Go here to listen to the track and comment: http://soundcloud.com/buromaschinen/hyperstarship-d-glitched-org-rework
Click to download a higher-quality mp3 (soundcloud only streams at 128k): hyperstarship – [d] rework.mp3
So, I first discovered Buromaschinen on the Elektron-users.com forums, a while back. His tunes, made almost exclusively with the Monomachine and Machinedrum, evoked a retro-futuristic feeling to which I was really drawn. His take on the whole 8/16-bit-retro-80′s-electro-videogame -thing is framed a bit differently than the worn-out “chiptune” paradigm. Think R-Type, Altered Beast, and the TurboGrafx-16, rather than Galaga, Pac-Man, and the Atari 2600. When listening to his tracks, I imagine that I’m escaping murderous cyborgs or reconstructing my past, while searching out an alien artifact that releases oxygen from beneath Mars’ surface.
Anyway, as much as his sound takes me back to a pleasant time in my life, I often want to hear a more “modern” take on the mix. As Buromaschinen has said himself: “The mix sucks but I like it a lot, as it sounds bad like electronic music used to sound bad in early nineties.” It’s certainly not that bad, but the melodies and beats deserve to be polished to a hi-gloss, like a T-800, fresh off the line.
As soon as I heard “Hyperstarship”, I wanted to see if I could improve the mix. Overall, the sound wasn’t bad, but the main thing that bothered me was that it sounded “muddy” in the low end; I really wanted that analog bassline and bass drum to play nicely. Yes, everything seemed over-compressed, but that’s part of his sound; I really didn’t want to change that too much.
The composition was good, if a bit repetitive, but again, I wanted to “re-mix” his tune, not “remix” it. With this goal in mind, I came to Buro and asked if he’d be amenable to me taking some liberties with his track. He responded nearly instantly with several .wav files (the stems of the song) and his blessing. BONUS STAGE: The stems were 24-bit, included wet and dry versions, and reference tracks! (This is how all mix/remix projects should go!)
So, now that the stage is set, on to the process…
As I mentioned, the track stems were in perfect order, starting with a “click” at the beginning, for syncing purposes. (This got me to wondering what recording gear Buro uses…I think it’s one of those portable, digital, multi-trackers, which would explain the syncing “click”.) I threw everything into Ableton Live, straight away, immediately trimming the files to the first transient. I figured that I could just reconstruct the arrangement by listening to the original mix, rather than use the click.
After the reconstruction, I isolated each track, just to hear what was going on and to see if I could identify any problems. One of the glaring issues was the bassiness of the snare. It certainly contributed to the muddiness of the mix. Obviously, I had to EQ a lot of the low end out, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the “body” of the snare. (A note on equipment, here: I mostly use free or built-in plugins in Ableton Live. Among my favorite, free paragraphic EQs is “Nyquist EQ,” by Magnus.) I can’t tell you exactly what frequencies I targeted because this is a paragraphic eq, without numerical values; this is great for listening for good results, rather than going for a certain “golden” number. The snare also needed more “punch”; it was too clicky and needed more body. I smashed the amplitude spikes down and used the compressor’s makup gain to make the snare sound fuller.
The bass drum needed some more punch, as well as “thud”, so the requisite (built-in Live) compressor and eq were added to that channel. My main goal with the bass (the kick and bass synth) was to have them work together, by carving out some mid-bass from the bassline and some low-low bass from the bass drum. The way I do this, for the uninitiated, is to solo the bassline and bassdrum tracks and tweak them together, away from the main mix. This was the tougest part, but I think the result was good. One other thing I did to the kick was reduce the stereo image, using the Live “Utility” plugin. Bass panned too far to the left or right sounds awkward, at least in headphones.
Once I got the bass mix right, I found that there was something missing from the snare. Actually, the drums seemed more “related” in the original mix and I wanted to recreate this. I rarely use mix busses/groups because, well, when you have an infinite number of tracks, there’s really no need for them; however, after reading an article with the producer of Justin Beiber’s tunes (don’t laugh), I thought I should try it. I piped the outs of the snare and kick drums into a spare channel, on which I launched an instance of a “tape warmth”-type effect. Overdriving the input just a bit and upping the “drive” setting made the drums sound like they were meant to be together.
The rest of the mix wasn’t as difficult. Buro did a great job on the highs and mids. I didn’t do much on the hi-hats and only put a tiny auto-panner on the pad sound to add some variety. The “percussion” track was fine, but needed to stand out more. The low end was cut and a little bit of presence was added (@ around 11khz). With the mix in a good place, the final task was to alter the arrangement.
In the next post, I’ll describe what I did to the song structure.
Speaking of, here’s the second part: http://glitched.org/up/2010/09/d-re-mix-hyperstarship-continued/