A week or so ago, Matt Stevens posted the stems for “Big Sky”, one of the tracks from his excellent album “Ghost” and requested that people remixed it for him. I grabbed them and they lay unopened in my temp folder until this morning…
Last night, Gail and I went out for a drink and we ended up chatting about my writer’s block. She herself is an artist and writer so she knows a thing or two about struggling to produce work and she talked about some things they would practice when she was studying for her degree to try and help to pull focus from the process of production and shine it on actually producing something! One of those ideas was to time limit oneself – they would have 5 minutes, for instance, to sketch out a drawing of a model before the model would change position.
So, after another sleepless night, I decided I would remix Matt’s song, giving myself only today to do it in. And, by jove, I think I’ve done it!
Matt provided 5 stems – the main rhythm guitar, three harmony tracks and a melody track. My first task was to listen to them all and get a feeling for the material I had to work with. I dragged all five tracks into Reaper and set it playing, and it was pretty much the version of “Big Sky” on the album, sans the very jazzy guitar line for some reason.
It’s worth saying here that Matt is solely an instrumentalist and there are no vocals on which to hang a remix. Often you can take the vocal line for a song you’re remixing and completely rewrite the music beneath it – the vocal is the most recognisable part and you can do pretty much anything you like if you leave that intact! With an instrumental piece, on the other hand, you need (and want) to retain the musician’s work as much as you can. The difficulty then, with an instrumental remix, is in trying to create something new, and imbue it with something personal of yours, while having most of the instrumentation in the remix played by someone else.
I started off by chopping Matt’s main rhythm track up, effecting various sections and piecing it back together again. The original feel of the song reminded me a lot of an Arcade Fire song and I wanted to get away from that, so my chop-up gave the whole thing a different thrust altogether and offered my up some places to hang my trademark electronic textures.
I didn’t alter the structure of the song, though I did cut out a few 8-bar passages which felt superfluous without the missing jazzy guitar line over them. I also shortened the outro somewhat.
I put some filtered delay on the rhythm guitar during the two quieter bridge sections and strapped a lowpass filter over the whole rhythm track, to give me a filter sweep after the first bridge and a reverse sweep in the outro, and that was pretty much it for the main guitar track.
The most prominent harmony track sounded a little invasive to me after effectively paring down and opening up the main rhythm track so I decided to rerecord it. I tested a few sounds before settling on the Scarbee Mark I electric piano samples from Native Instruments, with a touch of phaser and some drive through an amp to spread the sound out a bit. I put a lowpass filter on this track too and started it chopping off everything about 800Hz. This filter slowly opens up throughout the song, progressively adding more and more energy until it’s completely open for the Big Finish…
The other two harmony stems were used pretty much as supplied, with just a little EQ and compression, and then all the guitar parts were bussed together, compressed and EQ’d as a unit (with iZotope’s Alloy) and then routed via SPDIF through my TC Electronics M2000 processor on its Small Damped Room setting for some subtle reverb. (The electric piano was routed through the M2000 too, but not through the guitar buss.)
I created a bass line from Matt’s guitar playing by pulling out some prominent notes (rather than necessarily the <em>lowest</em> notes) and sequenced it using Spectrasonics’ Trilian VSTi playing a bass patch sampled from a CS80. Syncopating it with the cut-up rhythm track and adding some delays helped it fill the space nicely.
The drums I played live on my S90, using samples hosted in Native Instruments’ Battery, and then the kick, snare and hats were individually compressed (using Stillwell’s Rocket compressor) and EQ’d (FabFilter Pro-Q) before being bussed together again, compressed once more (Schwa’s amazing FerricTDS plugin) and routed through the M2000 again for some reverb.
Finally, the whole output buss was glued together using Stillwell’s Bombardier Buss Compressor (which I can’t recommend enough!). A few bits of fader automation on the drum buss and main output buss and that’s pretty much all she wrote…
I hope you like it!