Monday, February 12. 2007
First off, let me apologize for the utter lack of posts in the past couple weeks. We've been following up various leads, and some of us are finding our free time less copious than usual: My spring semester started, and OverCoat (I'm glad to say) got a job. Congratulations! That's enough apologizing, though: let me introduce you to today's feature, a new type of article we're trying out: a remixer interview. Kicking off this process, I've interviewed Fray, also known as Nathan Monteleone of Arlington, Texas. Fray has one Anime Remix and one OC ReMix to his name, and has been an active member of the remixing community for some time. To let you in on a secret, I'm a big fan of his and find myself singing along to Shine embarrassingly, all the time. Then again, it seems like a lot of people who listen to the song have that experience.
mDuo13: Hello, Fray, and thanks for joining us. You've got one complete anime remix so far, yes? Care to tell us how you got into anime remixing in the first place?
Fray: Well, I remembered seeing the website in people's sigs on OCReMix. Seeing Haibane Renmei revived my interest in anime, so I hit up AR looking for Haibane remixes. And since I'd already been involved with video game remixing, the transition to anime was pretty natural from that point.
mDuo13: Ah, so how long have you been involved in video game remixing?
Fray: My first attempts go back to around early 2002, culminating in me actually getting a remix past the judges' panel on OCR in 2004.
mDuo13: So, what sort of musical training do you have?
Fray: I took 10 years of piano lessons starting around age 7. For all that I never got to be nearly as good as I should have been, but I could play some pretty technical pieces by the end of it. Scott Joplin rags were always my favorite. I played bassoon throughout high school, plus a few other wind instruments... and then completely slacked off of music in college after I got kicked out of the community orchestra there for being a bum.
mDuo13: *laughs* Bassoon, really? How is that?
Fray: Bassoon? It's really a fun instrument to play. Looks bizarre, sounds about as strange, and attracts lots of attention. There are a few problems with it though -- One, they're expensive as all hell, as are the reeds. To top it off, you can't just buy a reed and play on it, you usually have to do some work on them with a special knife, etc... Two, they're quiet, so no one hears you most of the time in an orchestra, and three, they're delicate.
mDuo13: Ah, well, that's too bad. I take it you haven't played any bassoon recently, then?
Fray: I've been wanting to use it in a remix sometime, actually. But I'm horribly out of practice -- you're right, I haven't played it in a couple years.
mDuo13: I look forward to seeing it. Anyway, that brings me to another question: what hardware and software do you use for mixing?
Fray: First, a disclaimer: I have more money than I have free time. As such, I have way more gear than is really necessary, and much of it I haven't used to the fullest. So if you want to get into remixing, don't think you need even half this stuff. People have sounded better than me using less than $100 worth of software.
mDuo13: *laughs* I'll keep this in mind.
Fray: So! I use Cakewalk Sonar 5, Producer edition as my main software. It's one of the best MIDI sequencers out there, and the audio stuff is starting to contend with the big daddies. I use it for just about everything -- recording my outside gear, fixing mistakes in MIDI tracks, mixing, effects, all that. It's also got some really nice software synths that come with it (Pentagon I is my favorite).
My Roland RD-600 is my main MIDI Controller; it's a stage piano, so it's got builtin sounds of its own -- they're pretty nice, but kinda limited to pianos, EP's, and organs. It has a few synths and things, but they're kinda crappy, so I turn to other sources for many of my sounds. The main draw, for me, is the keyboard feel. I wouldn't say it's a convincing replica of a real piano, but it definitely allows for very expressive playing, so generally, I lay down tracks using it. For some really simple stuff I'll click the notes into Sonar with a mouse, but generally I record MIDI off the RD-600.
A lot of the other sounds come from a Roland XV-5050 rack synth. It's more a jack of all trades; it's got everything from strings to brass to wacked out synths, and all the patches are very editable too. I also use a dave smith evolver -- it's a monophonic synth. It has real analog filters and oscillators in it, but it's got digital ones too - it's a hybrid. I use that when I want cool leads and basses, because it has a lot of its own character.
mDuo13: Anything else?
Fray: That's the main stuff. Other than that I have an Oktava MK-219 mic that I picked up on the cheap at Guitar Center. They were blowing them out for like $70. Oh, and autotune (haha). Couldn't live without that. I have decent pitch but I can't control my voice very well. Recently I got a novation remote 61 MIDI controller, which sits directly on my desk -- that can be really handy when I'm going back and forth between playing things on the keyboard and making edits in Sonar. The RD-600 is so huge that there's no way for me to access it and my computer keyboard/mouse easily at the same time.
mDuo13: Yeah, I can imagine.
Fray: Drums I usually get off my XV-5050. It has some really nice sets on it, but to be honest, I've never quite found a drum setup I'm comfortable with. I've tried a bunch of different ways of going about it, and all of them seem to be more of a pain than really necessary.
mDuo13: I see. So, what's your remixing process like, in general?
Fray: My best ideas definitely start with me banging around on the piano. I pick out the chords (or some variation on them) from a theme I like, and the remix usually grows from some way of riffing on that. From there I generally just layer stuff on for a while - synths, strings, that sort of stuff. I'll put down some real simple drums to begin with; the final drum part tends to come last. I probably should, but I never think much about the overall structure of the song from the beginning. I more lay down a section and think "ok what would sound cool after this?" I feel like I'm still in the noob phase when it comes to remixing process. I think I get away with it because I had so much music training in elementary-high school.
mDuo13: Now I wish I had actually stuck with piano lessons for more than a couple months.
Fray: I might add that I don't really think about effects much until the end. To me, the music is in the notes more than the production tricks -- which is not to say I don't enjoy the work of people who focus more on the latter. It's just how I think when doing my own work.
mDuo13: That makes sense. But, the real question is, why does it take you so long to make a single remix?
Fray: Damn good question. *laughs* Ultimately I think it's a matter of time. I serve too many masters, if you catch my drift.
mDuo13: I think a lot of us are familiar with that feeling. Do these other ''masters'' include any other musical stuff, like playing in a band?
Fray: Well, I was pretty involved with a band over the last year, although I just quit. I played my last show with them last weekend. Also, being married takes up quite a bit of time (but in a good way). Warcraft 3 also chews up quite a bit, at least if you play it like I do.
mDuo13: So tell us a bit more about this life outside of remixing. What do you do for a living? What's your wife like?
Fray: I'm a programmer for a living. I work for a defense contractor, so sometimes the work is interesting, and sometines it's mind numbing. Ultimately I'd like to do something else with my life; I'm not particularly crazy about the defense industry. My wife's a scientist for Mary Kay cosmetics. We met in college, on the first week actually. A couple months later I asked her out and we've been together since. She's quite literally the only girl I've ever dated. Guess I got lucky on the first try ^.^ I was kinda starting a relationship with someone else at the time, but I ditched her because Amanda was hotter and smarter. *laughs* Writing is her real passion, by the way, not science.
mDuo13: Writing? Do tell.
Fray: Yep, her foundation is gothic romance, although she's been pushing her stuff in a slightly more literary direction... In the Romance world, if you wanna get published, you kinda have to follow these preset formulas. She's taken more to ignoring those and writing whatever the heck she wants. She posts some of it up on her livejournal.
mDuo13: I wish her luck. More to the point, is there any chance of getting her involved in a future remix?
Fray: Actually, yeah, she has a really cool soprano voice that I'd love to use in a remix.
mDuo13: What sort of remixes do you have in the works, anyway? Anything right now?
Fray: Yes, two. One's a remix from the game Crystalis - that's sort of your usual epic trance video game affair. I still love that style, even if it's been beaten to death a bit. And the other one is a Chobits remix that's very much styled after Ben Folds Five ballads. It has its genesis in a compo very, very long ago.
mDuo13: Is there anything else you want to add before we go?
Fray: I'd like to say that I seriously love the remixing scene. Compared to playing clubs in a band, I feel like there's a much greater appreciation for musicality and creativity. I've always found it really inspiring, and I might have let playing music slip out of my life entirely if I hadn't been introduced to places like OCR and AR.
mDuo13: Well, thank you very much for joining us, and good luck with your remixes. I'll be sure to post them here when they're finished.
And that's that for our first interview. It was a lot of fun putting it together, and I'd like to extend my thanks to Fray for lending me a bit of his time, and to all of you reading it. If you're interested, Fray's two remixes are a Morrowind remix called Fear Not and a remix from Voices of a Distant Star, Shine. Fray has also generously granted us permission to host a direct download for Shine:
Fray - Voices of a Distant Star 'Shine' [mp3, 4.73mb]
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