreciate the chance to see Joshua’s process in video:

I’m pretty pleased with how my contribution, “mnml autmn,” turned out:

mnml autmn by ioflow

I sequenced bits and pieces from four samples with Renoise (in some cases using single-cycle waveforms…so it still counts, even if it sounds nothing like the original!), exported sections to loops, and performed them live with rove ( on a monome 128. I recorded and rearranged the resulting segments using Ardour3‘s timeline view. The tracker and the traditional DAW actually worked well together. As I’m the sole Linux musician on the album, composing and arranging takes much longer using free software than more common tools like Ableton Live. Things that took me hours are probably three-click operations in Live. Still, by having to strike out on my own, I learn so many new things each time I sit down to create…it’s worth the occasional frustration at not being able to do things the easy way, using the same process as everyone else.

The second release is the annual Monome Community Christmas Album volume 2, made available on December 21.

This project had much more leeway; no hard-and-fast rules about samples or themes. I ended up forgoing the monome entirely for this album, instead improvising an original acoustic piano piece:

gloria by ioflow

There were fewer participants for MCXAv2, since it began immediately after MCRPv11, but the quality of the tracks is still extraordinary. Warm neo-retro-loungetronica. I’ll be listening to it year-round, not just in December.

Me, too. And perhaps you, as well:

Thanks, monome-ers!