Play with your music – Module 5: Air Traffic Remix

For this module in the Play With Your Music course, I’ve been remixing ‘Air traffic’ by Clara Berry and Wooldog. Here’s the original track:

And here’s my remix:

I started by listening through the original mix and picking out some samples I liked.
Because we have access to the master mix, it’s possible to isolate a single voice or instrument.
I’d be interested to learn techniques for doing this sort of sampling where you don’t have the luxury of access to the original mix – ie where you can’t just isolate the instrument you want.

Once I’d identified the samples I wanted to use, I cut them up in Soundation. I made sure that all of my samples were 4 bars long – this made it easier to work with them later.
If they’d been of different lengths, it would have been much harder to coordinate them and use them concurrently.

My next move was to stitch these into a single song. One way of doing this would have been to record the music “live”, and simply turn on and off the different channels over the course of the song.
I played around with doing this, but couldn’t find a way in Soundation to record “live”.

But doing things more laboriously meant that I had more control – I could take my time applying effects to the mix, in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do live.

So I copy-pasted the 4 bar samples I’d created, and stirched them together into a full song. There was lots of copy-pasting, and it was a bit fiddly to get things to line up exactly. I found that zooming in very closely, and clicking on exactly the start of the bar, before pasting, helped.
Something I didn’t realise at first was that clicking and dragging a single clip from its top right hand corner loops it over and over. So I should have combined all my cut up 4 bar samples, looped them, and then cut down from there, rather than doing lots of cutting and pasting.

To build up the track, I started with the bass, then added in some piano and then drums.
I wanted the track to start with the rhythm section first, to depart from the original. The intro might be my favourite part of this remix.

Shortly after I’d started adding tracks, I began working on the effects and the positioning in the mix.
I wanted the bass to be prominent but not too loud, and I wanted the backing vocals to feel drifty and ethereal, but also still very present.

I used Distortion, then Equalizer then Compressor on the vocals. The distortion had very high gain and low volume, using distortion type WS1 (no idea what that means). The low end of the equalizer was maxed out; Mid was set to around a third, and High was set to nothing. The Compressor was pretty gentle. Very low attach, low release, high ratio and threshold, and medium gain.

I gave the backing vocals some reverb and delay. I used a cutoff filter on the drums towards the end of the track, to give a descending feel. I then removed the drums completely, before bringing them back at the same volume, and then fading out the volume, allowing me to close the remix with the bass alone, after the piano and then the drums have faded out.

I enjoyed picking out different parts of the original track to use in the remix. I might have liked a bit more raw material to work with – probably I should have used some additional instrumentation from elsewhere – but I quite liked the challenge of working with just the original track. I found it a bit tricky to line up some of the timing – and I’m still not quite sure if the piano is right. I think I’d enjoy working on a remix of a different track – or set of tracks – but I’d want to think it through very carefully. I’d also need to think about how to best take samples from tracks when you don’t have access to the masters. So I may give the final module of Play With Your Music a miss for now, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the course, and found that it’s improved my critical listening ability and given me a taste of using a digital audio workstation and mixing and remixing audio.

What train station arrival boards teach us about top tasks design

Helping your users/customers carry out their most important tasks requires you to prioritise. Helping them achieve their top tasks almost always means sacrificing the ease with which other, less important tasks, can be carried out.

Most people going to a train station are interested in leaving, and aren’t there to meet someone who’s arriving. So we should focus on making “Finding out when my train leaves, and from which platform” as easy as possible; if necessary at the expense of “finding out when and where a train will arrive at this station”.

Hence the relative size of the departure and arrival boards.

departure boards at euston station

Design is a decision about priorities, and as such is generally political. But having the courage to upset some internal stakeholders, you can focus on what’s most important to your customers, and therefore to your organisation and its bottom line.