Quinta. II “stemSketch” – out Monday

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The second installment in my Quinta. remix compendium is called “stemSketch”. As the name implies it is a sketch, which means equal parts audio doodle and complete improvisation in the moment and see what happens. Part of a refusal to stay on the well-trodden route of dj mixing of the past. Searching for something new.

About 2 months ago I discovered stem tracks. Stems are multiple audio “sub tracks” of the same overall song. These are grouped sounds from the same instrument or instrument type eg “drums”, “guitar”, “synth”, “chords”, “effects”, “vox” etc. In a recording studio, each instrument or vocalist is usually recorded into their own audio track. Once each audio track is mastered, the tracks are then compiled, organized, edited and mixed on massive production decks with endless numbers of tracks in studios giving us the perfect sound that we listen to on CD/DVD/web. But these stems were already grouped into “drums” or “guitar”, and it felt they were a kind of shorthand product of the mastering process to help easily prototype the final song before going the whole hog.

To find electronica tracks with their original stems intact on the usual dj purchasing channels such as Beatport etc wasn’t very fruitful and the tracks available not very satisfying. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places. Anyway had my first batch and decided to see what I could cook up with what I had on-hand. This led to a completely new way of mixing. This is something like what it looks like. First on the mixer side, then on the laptop side:

This stem song showing up the four sub tracks as four colour pads for the mixing desk
Four colours corresponding to the sub tracks (drums, bass, etc) on the laptop side

The Traktor S4 mixer decks offer you each stem at your fingertips for each track with dedicated colour buttons for each sub track. So now you can not only mix one track into another, playing with high/mid/lows and mini-loops. You can mix the synth of one song into the synth of another. Easily replace the vocal of one song into a completely different song (unless the key of the songs are incompatible). Easily splice a bass line from one track and back again (?!), which is something that is quite unnerving at first and utterly exhilarating. You could even go from one bass to the other and back, which I tried, and leads to much more dynamic transitions.

Mixing stems feels somewhere between traditional digital DJing and music production with atomic sample libraries on tap. So while I usually try to build a melodic story into my mixes, this time was different. It’s difficult to tell where anything starts and begins but that is kind of the purpose. So I planned for a sketch, not looking for perfection. Just messing around “journey is the destination” style. Considering I only spent a couple of hours online reading up and then on the decks to get this mix, it’s certainly a journey into the unknown.

Quinta. II “stemSketch” is out Monday November 30th on Soundcloud.