Extreme forms of audio and MIDI editing can pull listeners in, and the resulting techniques often become a vital part of the ongoing evolution of electronic music. Fortunately, extreme editing doesn't require extreme tools; you can use whatever you've got — Acid, Logic, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Reason, and virtual-instrument and effects plug-ins — anything that enables you to mangle your audio and MIDI beyond recognition. I used two of my favorites, Sonar and Reaktor, for the examples given in this article.
I approach extreme editing from the standpoint of four basic parameters: rhythm, pitch, timbre, and space (reverb and panning). I'll begin with radical tempo changes to affect rhythm, and then I'll use octave displacement to alter pitch, apply some custom Reaktor effects to mangle the timbre, and use reverse reverb and Leslie-style panning for spatial manipulation.
Using Indian drumming as my inspiration, I repeatedly doubled and halved the tempo of an original melody (see Fig. 1), thus increasing and decreasing its speed (see Web Clip 1). Multiplying or dividing the tempo by a power of two (2, 4, 8, 16, and so on) produces results that are rhythmically compatible with the original, but you don't need to limit yourself to that. For example, dividing by three after multiplying by a power of two will give you a triplet feel that is also compatible with the original.
Notice that with extreme tempo changes, the character of the melodic passage can change radically. At high tempos, the melody sounds like a single gesture rather than a sequence of individual notes. At low tempos, the inner voices dominate, and it sounds like a different passage entirely. When radically increasing tempo, it's a good idea to shorten note durations to keep the line well articulated.
A simple but effective method for changing pitch without causing a harmonic train wreck is octave displacement: transposing certain notes in a melodic line up or down by one or more octaves. Depending on how you proceed, you'll end up with the original melody in a higher octave, a lower octave, or jumping between higher and lower octaves.
I took the original melody, which spans 2½ octaves (F4 to B6), and transposed notes as necessary to fit it into several different ranges, some of which were rather extreme (see Fig. 1). Depending on the register and the width of the pitch range (from one to five octaves), the relation between the original and altered melody ranges from clear to almost unrecognizable (see Web Clip 2).
Because notes with the same amplitude sound softer in lower registers, you might want to adjust the volume and equalization, especially for very low and very high notes.
One of the great joys of electronic music is the power and flexibility that it provides to sculpt timbre. Using only a handful of standard effects — filters, reverb, chorus, flange, and so on — you can produce a vast range of timbral variation. Adding custom effects to the mix, such as the Reaktor Ensembles I've used (see Web Clip 3), you can get almost any sound that you can imagine.
The Reaktor devices I used include a granular resynthesizer (crawlDaddy), a combination FM and reflection device (fmReflect), a combination granular delay and reverb (graidelVerb), a filter-distortion-delay effect (gLitch), and a mushy, enhanced chorus effect (mooshVerb). All are free downloads from the Reaktor User Library at Native Instruments Web site (www.native-instruments.com).
Almost every electronic track makes use of reverb and panning. Rather than repeat what's already been done, you can add your own spin to the spatial component of your songs.
In Web Clip 4, I used reverse, reverb, and a Leslie-style panning effect to create unusual spatial effects. To create the reverse reverb, I first reversed the dry audio file, then added reverb, then reversed the result. For the Leslie effect, I used a custom Reaktor Ensemble called ez-Leslie.
rachMiel is a composer of experimental electronic and acoustic music. You can reach him at his Web site,www.rachmiel.com.