Remix as Modus Operandi

The last few weekends I’ve been playing around with remixes; (found via this site & this one) & I’ve been doing it for a couple of reasons. The first is purely motivated by being allowed to play with musical elements/stems from artists that I love, specifically Horace Andy’s voice and Tony Allen’s drumming…. In the past I’ve been given copies of stems from a few artists I love & they are so fascinating to listen to as they provide a means of seeing into the creative process of those artists. An obvious example is the two 24 track stems available here from the Eno & Byrne album, My Life In The Bush of Ghosts. Fascinating to think about how each of the tracks was recorded but also fascinating to listen to the stems with the faders flat & then listen to the final album mix and hear how much creative work was done shaping the raw elements in the mix.
Remixing is also fascinating from a cultural perspective. I never took part but there was a remix competition for a Jazzanova song and despite the style & genre of the original have a listen to the three winners:

Each version works in its own own genre bending way, but it is interesting to hear the same source file (ie the vocal) recontextualised. The RemixTheory site has a good history of remixing in music culture but also extends the approach into other media, and while most decisions about music tend to be instinctive that doesn’t mean they cannot be rationalised philosophically after the fact.

But my other reason for doing these remixes is one of modus operandi. I have maybe a dozen songs sitting on my drive that seem to exist in a permanently fluid state. I boot each of them up every so often, have a jam, evolve them a bit but dont get any closer to finishing them. So as a tactic I started thinking: how come I can finish a remix in the course of a week? What is the different modus operandi that I assume & how can i adapt it to my own tunes?

The first thing I do when starting each of the remixes is to assume a position of total pragmatism: I load up the stems, set the faders flat & have a listen. Then one by one I go through removing elements that I don’t like, which generally mutes about a third of the content (or in the Horace Andy case, everything but the voice!) and then try changing tempo to see how the feel varies. Once I establish a feel I like, I play around adding new specific elements – sometimes overall, but other times only listening to say the rhythm section. Also at a certain point certain processes spring to mind, so for example with the Tony Allen remix there is a vocal/choir sample that is just so beautiful & which I knew I wanted to manipulate, so I took it over in to ableton LIVE & did a number of spectral freezes (using the GRM Freeze and the TimeFreezer plugins) and generated I think 16 different sustained drones, also using the technique on many of the other harmonic elements from the original song (piano, organ, guitar).
Then I switch into ‘form’ mode: working out the shape of the music, where the major changes are to occur & establishing the dynamics of it. Once I have a shape I have evolved enough to be happy with, I export a self contained ProTools session & take it from my home music studio (where I use ProTools LE & ableton LIVE) into my ‘work’ studio (where I have ProTools HD.)

For what its worth, heres the original mix of the Tony Allen track:


And my version:

And the previous weeks Horace Andy track (sorry I can’t find the original online anywhere to embed)

So once we finish the film mix at the end of this week I am off down south for a weeks decompression and when I get back I will try approaching one of my tracks as though I am remixing someone elses & see what happens… Maybe I can trick myself or at least maintain that pragmatism that works (combined with a deadline)

By the way, are you on soundcloud? If you, are let me know your username so I can check out your tunes (mine are here) – I love the idea of the timed comments (they display at the appropriate moment as the song plays) and I’ve listened to a few podcasts & mixtapes there where the timed comments are used to ID the individual songs, which makes them even more valuable. I also just discovered Brendon Moeller, a producer I really appreciate, has a lot of pre-release tracks on soundcloud here
One caveat with soundcloud: the embedded streams (as I have used above) are lower quality than what streams from the soundcloud site, so for people who appreciate the finer things in life you are well advised to go listen at soundcloud.

2 thoughts on “Remix as Modus Operandi

  1. Edward

    Nice post, I run one of the sites that you mentioned at the start.

    I feel the same way that when remixing stuff I seem to get things done much quicker than when making a track from scratch.

    I think some of it comes down to limiting yourself in a certain way.

    When you make a remix you’re limited to using at least some of a specific set of samples.

    Maybe when you try approaching your own music you should pick a bunch of samples (like a remix sample pack) and limit yourself to just using those samples.

    When making music I think we often feel overwhelmed with the possibilities due to the technology where as if we were to sit down in front of a simple instrument such as a piano, we’d probably come up with something pretty decent in a short amount of time because we are limited to that piano. I’ve limited myself to certain equipment and sounds before and the results definitely come in much faster like what you’ve experienced with remixing.


  2. solarsonority

    This is very interesting how people come up with the new ideas on the same material. I know that Vaitaitau (the winners for the Jazzanova contest) just gathered in the studio to have fun and recorded everything live and did it in the manner that they never play (country). After their remix became No1 they made another track where they play the way they normally do, and it’s here:

    I suppose there are a lot of examples where you feel that remix is better than the song itself… Did you ever feel that for the remix you’ve made?:)

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