Reich’s 2×5, Splayed and Ready for Remixing

The first time Steve Reich‘s music was the focus of a major remix operation, it culminated in Reich Remixed, a 1999 collection that set the likes of Coldcut, Andrea Parker, Nobukazu Takemura, and others on such minimalist monuments as “Music for 18 Musicians,” “The Four Sections,” and “Drumming.” Of course, this is almost a decade after the Orb worked Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” into its “Little Fluffy Clouds,” a successful classical-pop graft that made it the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of electronica.

Nonesuch, Reich’s longtime label, was still coming up to speed on the concept of remixes. At the time, Howie B (then perhaps still best known as part of the quartet Skylab), told me of his experience being invited to participate: “They turned around and said, ‘Can’t you sample off the CD?’ and I went, ‘No, that’s not why I’m doing it. I want to touch on the sounds that were there.’ It’s not like doing a normal remix.” In other words, the label’s idea of a remix was working from the completed track, not from the multitracks, which while certainly common, undermined the creative potential of the contributing musicians.

Times have changed, and the understanding of remixing along with it. As of this morning, the pristine, entirely separate, eight constituent parts of the third movement of Reich’s composition “2×5” have been made available for downloading and remixing, as part of one of the remix contests at The basic stems set breaks it into eight parts: two bass, two drums, two guitar, two piano. That’s something of a reduction of the original, because “2×5,” as the name suggests, features not eight but ten musicians (two equally matched five-piece rock bands); the stem set combines the two drummers into one track.

Don’t despair; there’s also a 20-track advanced set that, true to Reich’s emphasis on percussion, breaks the drum set down even further. The judges for the contest are Reich himself and Christian Carey, who’s a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music. The due date for participants is November 2. Get the full set at

“2×5” had its recording debut earlier this year when paired with “Double Sextet,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music last year, in a performance by Bang on a Can (eighth blackbird performs the other work).

My interview with Reich, and some of the contributing musicians, on the occasion of Reich Remixed here: “The Public Record.”

Remixing Is a Social Network (MP3s)

Confusion about the aligning of director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on the Facebook movie, The Social Network, seems a little overstated. Sorkin, best known perhaps for his work on TV’s The West Wing, may write some of the most non-action-oriented verbiage in modern drama (“I write people talking in rooms, he told David Carr of, but that’s not much of a contrast with Fincher, whose best work, like Se7en and Fight Club, transforms the world into a CGI-like realm that seems more frozen in space than actually flesh and blood. Fincher’s influence is most clearly felt in the 360-degree cadaver inspections of CSI and the 2001-monolith-like typography of Fringe. There was arguably more “action” in the racing-corridor dialogue of The West Wing than there is in all of Fincher’s Zodiac. If Sorkin writes words to be spoken in enclosed spaces, then Fincher turns those spaces (people included) into architecture to be investigated from all angles.

Which is to say, the pair are a perfect match, and they’ve found their rightful aural sparring partner in Trent Reznor, of Nine Inch Nails, who along with Atticus Ross scored Social Network with a series of ambient-industrial set pieces, five of which are available for free download at, including the siren song (quite literally, as it’s shot through with a gleaming alarm) of “Eventually We Find Our Way” and the lulling wisp that carries the superb title “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety,” the latter complete with a piano part worthy of Erik Satie, had he lived long enough to serve Alfred Hitchcock’s will. (There’s a good conversation between Fincher and Reznor at, in which Fincher recalls asking Reznor about ‘doing like a Wendy Carlos version of [Edvard Grieg’s] “Hall of the Mountain King.”‘) The full album is available in a variety of formats, including (through 12:01am PT on September 30) a mere $2.99 digital edition via Amazon. There’s also a CD (just $8, which is Fugazi-style pricing), a Blu-ray audio disc, and the requisite 180-gram vinyl edition.

And the free music doesn’t end with the five-track EP sampler. The constituent parts of two of the Reznor-Ross score cues are available for free download as part of the ongoing open-source remix project at There’s “On We March,” which is included in the free five-track EP, weighing in at 10 stems (among them “bass,” “modular,” “swarm,” and “pluck) at 74 BPM, and “In Motion,” which is the second track on the full album, with 17 stems (“Korg,” “Odyssey,” “Oddity,” “Sub Loop,” “Gtr Noise”) at 124 BPM. All the remixes, which are piling up by the dozen, are available for free download. The remixing project is, in effect, a social network of its own, as participants upload their renditions and, along with casual listeners, rate them.

NB: The free download requires you to enter your email address, and is delivered as a Zip archive of MP3s, which is why it’s not available for streaming here.

Play Games with “Frontiers” (WAV)

Maybe the track was selected for a remix contest because its title suggests that the act of playing can be intrinsic to an exploratory, next-generation approach. Or perhaps the track was selected because it is one of the most spare in the musician’s expansive catalog, its individual parts so separate in the original mix that they already suggested themselves as musical Lego pieces, just waiting to be re-purposed. In either case, Peter Gabriel has offered up the constituent parts of the song “Games without Frontiers,” off his third solo album, now 30 years old, for free download. He’s done so with the understanding that fans and aspiring Steve Lillywhites will take the material and shape it in their own, three-decades-hence image.

The promotion is related to Scratch My Back, Gabriel’s current project, in which he covers the songs of other musicians, and in time they cover his (among the mutual appreciation society members are Radiohead, Magnetic Fields, and Lou Reed). This phrase, “scratch my back,” isn’t a bad mantra for the post-monetary economy of copyleft music sharing and collaboration in a Creative Commons environment.

For remixers, aspiring and otherwise, the track offers six constituent parts: “Lead Vocal,” “Backing Voz,” “Bass,” “Guitars,” “Percussion,” and “Synths.” But as with many (if not all) such remix offerings, at least one of those tracks is listenable to unto itself. This would be “Percussion,” which runs the full length of the song (many other tracks drop in and out, their subtractive presence adding to the song’s overall sparseness), and has the sci-fi amalgam of proto-industrial techno and Bo Diddley that made the track so enticing in the first place.

The service requires registration, so I can’t link to the file directly (it’s a WAV, not an MP3), so check it out at the hosting service,, an online space for collaborative music-making, which also provides its own remixing software.

Tony Allen Afrobeat Remix by Tim (Subbasshead) Prebble (MP3)

Back in June, Nigerian legend Tony Allen uploaded a heap of stems (that is, constituent multi-track elements) of the title cut off his recent album, Secret Agent, for anyone to download, mix, and upload. The original is slick Afrobeat: all chanting chorus, ’70sploitation guitar, and trance-inducing percussion. Among the many uploaded mixes is an entry by subbasshead — aka “film sound designer, occasional musician” Tim Prebble, whose great blog carries the inspiring subhead “Tim’s obsession with vibrating air molecules.”

So what does someone with Prebble’s ear for sonic detail and space have in store for Allen, veteran drummer of Fela’s groundbreaking band? Among many other things, Prebble adds, per his pseudonym, a serious dose of delay, turning lilting guitar lines into rich waterfalls. He also pushes the keys forward until they seem like something off an electric-era Miles Davis album, and focuses the vocals until they sound less like a pop song and more like incantations (MP3).

More on the remix project in a previous post.

Baaba Maal Remix Contest Elements

The word is “stem,” and what it refers to in music isn’t — in this case — the narrow vertical shaft of a single note in a written score, but the separate audio elements that are later combined to create a single track.

These are the constituent parts of a studio recording, and they’re the sort of pieces provided as a set in various remix contests, such as the one listed here earlier this week for ace Nigerian afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (,; due date: July 7).

That contest offers, in MP3 form, the 15 parts of the title track of Allen’s new album, Secret Agent. Not to be outdone, Senegal’s Baaba Maal has provided 29 separate parts of the title track of his new album, Television, recorded with New York’s Brazilian Girls. The files are all available in a Zip archive at (due date: August 10). All in all, it’s less music than the Allen set, because this batch consists mostly of 20-second riffs, bits of vocals, guitar, and percussion that were looped in the construction of Maal’s song. However, there are some highly recommended chunks of sound in there, loopable and listenable to on their lonesome, notably recordings of tabla and djembe. All files are in WAV format. (Found via