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The Other Steve Miller
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Metal Face: n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z) (Part II)

It has been some time since first track-by-track breakdown of n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z), and for that, I apologize. Other things came up — some bigger, far more monumental, than others, but all important in their own right. Still, that’s no excuse to leave you hanging for more than two months. To prove my sincerity, I would like to extend a digital olive branch in the form of a free, mostly context-free album: The Dirty Dirty Dirty Dirty Boys’ Dirty Boy. The compilation is the result of Charlie Ray, Edward Longo, Kirby Longo, Anthony Thompson and myself gathering in the Longo’s basement for an evening of music in early January. Alex Miller wasn’t present for the session, though he is the “dirty boy” in the album art. Here it is: And now, back to regular programming. 6. Seh Faht (Edward Longo, Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

The original plan for this reinterpretation was to create a “trip-hop” version of “She’s Fat,” with Alex, Edward and Charlie each lending their hands to the Metal Facian effort. I put the original GarageBand file in our shared Dropbox and titled the zip folder “Do with this what you will, Alex, Edward and Charlie.” As October turned to December, the folder remained unzipped, and it didn’t help matters that I had no conception of what constituted a trip-hop song. Still don’t. After realizing this dead end, I opted for the next best thing: commissioning Siberian Blastula (a.k.a. Edward Longo) to create a musique concrete version of the same song. I was first introduced to the concept of musique concrete (or concrete music, in English), by Charles Nichols in the music tech course I took my final year at university — the same course that made me incredibly critical about clips and clicks. Early in the curriculum, we learned about the pioneers of experimental recording techniques, whose grandfather was French composer Pierre Schaeffer. In 1948, Schaeffer hung out at the Paris train station and recorded various train sounds — whistles, wheels, and other mechanisms. He then spliced and and reassembled the tape to form a composition devoid of notation, but rich with timbre and rhythm, and is still a landmark in alternative forms of music and recording techniques: “Etude Aux Chemins de Fer.” For another example of musique concrete, listen to the outro of the Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” With “Seh Faht,” Edward employed a similar technique, using the sound files (stems) from the GarageBand project and splicing them together to form something different than the original, which technically qualifies it as a remix, or at least a r3m1x. Edward also classified this song as “ximer core,” a genre of which, like trip-hop, I’m also largely oblivious. I suppose this suffices as an example.

7. Digital Love Disrepair (Caleb Nelson, Steve Miller)

When the idea of a remix companion album was first born, Caleb’s “Digital Love Despair” was the first file I opened. I made some minor tweaks here and there, changed loop settings and reordered some tracks, but none of it seemed very satisfying. I saved what I had, half-heartedly thinking, “I guess that’s a remix.” By the time I revisited “DLD,” I was well into the recording process, and thus far more familiar with Metal Face’s high(ish) standard of remixing. Still, merely swapping Logic settings wasn’t cutting.it, so I had to unleash the bear — the Poo Bear, that is. For the uninitiated, Poo Bear is my alter ego when I want to experiment — musically, of course — without any regard for the consequences. This reckless, feckless disdain for normality has led to the creation of two collections that bear only the slightest resemblance of albums: 2010’s Enter Da Cave and 2011’s Masters of Genre. Because I anticipate the Bear will once again leave his cave sometime later this year (but don’t hold him to that), I’ll save the his chronicle for if/when that time comes. What you need to remember: Poo Bear = strange, experimental nonsense. Channeling Mr. Poo allowed me to approach the song in an even more demented way than the typical Metal Face affair. I quickly replaced the new beat with something slower and more industrial, to give it that sludgy, murky feel. But even that wasn’t enough, so in true Poo Bear fashion, I did something that was absolutely outrageous. You wanna know what I did? I put a plus-two pitch shifter on the master track. You read that correctly: a plus-two pitch shifter on the master track. In other words, I put an effect on the entire song that alters its very foundation by forcing it to fit in a different key. This is what explains the warbly sound of the instrumentation, and the puberty-addled vocals, all of which gives it a terrible, unsettling effect.
8. No Way (Steve Miller)

Like the trip-hop aspirations for “She’s Fat,” the remix for “There is No Way to Get Away” had high hopes that were never realized. But also like “Seh Faht,” the resulting re-do took an unplanned, interesting form in the end. The original plan, courtesy of Anthony, was to fashion something in the vein of Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, complete with blips, bloops, blips, and other electronic blapdaperies. But as October suddenly turned into December (again), neither me nor Anthony made any progress on this blop of a remix, so we elected to work on a minimalist version. That, also, never really developed, though we did record some light instrumentation. (On one of the tracks, you can hear Anthony’s dad, Curt, and I chatting in the background about my bike commute to work.) After a fairly unproductive December afternoon, we decided “Patience” should take top priority, and worked on that instead (more later). It wasn’t until late January did I revisit this revisit. I was already burned out on importing Logic loops into GarageBand and hoping they fit, and because the original version was already so computerized, I decided I would take the exact opposite approach with the newer cut: just an acoustic guitar and my voice, no MIDI, no effects, no blups whatsoever. As luck would have it, I recorded this while experiencing a cold, which may explain the raspy-ness and dramatic inhales. I suppose I could’ve re-recorded it, but I liked the raw, dry, lo-fi and un-produced quality. The ending was another happy accident: I unknowingly recorded this version in a GarageBand file I had used for song ideas while I lived with good friends Josh Lynch and Clara Ganey — both of whom have awesome blogs, which you should visit right now. One night last fall, I was laying down a guitar riff when Josh bravely admitted to me he likes to “jam out” to Taylor Swift. I cut off the master track before I went into “Love Song,” but only because I didn’t want to run into any copyright infringements. Taylor definitely has her moments, though I can’t say I’m as big of a fan as John McClelland of the Clintons. Oh, and those guitar parts you hear overlapping our conversation were stems from the original “There’s No Way…” They sound almost sloppy without the effects, which, in Metal Face’s book, is something of utmost importance.

9. I Is What I Am (Edward Longo, Charlie Ray, Steve Miller)

For the last year or so, Edward’s and Charlie’s hip-hop dabbling have been a source of great enjoyment for me. First with W.A.M.? (We Are Machines/Monsters/McNeesy, et al.) and later with Funky Apes, Edward and Charlie combine their eclectic musical knowledge and ofttimes tawdry humor to craft some pretty whacky, trippy songs. Wait a minute: It looks like there is some trip-hop on this album after all. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I asked for some Funky Aping, but I knew it would be outrageous. They did not disappoint. Because I wasn’t involved with the creation of this remix — save for providing the source material — I can’t really speak too much on the recording process. But I will say I’m glad they made good use of the Rob Thomas-like heavy inhale at the beginning. A very crucial element, indeed. Also, if you listen closely, you can hear the melody to “Silent Night” during the last few bars. That was intentional, this being recorded near Christmas time and all.
10. Patience (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller, Emilita Wilkinson) Making a remix album is harder than it seems, especially when you worked on the original songs. But the process of re-examining your own work and presenting it in a new light is certainly a worthwhile and fulfilling endeavor. It just takes a little patience — which is why this song is so fitting for the closer. As with “Beer in the Baler,” “Patience” is both a new(ish) song and also as good as — if not better — than most of the material on Nets, though my opinion may be slightly biased. I originally wanted to include it on Nets, though Alex didn’t, and this being his song, we kept it off. At that time, the song was called “Yearn,” and almost two-and-a-half years old: Alex recorded it one afternoon in February 2009, and it instantly became a classic in our musical circle. I always wanted an album to house “Yearn,” but it remained a stand-alone track … until now. Alex, Anthony and I converged on this song in late December 2011, wanting to get it finished by the arbitrary release date of January 1, 2012 (we missed that mark by a little bit). We used Alex’s original GarageBand file, keeping the old vocals in tact — save for the intro and outro, which were recent additions — while adding extra instrumentation. Yet even with the song already mostly in place, creating this new version proved fairly difficult. It wasn’t so much a problem of structure, but rather of buildup, tension and dynamic. Even with the trumpets, Moog iPad textures, guitar and cello — the latter of which provided by good friend Emilita Wilkinson — the movement of the song didn’t work at first. It took about a month of pretty consistent tinkering from Seattle for me to nail down a version I thought was right. I nearly drove myself insane in the process, but, once again, a number of happy accidents saved the day. That seemed to be the recurring theme throughout the project: When we got stuck, when a song reached a dead end, when inspiration was non-existent, a misplaced track or a random setting change could make all the difference. Fortunately, we had the time and patience to allow those mini deus ex machinas to occur.

Thanks for bearing with us. Now that you’ve seen how the r3m1x sausage is made, hopefully you can better enjoy the juicy feast without the risk of food poisoning. And worry not: Metal Face will be back someday, but probably not for a while. We have to accrue some deus ex machinas before that happens. Until then, you have Nets, n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z) and our threepart history to keep you company. You are most welcome.

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