Mixed Up 

Music writer tries his hand at Mixman

Music writer tries his hand at Mixman

I’ve been writing about music since I was in high school, but my attempts to actually make music have never gotten very far. I’ve noodled around on the piano, making minimalist, impressionistic sounds with none of the frills that one usually associates with composition—stuff like chords, melodies, etc. I got a portable Casio keyboard at 14 and joined a couple of my friends in a band we called Novo Manus, which was supposed to stand for “Revolutionary Band.” Our sole output was a 15-minute jam based around the central riff from Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” and me punching random keys on my Casio. Talk about revolutionary!

Since then, the best music I’ve made has come from taking the preset Casio background arrangements and changing the chord at regular intervals. Beyond that, I’ve written little tunes in my head and improvised lyrics to advertising jingles, usually converting the words into a love poem to my wife. But part of me has always been convinced that if I had the means to record a few simple melodic patterns and mix them together, I could write a song.

My bluff has been called by Mixman Studio Pro, which offers almost exactly the sort of opportunity I’ve always wanted. Armed with version 4.0 (the Mac edition), a copy of the DJ Megamix add-on, and a couple of booster discs (Skinny Puppy and Tremor), I now have the ability to load thousands of sounds into 16 isolated tracks and combine them just about any way I choose.

There are limitations, though. Most of the available sounds—percussion aside—are full instrumental riffs, which means that novice mixers are essentially copying prearranged melodies. There are single-note sounds that can be punched into a mix and then altered to make an original melody, but this takes practice and effort.

I’m also not really set up to record my own original tracks, so adding vocals or sampling my favorite songs is not going to happen right away. Don’t get me wrong: Mixman is flexible enough to accommodate those options. I’m just not skilled enough to experiment with anything that’s not already on my software. What I’m going to make is not going to resemble a song like the songs I listen to every day, with verses and choruses and lyrics and all.

Still, after doing some easy remixes of preset songs—revisiting my Casio days—I set out to make something somewhat original. The Studio Pro remix studio is easy to use; I simply click on one of the 16 available slots and sift through the available sounds until I hear one that I’d like to put into my mix. When all 16 slots are filled with my chosen sounds, I click on the “Play” button and practice adding and subtracting tracks—which can be done with the click of the mouse or with keystrokes—to find the most compelling combinations. When I’m ready, I click on the “Record” button and choose among those different combinations in a live performance.

I keep my 16 tracks simple: five different kinds of percussion, three horn tracks (two stings and a repeating riff), a handful of pretty piano effects, two distinct, funky guitar tracks, and some random textures. I start with a quiet bongo track and gradually add sounds until I’ve got a fairly busy mix, at which point I dramatically drop out all sounds but one, then bring everything back all at once—a common procedure called “singling” a track. When I’ve played as much as I care to, I click on the stop button. My instrumental is about three minutes long, and I save it under the name “Sequential Art.”

Now comes the fun part. Switching from the Remix Studio to the Editing Studio, I see my song represented graphically as 16 bars of color stretching across a grid. Using the editing tools, I can erase portions of tracks, add other tracks back into the mix, and tamper with the pitch, volume, or tempo of certain segments to make “Sequential Art” both tighter and more lively. I mess with it all, speeding up the second half of the song and modifying the pitch of a few tracks to give the repetitive sounds a little variety.

When I’ve edited as much as I want to edit, I save the mix again and choose the option to export my song to the Mixman Web site, “Mixman Radio,” under my chosen deejay name, His Nibs. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with my file: When “Sequential Art” plays on Mixman Radio, the second half of the song—the fast part—drops out and skips a full minute ahead to the end. I try it again a few days later. Same result. I try to make my own Web page on the Mixman site—something that the software promises everyone will be able to do—so that I can upload my mix to a page of my own. I get an error message telling me that I need to verify my account. I try re-registering. Mixman won’t let me. I send an e-mail to customer support. I’m still waiting for a reply.

In the meantime, His Nibs has started a new project, a song called “Parkalot.” My wife thinks that it’s even better than “Sequential Art.” I’m finally making music, and apparently I’m making progress.

To check out Noel Murray’s first Mixman attempt (with the unfortunately abbreviated coda) go to http://www.mixman.com. Head into the “Mixzone,” and select “Mixman Radio.” Search for His Nibs. Enjoy.

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