June 24, 2020

The process of Monsquaz Swap Album #11

I wrote earlier about the Monsquaz albums and it’s time again. Due to some constraints last year with work I couldn’t contribute much to Swap #10 but I’m back for Swap #11. This is the 8th year that the collective known as Monsquaz” creates another album using the same concept. Swap album #9 turned out to be a really high watermark for the series, as a lot of the participants has matured musically over the years so it’s exciting to do this again. This time around I am going to document each round here and post this entry once I’m done with all entries. I’ll also add a before and after MP3 to hear the changes I made per week.

To quickly recap, the idea is that everyone creates a seed based on a preselected list of samples, which is passed back to the host. The host anonymizes the seed and sends you the seed of someone else which you iterate on for 24 hours. The swap follows a Latin Squares pattern which means that everyone works at every song once. What you end up with is these artifacts that have no distinct style often moving in different directions but with tons of musical experiences that is a joy to listen to afterwards. The most enjoyable part of participating is submitting something really weird in the middle of the compo and hear it resolve once all the songs are released into something fantastic.

To do this we are all using software called OpenMPT as it provides a very stable way of moving the project files between different participants without causing issues, as no VSTs or sound banks are needed to play back the files. OpenMPT is a music tracker which is shortly explained as making music in Microsoft Excel 97.


If you’ve ever seen a DAW before, imagine just rotating it 90 degrees and letting the channels flow towards the bottom instead of towards the right. Every column represents a voice and ever row in that column is a place where the tracker can trigger a sample with a pitch instruction, volume instruction and effect modifier. The format per row works like this:

G#4     08              v46         X67
Note    instrument      Volume      Effect

Sounds limited? Absolutely is, which is part of the beauty of working with this software. A lot of the creativity stems from figuring out ways of noting down musical ideas in this way of thinking about music. Each column can technically contain any instrument and switch seamlessly back and forth but it only has one sample player”. This means that if you trigger a long violin sample and then a drum hit on the same column the drum kick will choke” the earlier sample and take over the sample playback. Achieving polyphony means using multiple columns, even for something as simple as playing a chord.

With that said, here are my notes in chronological order that I took daily when participating. I streamed everything to Twitch as well so I’ve gone ahead and linked to each of the VODs if you are curious of how this actually works and want to see me struggle terribly.

The experimentation stage

In this stage the tracks are changing pretty rapidly changing tempo and structure when creators rework the initial seeds into new ideas and adding on patterns. This is the wildest part of the compo to hear a track as the end result is almost unrecognizable.

Round 1 (The Seed)


For this swap I mimicked a lot of how i began for Swap 9, as the result from that was absolutely amazing. Started out with a very simple bassline melody and moved on to setting the tempo by creating a double tracked kick track. Ended up adding some build up just for the sake of it but could as well have left the seed at this point. Last compo I never figured out filters in OpenMPT so I gave it a try this time by filtering elements back and forth which is used specifically on the last build. Turns out that after I got the filters working I also realized that the filters were used the wrong way. Hope someone fixes that next round…

Round 2



Short loop with a lot of potential with absolutely zero song structure, so that is what I’m attacking with this seed. Created a dub delay effect by panning the snare back and forth and slowly fading it out, emulating a delay. The X effect allows you to pan on top of the adjust volume message which I took advantage of. Lastly it was a matter of just finishing up the buildup and introducing the melody. Pretty happy with how this seed transformed, the melody has a lot of potential but it will need a continuation of the theme.


Round 3



Round 3 was a slower song, playing at 90 BPM with some beautiful guitar melodies that almost felt like a town theme from a game. I think just based off the different edits that the majority of the track was made by the first author and the second author added the somewhere over the rainbow”-esque melody at the end. The guitar is nicely tracked, which is what I screenshotted from this piece. This is a bit too slow I feel but the melody has a lot of potential.

I added therefore upped the base tempo from 90 to 105 and added a further increase to a more tempo part after the last breakdown in the seed. From there I sequenced faster drums and reworked the melody to fit a faster tempo, while adding in a new bassline that follows the arpeggiated guitar. I did not want to spend too much time sequencing my part further here as there are 15 rounds to go for this track, which means it will probably change dramatically at least twice. My changes come in after 1:35 in the submitted song.


Round 4



This seed starts out so weird with an ominous feeling and broken down samples with a distorted kickdrum. Initially I wasn’t sure but the track quickly goes to a really good place with an arpeggiated lead and has a nice modulation to a new key. The issue however is that the last author to work on this track before me decided to ignore all of this and start a new track after the really good layers that already existed. Is this accepted? In a way yes, the swap allows you to create parts that doesn’t fit together and hope that someone resolves them later on. What irks me here is that when doing that you usually start by providing the transition rather than another track. As the track stands seeded, it’s basically just two tracks playing in sequential.

So in true swap fashion I spend about an hour on working on the first part of the track as I think that was most interesting. I didn’t delete the last parts but I prepared for someone to create a transition to the new track that was laying around which should help the next compo participant to work on. On top of this I extended the nice arps with a bassline breakdown (almost my swap signature addition at this point) and added some weird percussion with the soda can opening sample.

Round 5



This song like so many other of the tracks has an identity crisis. It starts out with this very slow and moody Final Fantasy SNES style and mid song transitions into a much faster track. Both of these parts have problems, the first part lacked density so I added some layers to the earlier parts. The second part goes basically nowhere so I spent some time on trying to bridge it into something new.

I wasn’t really feeling that inspired for this round even if the song is good. OpenMPT is so annoying to work with. I understand a lot of people appreciate trackers but it is clear to me why they aren’t favored by a lot of musicians any longer, it’s just too much intricate details to work around in order to get the effects you want. Really, I think the tracker style of composing makes you develop signature tracking patterns and repeat them many times due to it being hard to experiment with. Want to space the notes out and repeat it fast? Copy paste that a million times and hope you got it right. Either I’m using the software wrong or I’m just used to good UX design, which this is not.

Round 6



This one was really fun to work on. Seed was short and contained a lot of discarded ideas so I think that someone during a previous round took the initial seed and reworked it into the 4 bars that existed in the seed. A lot to do here for me today, so started out with giving the song some structure as usual and polishing the general soundscape of the track. I ended up adding tons of patterns in this track, going from 5 to 15 patterns.


The seed had a really beautiful progression where the string lead played Cm11 -> C#maj7 -> F#9sus4 -> D#m7 (I think) with some notes removed for parts of the chords which I think augmented the arpeggiated bell very nicely. I ended up changing these up towards the end to work the track towards something new. To do that I broke the track down and started filtering in element after element in a very house music fashion and ended my contribution by reworking a leftover idea from the seed that hadn’t gotten used.

I decided to not add anything else to the track at this point as I am really hyped to see where this track will end up during the next 12 rounds, there is so much potential here and I feel that the contribution created a great path for someone to continue on. It’s almost impossible to not continue the ending which hopefully should avoid someone tracking in something completely different.

Round 7



Nice day today! Was out walking in the sun and meeting a friend for the first time since the COVID-19 experience started, this might as well be a pseudo-diary at this point. Reason this matters is that I was pretty tired today so I had a hard time convincing myself to get started on tracking. Opening the track today made it clear that there is an identity crisis in the song today. The song I got have three different major themes going that are close to each other in style but not in melodic feeling, so bridging these was the focus for today. It took a while before I found anything to work on with this track but eventually I extended the end of the track which got the creativity rolling. It’s funny that one can be so empty of creativity and it flows back as soon as you start doing the work. Tons of shitty lifehacks describes this as a method that works and after this day I’m inclined to believe it.

Fixed the intro of this track, as it’s pretty much bam on with a filter fade of the lead with the drums. After that I added a sweet bassline solo and worked on bridging the two earlier themes together by fixing the breakdown that someone else added earlier to the song. That’s mostly it for today, I probably contributed 5-8 patterns to this track but nothing groundbreaking this time around.

The progression stage

In this stage the seeds have major themes and melodies but are usually disjointed and are lacking overall song progression. Goal here is to work on existing patterns and add variation while working within the spirit of the track. Some trackers take this opportunity to change the track dramatically by adjusting the tempo or reworking a major part.

Round 8



This track is weird. Great intro that slowly works itself towards something else and then the track changes completely. Without a doubt the weakest track I’ve gotten so far in terms of ideas and polish. Hard to even know what to do with this track. These rounds are generally really hard as there is so much to tackle that it’s hard to know where to start. I can try to fix a transition, make a completely new pattern or just mess around with edits.

Eventually I came up with a cool addition. I discovered that part of the patterns sounded great when playing them in a shuffle” style by stepping through them with CTRL + Enter, so decided to actually make that a change to the pattern. I accomplished that by using the tempo control and manually changing the playback speed up and down to create the varying tempo. Who knows if this survives but after adjusting the effect a bit the edit actually improved the style of the track a lot.

An unrelated topic here, there has been a viewer named Sir_Kane who has watched basically every day of me tracking. Need to do a shoutout here as I probably would have given up on streaming at this point due to the fear of not coming up with ideas. Due to MR KANE waiting you feel obligated to go back and start tracking on stream.

Post-round addition: Gotta spoil this track actually, the shuffle actually made it through the entire compo and someone added an absolutely amazing saxophone solo on top of it that just made the part work. I laughed so much that I felt the need to add the extract here.

Round 9



Initially very hard to figure out what to do with this track. The track has two really strong themes going throughout. The first is early in the track in where someone has used the You got me burning up” sample in a very creative way with some fantastic harmonies and good bassline. The second strong theme is in the middle of the track where it builds up towards a strong melody.

After being uncreative for a couple of minutes I noticed that there seemed to be a bug in some later patterns where the author had copied something wrong by mistake, creating a shift in rhythm that most likely isn’t supposed to be there. Fixing this issue also lead me to think hmm what it goes to this part afterwards”, giving me some ideas on what to work on with the track.

Ended up using the bassline in the middle to extend what I think is one of the stronger parts and created 7 new patterns in total for the track, much more than I had expected. All in all a good day tracking.

Round 10



They keep getting weirder. This is even more messy than the one I got yesterday with multiple themes and tons of strong melodies that doesn’t really fit together. Not really going to try to fix that, rather provide some framework around the concept. Sir_Kane commented that it sounded like a SNES fighting game” so I created a new intro to mimic a game console startup sound, which should sort of hint that this tries to be a videogame tune. I took inspiration from the startup sound to the Playstation and created something that had the same slow lush pads with glimmering bells in the background.

On top of that I added some backing melodies to one of the patterns and completely destroyed another one. There is just one pattern that doesn’t fit and I think the transition is going to have to be one of the classic SWAP COMPO SPEED UP transitions. Not much else to say about this track other than that it was really hard to work with.

Round 11



This track is very different. So far almost every track has been a very unique track which is different to some of the other swaps where tracks end up repeating themes. Probably due to the amount of people involved you get more variety in the tracks this time around. This track is much more chill compared to many of the other tracks but suffers from the lack of balancing.

Layering can be a good thing but in this case there are parts that are just too heavily layered where elements are fighting over each other for attention rather than harmonizing. Not going to tackle that, so decided to add flair to the empty parts instead without trying to overdo it. Enter the Timbale Rim Sample! I started scattering this one around playing some accents which really worked with the theme.

After that I tackled extending what I think is the strongest melody of the track by duplicating some patterns and re-working the melody. It took me longer than it should have to figure out that the melody was in F Major. Note to self here is def to spend more time next year on just remembering the circle of fifths so I don’t have to consult Scale Finder every single time I run into these melodies.

Round 12



Finally a track that starts out differently to the other tracks. This one actually goes for an high bpm kick drum driven beat and the filtering sounds great. It’s gets a bit messy mid track and eventually someone prior to me decided nah” and did a classic swap transition”.

In many other Monsquaz Compo songs, when swappers don’t know what to do a common pattern I see is that they just speed up the track, make a stupid snare arrangement and jump to something completely new hoping that someone else figures the transition out. Something that other authors rarely do because the new track is so different. Instead of attacking this problem I decided to start transitioning the track back to the part that I felt was cohesive for the majority of the track. I did this by slowly rebuilding the same percussion that the track stood on and transitioned the tempo back to what it used to be towards the end of the track. Hopefully someone can fill in here and polish it up.

12 days of creating music in a row is actually more tiring than I expected. I’ve done this before but never this seriously. Previous years I’ve sometimes skipped or added small amounts of percussion when I didn’t have ideas but this time I try to actually contribute real patterns for every iteration which is actually mentally exhausting. I am learning a lot though, my sense for good melody is increasing by every day that passes and I’m starting to actually become friendlier with the arcane tracker UI. I’m likely going to revisit some of these melodies afterwards as there is a lot to learn from the other authors.

The Fixing transitions” stage

When compos are as long as this the stages are more fluid but normally this is the point where creators start trying to fix harsh transitions and make the track flow more seamlessly between ideas. Often this means creating transitions between parts that are different.

Round 13



The best part about being in this compo is when you get to a part and you instantly know who tracked it from the style. This song has a really strong breakdown with some absolutely fantastic chords that just screams one particular author. Very well composed here and is a good break compared to the other breaks in this track. Apart from enjoying this I spent time on fixing transitions left hanging by previous authors.

As OpenMPT has jump instructions the composer is able to build pretty advanced chains of music throughout the track. With this added complexity there is a potential to introduce bugs” into the song. One that I found today was an author that created a hard pointer at position 11. In OpenMPT, positions is an ordered list so if you insert something prior to the pattern the jump instruction breaks. This is probably fine when authors are working alone on a track but when you’re swapping these instructions tend to become pretty dangerous if passed to someone that misses that they suddenly skip patterns. To fix this I converted all of these occurrences to relative jump instructions which should work regardless of # in the position list.

Today I also found out that OpenMPT actually has a visual effect editor called the Parameter editor”!

parameter editor

It’s hard to describe how much happier I would have been if I found this earlier on in the process. I’ve spent too much time at this point hand editing envelopes for filters and effects and OpenMPT just happens to have this secret visual parameter editor that takes that pain away. Very frustrating to discover this but I guess it helps for the last 5 rounds.

Round 14



Oh no. I dreaded a track like this the entire compo. This track is basically all the issues of doing a music swap combined into one track. At one point in the seed there is an ear piercing sound that someone tracked in like this:


Cleaning this track up is hard, there is a lot of repeating patterns that just serve as filler for no reason and the last part absolutely doesn’t fit in. My solution to this was to drastically re-arrange the track by redoing the outro part as an intro that transitions over to the intro to adhere to the don’t delete” spirit of the swap. On top of that I removed all pattern repetitions” where a pattern is played twice in a row to fill out as I felt that served no purpose a lot of the times. Also not going to lie I flat out deleted the ear piercing part, I’m usually pretty strict about rarely deleting in swaps but this was just bad shitposting.

This is probably the first track in this compo where I didn’t add anything, just fixed mixing, mistakes, bad chords and structure. We are reaching the end of the compo so now is the time to solve this lingering issue.

Mixing / Mastering

At this point it’s hard to add anything substansial without reworking large parts of the track. For that reason mixing and mastering becomes the main focus in which the contribution you can do is to polish and fix issues while balancing the different channels.

Round 15



This track is a joy! This really shows of the complex compositions that can come out of the compo while actually retaining decently coherent and fused together. There are no stray patterns, harsh transitions, song shifts or weird chords. Just a really good track with some great composition in an odd time signature.

Since this is Round 15 I mainly focused on fixing bugs and wrapping up the track. For this I spent some time on creating an actual outro, as the previous swapper had tried to add on a disco beat that didn’t fit in towards the end so reworked that to a real outro. Apart from the outro I scattered some timbale rim sounds here and there to give some dynamic to the otherwise pretty static beat.

Track was absolutely awesome to hear but at the same time not much to work on here. This late it’s almost more powerful not to add anything which is why this one got the small polish.

Round 16



Very polished and solid track here. It’s obvious that we’re in round 16 just based on the coherent trackng and nice mixing. With that said, always some mistakes to fix. At this point in time, focusing on mixing and panning helps the track escape muddiness. I added some panning to the crazy timbale pattern and double tracked some of the basslines for punch. Apart from that there wasn’t really much to do other than sparkle percussion at certain points to vary the track.

Unrelated side note: The built-in filter in OpenMPT sounds absolutely terrible. When I started out making music I never believed that there was a big enough difference in filters but after spending time with the Elektron Analog Four/Rytm series I am convinced that filter character is an extremely important part of filter sounds. The problem with OpenMPT is that it’s neither clean” nor musical”, sweeping the filter sounds harsh and the boosting the resonance gives a lot of unwanted artifacts. I’m happy that this is the final stretch of me using this software. Ableton also does this really well with their filter emulation types that allows you to get the filter singing in a musical way.

Round 17



Track was pretty much done. Minor mixing and panning of instruments. Only thing I did was remove a pattern and balance instruments. Found a couple of smaller bugs with filters that was easy to resolve. This usually happens when an author adds new parts in the middle without considering what happens afterwards and this time it was obvious that it was an unintended effect. Didn’t really feel it this day in general so it was pretty nice to get a track that had that amount of polish.

Round 18



What a journey this 2,5 weeks has been. I forgot how draining it is to try to summon some sort of creative energy every day and some days have been challenging to get going. Today was one of them, amidst a flurry of things that has occurred around me the last few days. Luckily nothing that directly affect me but when these events affects friends the emotional burden spills over. To remedy this I started the tracking session by listening to Athletic Theme from Yoshi’s Island a couple of times to get in the mood. I just love the way the S-SMP sounds and how the limited samples really creates an awesome composition.

This track actually needs a lot of work, more than I expected for the last round. A lot of pretty harsh transitions and mixing needs to be improved at several places in the track. I started out with listening through the track and taking notes of every place that had something that bothered me. After the first listen I just went through the list and solved part after part until it all felt more coherent and even. There was a pretty harsh transition towards the end that I initially didn’t know how to approach. What ended up working here was reworking the patterns from the next segment onto a similar style as the pattern I was trying to transition from and aggressively using the filter to make it fade. Last part of this track was adding an outro as the track was trying to pick up speed again with a really nice arpeggiated lead. Facing a dilemma here to either pace the track back up or slow it down. After experimenting with a couple of different approaches I decided to end it from there and slowly fade the parts out. Ending really could have been better in hindsight.

One thing I find helpful when trying to master tracks is listening to tracks in a new context’. After staring at OpenMPT for 18 days it helps to just break the visual connection to the track and listen to it in darkness while standing up. This allows me to hear the track differently and find sounds that sticks out. Depriving myself of the visual stimuli is surpringsly effective, at least for someone like me that is more fluent in visual communication. This is a nice screenshot of me during this at the end of R18.

listening in darkness

Part of the tradition is that the person who finishes the track also names the track. I settled for Sir Kane’s Cinnamon Party” as a tribute to the loyal Twitch viewer who sat through most of this experimentation.

Reflecting on the experience

After doing all the small fixes I spent some time reflecting on things that I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. Setting a schedule like this for myself. The forcing function of this compo means that we together produces 18 tracks (of varying quality) but you get actual output. When making music myself I end up spending endless amount of time on perfecting sounds rather than pushing out tracks to iterate on. Building the Pixelcube was a great showcase of this where I had an actual deadline to meet, the cube HAD to be done by July 4th which meant I finished it by then. Using this technique on my personal music projects is obvious now after doing this.

  2. Wish that I had spent more time on creating melodies early, I deferred this in favour of helping creating structure in the tracks but my weak side clearly is creating catchy melodies. I naturally gravitated to working on the things that I was strong at and next time I should push myself harder to take this opportunity to work on the things I am not as strong at.

  3. Next time I should listen to the track earlier in the day and edit after giving it some time to grow on me. This is something that happens throughout the track but makes my first minutes more of taking in the track rather than effective editing. Applying this to my personal work would be really valuable as well.

  4. OpenMPT is a horrible way to make music for me. There are great learnings from fighting it and I’ve gotten so much better at both using the software and making music but I’m really happy that this is finally over.


I got the opportunity to once again host the SYNC LISTEN in which everyone hears the result of each track for the first time. We usually do this by streaming the result so I leveraged my knowledge of streaming once again. Here is a VOD from the sync listen that covers each track’s seed and result.

This ends the last 3 weeks of tracking and I’m on the fence if I would participate in the next swap. For a long time it felt like a very small group so my impact was pretty large but the group has so much talent now that I feel more that it’s hard to do meaningful contribution across all days. Hopefully I can take the learnings from this compo onto my own work. Who knows, chances are that one feels excited to do this again 2021 but right now I am over using OpenMPT.

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Mastering Monsquaz Swap Album #11 One problem that occurs from the relay writing approach of the Swap is that every participant lacks a reference for the final round. You only know