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Anatomy of a Remix

Patrick Carpenter of Ninja Tune's DJ Food talks about re-tuning a David Byrne song.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Talking Heads came of age during the late 1970s under the tutelage of producer Brian Eno. So, it’s no surprise that former Head David Byrne has turned, during his ’90s solo career, to the latest generation of electronic music synthesists. When time came to commission remixes of his latest album, Feelings (Luaka Bop/Sire), Byrne called Ninja Tune Records’ DJ Food.

Contacted to discuss the remix, DJ Food member Patrick Carpenter says he is no stranger to the overlap of the electronic underground and mainstream pop; none other than George Michael has sampled DJ Food in the past (“It was wicked for me, because my sisters love George Michael,” he says). Carpenter had previously remixed Elvis Costello, as well as Sukia, Herbalizer, and Nightmares on Wax.

He constructed his remix of Byrne’s song “Fuzzy Freaky” on an AKAI S3000XL sampler and an Atari computer, running Creator sequencer software. A Luaka Bop spokesperson says the DJ Food remix will appear in early ’98.


 

0:00 – 1:02: “That little bit in the beginning was supposed to be the sound of the avenue where I live in Brixton. It’s very green and leafy and all the birds hang out there and then there’s a lot of music going on all the time. So that sort of rise and fall of that hip-hop loop is supposed to be a car coming and going. And there’s a little radio in there, someone switichin’ on a radio (0:24). There’s one set of birds that come from a Just Ice album. And there’s another set of birds which — my friend works in a sound library in Soho and he occasionally downloads some little sound effects for me.”

0:40 [gong]: “It’s a waterphone, a percussion instrument that uses water. It had an attack at the front, and I stretched the end, made the sound longer.”

1:04 – 2:00 [Byrne’s jittery vocal]: “The track I started working on was 136 beats a minute and it had a heavy swing. To make the vocal fit, I cut it up into syllables, but it sounded crap. I still had all these vocals cut up into syllables, so I put little loops in each syllable.”

2:01 – 3:47 [instrumental jam]: “It’s just really a slow process of building up and cutting down and building up and cutting down. What helps the track is that there is no reverb or delay in there, so each sound is specifically placed.”

4:23 [harp]: “It comes off an easy-listening record.”

4:44 – 5:52 [instrumental jam repeats]: “Between the two verses I wanted to have something, and then it just seemed to be a natural thing at the end of the second verse.”

5:53 – 7:01 [girl chorus]: “When I first heard [the girl’s voice] in the headphones it was so lovely — I had to make it prominent, and also, as a balance between David Byrne’s cutup vocal and a long sort of free-ish vocal. When [DJ Food’s] Kev listens to it he’s gripping the arms of the chair because it’s so tense and stop-start, and then the girl comes in and he just relaxes.”

3:13 & 5:08 [Byrne’s snarl]: “He’s so mad. When I heard that I cracked up. Imagine him in front of the microphone, going nih nih nih. I had to throw that in. And, as a result, I’m not sure if it works that well.”

7:02 – 8:05 [Byrne’s vocal joins the girl chorus]: “The only bit I used, actually, from ‘Fuzzy Freaky’ was a little hand bell percussion bit and the vocal. Not even all the vocals, because I didn’t have enough sample space.”


 

Originally published in Pulse! magazine, November 1997.
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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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