Q & A Re: Paul Slocum Sample Remixer

paul slocum sample remixer

Below is an email interview about the sample-remixer Paul Slocum recently described on his blog:

I’m working on new software for Tree Wave that is designed to create abstract remixes. It is a software sampler that loops portions a very large source sample, usually an entire song or songs, and allows many layers of loops to be played simultaneously... It can be used with any source sample, but I’ve found that the aesthetics of contemporary Christian music work best for what I’m trying to do (more on this later…) Eventually it’ll also include a simple drum machine. It incorporates a random generator to aid finding interesting loop points in a long sample. And it is designed with the idea that loops don’t need any relation to the original sample’s tempo as long as the loop lengths all fit a consistent tempo.

And here's the Q&A:

What determines the tempo of the individual "loop lengths" on your sample-remixer? You said they don’t need any relation to the original sample’s tempo--meaning the tempo of those underlying sounds isn't detected or taken into account at all?

You set a global tempo. A track's loop-length is a standard note length of your choosing based on the set tempo: quarter note, 16th note, whole note, etc. It does not detect the tempo of the original song that you're sampling from. I think it's a lot more interesting if the tempos don't match.

You said the program looks for "interesting loop points"--what is interesting to your random generator? (This sounds skeptical but I'm just trying to grasp the methodology--I like the idea of self-designed art-making tools being almost an art in themselves.)

It just randomly selects a loop point, and then you determine if it's interesting or not. I've found that the best/quickest way to find cool loops is to eliminate any preconceived notion you have about what would be a cool loop point. But it does also allow you to move loop points around to wherever you want.

Also, what is the database that the sampler is using to look for loops?

It currently supports four samples per song of your choosing, and the samples can be pretty long. The way I use it is to load an entire song in as each sample. So when it randomly selects a loop point, it's selecting, say, a 200ms loop out of a 3-4 minute song.

200ms is short! That could just be a tone without any attack or other distinguishing features. I thought the point was long loops, which could include the potential for a lot of beat "train wrecks."

Just an example, if you set the loop length to 1 with a tempo of 60, it can be up to, I think, 8 seconds.

Is the sampling non-destructive? As in, is the sequencer reading the audio direct from pre-defined points?

Yes, the entire samples are loaded into memory and the sound is built from those samples each measure as the sequence plays.

How would you say it's different from a standard sequencer like Cubase or Ableton that handles audio?

The interface is very different, and it focuses on a very small subset of what those programs do. It's geared towards a very specific, weird way of using sampling. I've never used Ableton, but according to a friend who does, it has some similarities. My program allows you to take a portion of the source sample and start playing it in a loop, mess with it, then paste the new setup into the sequence. He says Ableton does something like this.

Can you explain that a bit more?

The sequence determines which loops are playing when. But since there are 40 tracks, it could be a bit of a work to switch to performance mode and turn on the exact same loops at a given point in the sequence. So I put in a key command to do this for you. It also doubles as a rough copy and paste function since you can "copy" a column of the sequencer into performance mode then "paste" it into other columns with another key command.

Okay, that's how the remixer relates to the "hi-fi" end of home audio, how about the "lo"? What are the similarities to tracker music, specifically tracker music used to trigger ultra-fast breakcore samples a la Venetian Snares? See this discussion from Marius Watz's blog and my old blog. Is it the ability to self-sample, this "rough copy and paste" function you described, that makes it different?

From my perspective, a tracker is a sequencer with only an "event list" interface. If I open a Sonar midi track in the event list editor, it's similar to a tracker. And I believe trackers emerged because it's the easiest user interface to program for a sequencer. Doesn't require any graphics so it works well with only a text-based display. And the way you edit the data relates more directly to how it's stored in memory.

My program takes interface cues from both trackers and sequencers, but maybe more from trackers in that it's a text-based interface and doesn't support the mouse.

I think the most unique thing about my program is that it's specifically designed to take lots of samples from one very large sample source without modifying the source at all. You can't even detune samples currently. And it assumes that you don't know what samples you want out of the file. In contrast, most programs assume you want to load a lot of short specific samples, or isolate some predetermined small bit of a large sample.

It's basically a WAV file player that allows you to dramatically alter the path that the player takes through the file. Normally a player plays the file linearly from start to end. This one allows you to set up many repeating, overlapping paths through the file.

You mentioned on your blog that you've been using contemporary Christian music as source material.

I have a few particular songs I've been using. I don't have a great library yet, but I've been listening to that stuff on the radio constantly for months now. My goal is to make completely neutral music from it. I don't want to reinforce or condemn its message. It's primarily about the aesthetics, but of course it's not just about the aesthetics since I'm specifically trying to sidestep the message. Anyway...

Is it contemporary Christian rock? (I only watched enough of the Casting Crowns vid to see that they look like gentle metal dudes.)

Yeah, generally light/alternative Christian rock.

Update: more here.