Jamstix, a virtual-drummer VST instrument plug-in, is one of the new breed of interactive computer-based instruments that help composers to make music. It requires Windows XP or 2000, a P3 or Athlon 500 MHz CPU (although 2 GHz is recommended), 512 MB of RAM, 500 MB of free hard-drive space, and a VSTi 2.0 — compliant host. The base model costs $99, but I highly recommend the $129 bundle, which includes two add-on drum packs.
The Jam pane of the Jamstix VST window is home base for manual, free, and
keyword drum jams.
Installation was a breeze: I simply downloaded Jamstix from the Rayzoon Web site (www.rayzoon.com), then unzipped and ran the install executable. I used Sonar 5 as my VSTi host and had no trouble inserting multiple instances of Jamstix and running them on their own using the built-in Jamstix drum brain or running them from accompanying MIDI or audio tracks.
Jamstix is really three instruments in one. With its brain turned off, it's a standard drum-kit sound module, which can be driven by MIDI data. With its brain on, it can act as an arranger or jammer. As an arranger, it resembles a sequencer and allows you to create stylistically coherent drum tracks with customized intros, patterns, breaks, fills, and endings (see Web Clip 1). Arranging is the right choice if you already have a clear idea of the drum part.
As a jammer, Jamstix generates a drum part in real time to accompany MIDI or audio input, either of which can be provided from a MIDI or audio file or live from a MIDI or audio instrument (see Web Clips 2 and 3). You select rhythms from the Jamstix library, edit them as desired, sequence them, and customize the flow by adding an intro, fills, an ending, and MIDI automation.
Jamming is great when you're not sure exactly what kind of drum part you're looking for. You can use a virtual instrument to jam with Jamstix, record your playing while Jamstix automatically records itself, and then switch to manual jam and rearrange patterns, change fills, mute bars, and so on.
Is It Real or Is It Jamstix?
Jamstix's ability to create realistic-sounding drum tracks that jibe stylistically with the other layers in a song is its biggest asset. The realism comes from Rayzoon's Limb Priority Control mechanism, which ensures that the drum part is at all times playable by a human drummer. The stylistic consistency comes from the panoply of customizable style controls in the Jamstix drum brain: Velocity variance, auto cymbals, random accents, probable notes, automatic switch rules, no ghosting on low velocity, and so on. Furthermore, over 50 parameters can be automated from the host.
LiveLoop technology is another great Jamstix feature. It allows you to maintain flexible control over your drums during live performance. You divide an arrangement into sections (called LiveLoops), which are typically verses, bridges, choruses, and so on, then switch between sections with a footswitch or MIDI controller.
For the Record
Being a composer more than a technician, I'm a big fan of simple, clear GUIs that practically run themselves. Although Jamstix's GUI isn't the most complex I've seen, it certainly isn't a no-brainer. Much of the complexity is necessary, but the GUI could be a bit more streamlined (see the graphic).
When jamming with Jamstix in Sonar and changing drum-brain parameters in real time, the beat often got out of sync. To resync, I had to stop and restart. According to Jamstix's creator, Ralph Zeuner, that is a known problem with Jamstix in Sonar, but it shouldn't occur in other hosts.
If the Shoe Fits
I found the Jamstix range of styles to be somewhat limited. It covers rock, funk, pop, and blues quite well, but has less to offer for experimental genres such as IDM and electronica. On the other hand, even experimentalists can benefit from the Jamstix groove brain by using it to drive different electronic drum VSTis. Jazz composers should also find Jamstix useful, especially with the recently released BrushPak, which adds a brush kit, sizzle cymbal, swing logic, and snare-brushing control to the mix.
I heartily recommend Jamstix for any PC-based producer of rock, funk, pop, or blues who wants realistic-sounding and -feeling drums in his tracks but does not have the resources to hire a human drummer. Jamstix comes one step closer to the realization of a convincingly human-sounding, all-purpose virtual drummer. Customer support is fabulous. Jamstix creator Ralph Zeuner is a font of Rayzoon wisdom, and wonderfully patient and responsive to his users. And the price is right — at $99, it's practically a steal.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4