Welcome to my unexpected dream.
Thank you for joining me on this journey to explore the space where memory and music meet and merge.
My name is Nik Zakrzewki. In 2015 I retired from a career in computer programming, and soon began a long-postponed exploration of music and music production using a Macbook Pro, an iPad Pro, and various digital audio workstations (DAWs) and other music apps.
A Stream Becomes a Dream
In January of 2020 while vacationing in Hawaii on Maui, I used my iPhone to record the sounds of some of the natural wonders of that island, including the rushing, bubbling Iao Stream in Iao Valley State Park . Upon returning home to West Tennessee, I began working on my next song, and it naturally occurred to me to incorporate some of these field recordings into the music.
Using a variety of audio manipulation applications (see below for details), I was able to transmusify these found sounds and integrate them into the song in a very satisfying way. Satsifying because of the actual music, but satisfying also because I was enjoying the subtle reminders of of that Hawaiian vacation.
I realized that what I had done with the sounds of my memories, I could do for anyone who had captured audio or video (with sound, of course) of any important life moments.
MemRemix was born.
Nerd alert: This is the entrance to the rabbit hole. Not required reading.
MemRemix musician-producers use a variety of digital audio manipulation applications and plugins to transmusify your original sources sounds. Sampling, slicing, and sequencing, along with effects like reverb and delay and complex modulation of almost any synthesis parameter, all play important, well-established roles. But modern software synthesizers (like so-called “hybrid synths”) offer new creative possibilities because of their ability to use “outside-the-synth” sound samples as their raw source-oscillators, and because of their implementation of microsound technologies. Enter granular synthesis, spectral re-synthesis, wave-table synthesis, and vocoder synthesis.
Granular synthesis has it roots in sampling and slicing—the process of chopping or slicing up a chunk of sound into smaller pieces and rearranging and using these pieces in musically creative ways. Iannis Xenakis, one of the early pioneers of this approach to music (along with Dennis Gabor) is quoted on WikiPedia as saying
“All sound, even continuous musical variation, is conceived as an assemblage of a large number of elementary sounds adequately disposed in time. In the attack, body, and decline of a complex sound, thousands of pure sounds appear in a more or less short interval of time .”
Curtis Roads, in the introduction to his book Microsound, puts it this way
“Beneath the level of the note lies the realm of microsound, of sound particles. “
What Gabor and Xenakis had discovered, and Roads explored further, was that any sound could be sliced into large numbers of very, very tiny atoms or “quanta” of sound (as Gabor put it). These tiny samples last only 10-100 milliseconds, yet when recombined in a myriad of ways can create whole new sounds that mysteriously retaining the sense and flavor of the original.
It’s not surprising, I guess, that Dennis Gabor, was also the creator of holography, in which any piece of a photographic image contains the whole image. Granular synthesis, in a sense, does with sound what holography does with light.
MemRemix musician-producers take advantage of this “holosonic” phenomenon to transform the original sounds of your life moments into musical sounds that mysteriously contain the original.
Fast-fourier transformation (a mathematical analysis tool) enables us to de-compose any complex sound wave into a collection of simple sine-waves of various frequencies. Using additive re-synthesis it is possible to re-compose the original wave from these components.
But what would be the point of that? We already have the original sound.
The power and creative magic of additive re-synthesis comes from our ability to make changes to the individual component sine-waves. We can delete some frequencies, add some new ones (higher or lower “partials”), or change the volume of some of them, so when we put them back together, we get an interesting, and hopefully pleasing, variation of the original sound.
Wave-table synthesis, like additive (re)synthesis above, has been around a long time, but the increasing power of modern computers gives MemRemix musician-producers the ability to take your sound memories and turn them into unique and personal wave-table oscillators. The result is a custom synthesizer built around your memories!
Vocoders (and related Talk-boxes) also have a long history in electronic music. They take the shape and frequencies of vocalizations (speech or singing) and combine them with non-vocal synth sounds to give the latter some of the qualities of the former. Talking trumpets, singing guitars, science fiction robots—the possibilities are endless. Think Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do”, for you boomers. And, now, modern computers give us the power to add the creative power of spectral re-synthesis to traditional vocoder technology.
Reverb is a common effect in music production, creating a sense of space and ambience in a song. There are two types. One type is produced digitally by computer algorithms, simulating actual physical spaces or even completely imaginary ones.
The second type, convolution reverb, has commonly been used to simulate real-world spaces with great accuracy. It does so using audio files called impulse-response, or IR, recordings. Special sounds, such as a gun-shot, are produced in a space (e. g., room, hall, cathedral, etc), and carefully placed microphone record the resulting reverberations. Special mathematical analysis then distills the reflective profile of the space into the IR files mentioned above. An IR file can then be combined with any musical instrument sound, creating the illusion that the instrument is being played inside the space captured by the IR file.
MemRemix musician-producers can certainly use convolution reverb in this way, but they can also turn the process upside down, using the sound of you memories as the IR profile, in effect turning your memory sounds into non-physical “spaces”. A sound that is not from your memory sounds could then be played inside your memory sound’s “space”, adding some desired timbral variety while still reflecting your memories (pun intended).
One Approach To Rule Them All
Our commitment at MemRemix is to use your sounds as the source material for our musical creativity as completely and directly as we can. MemRemix musician-producers will not take, for example, a built-in synthesizer sound and simply plug it into your MemRemix song without that sound being touched and re-shaped in some way by the original, personal sounds of your memories.
This is a challenging and time-consuming way to make music. We accept the challenge and only ask for you patience and openness to surprise.
Have We Missed Anything?
All of the techniques above rely on software applications that allow the import of “outside-the-synth” audio files as sound sources. If you are a musician-producer and know any applications or technologies we have missed, we would very much appreciate your sharing them with us in the News section of this site. And, of course, you’re welcome to join us as a MemRemix musican-producer.