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  • Matthew Shenton

On Remixing

In July I read an article on the excellent Lanner Chronicle about Aphex Twin ands his legendary remix of a Lemonheads track in 1994. Then someone recently tweeted a letter from Brian Eno to the German band Can concerning his failed attempts to remix songs for their 1997 Sacrilege remix album. In the letter, a despondent Eno bemoans:

"When I worked on the pieces (I tried several different ones in the end) I nearly always found the original better than what I'd done… A word of advice: if you want to make records for people to remix, make less brilliant records in the first place."

These two interesting pieces got me thinking about remixes, their purpose and my approach to remixing the work of other artists. They also came at a time when I had agreed to do two remixes for other artists!

I find that taking on a remix is a great way to find out how other artists create (if they have sent the individual instrument stems). Remixing has also proved a great way to stumble out of a period of lethargy and/or writers block. That said, I approach remixes with trepidation; there is a need to respect the original work but also a desire to use the raw materials and make my mark on it.

Some of my favourite remixes by others include Coil reimagining songs from The Downward Spiral and Mira Calix's take on Seefeel's Air Eyes.

Coil and Calix both radically alter the original song, but somehow manage to create a resulting composition that beautifully captures the essence of the original and makes it their own. This was especially true of Mira Calix with her In Her Emerald Mix of Air Eyes sounding both like a Clix original and a slightly warped Seefeel track.

My Approach to remixing

I think my first ever remix was of Devil Woman by Cliff Richard for Brighton's Wrong Music that (sadly, but understandably) remains unreleased. Since then I have remixed around ten artists with genres ranging from power electronics to a banjo playing clergyman. Not all of the remixes have been released...

As a general rule, I only use the files sent to me by the artist and refrain from adding any new sounds I have recorded myself. Sometimes I receive the individual instrument tracks from the original artist and other times I just use the single released composition. I then listen repeatedly and make notes. Next, I use Audacity to look for interesting sections in the waveform - I often find that the interesting elements can sometimes be found at the end of tracks. If an artist has used analogue equipment there can be rich pickings to be found in amplifying any hiss and clicks.

Sometimes segments will be PaulStretched to created interesting drones, smears and texture. Other times I will cut and paste the waves into new chance based sections that can be pitched up and down or have a gating effect placed on them.

These Audacity experiments will then be either be dragged straight into Ableton Live for additional manipulation and sound design, or recorded to cassette for some extra gritty texture and then digitised or sliced up and imported into my Volca sample to create loops. Either way, everthing ends up in Ableton to be arranged into a soundscape.

What result am I aiming for? I suppose I want a composition that in some way retains some of the original artists feel but also sounds like a tanbh composition. I take a long time over the work and make sure that I am totally happy before sending it off to the artist or label. Then there is that dreaded wait between seeing that the file has been downloaded and receiving feedback...


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