A followup to a previous appearance on the Frisky Radio spotlight on Canadian DJs, I’ve put something together that is only an hour long. Let me tell you, that does not seem like very much time to me after putting together my last mix, which was around 3 hours long. I think I have to stop doing those big long mixes as they take a really long time to smooth out and sequence and generally be happy with, which means it was more like work than play. This, on the other hand, was definitely play.
Tom Middleton – Sea of Glass (Jon Hopkins remix) [Café Del Mar Music]
Nick Warren – Devil’s Elbow (Max Cooper remix) [Hope Recordings]
Odd Parents – Learn to Fly (Maceo Plex’s Flight Home remix) [Ellum]
DAVI – The Gates of Babylon (Original mix) [Rebellion]
Joy Wellboy – Before the Sunrise (Dixon remix) [Bpitch Control]
Dave Seaman – Right Side of Wrong (Guy Mantzur & Lonya remix) [Sudbeat Music]
Kaan Koray – Heart of Africa (Faskil breaks mix) [Magnetism Digital]
Pryda – Sunburst (Original mix) [Virgin UK]
Barry Jamieson – Stars (Charlie May’s Black Hole remix) [microCastle]
Ana Criado – Afterglow (Will Holland remix) [Adrian & Raz]
“wandering level” describes the mix as a whole .. it meanders this way and that; it’s a vocal-less, solitary journey in the country along an unmarked path. It’s the way of a traveller, but not a tourist. Wandering level is also an anagram for my first and last name.
I started putting together DJ mixes in 1997 and was DJing at all-night parties, clubs, and music festivals shortly after. The first few years, I was bringing some very anti-social, introspective music into very extraverted circumstances, i.e. parties full of young people staying up all night. I felt like I could do that because I made no secrets about what kind of music I was interested in sharing – I was on the radio pushing it out, and people seemed interested in that sound, and promoters booked me quite a bit. As years went by, there was a bit more festival play and club play, less all-night parties and less dedicated club nights focused on this particular sound. EDM was being commercialized; for the most part, that meant that DJs were being booked to help sell alcohol at the bar. That is the ugly truth of it; the music itself took a back seat. If people were caught appreciating music, well, that didn’t exactly pay the rent.
Time went by and it became clear that I would have several record bags: music for radio (calm, thoughtful music); music for parties (vocalized, happy, sometimes even aggressive); music for festivals (energetic, laser sounds, anthemic); music for outdoor events, i.e. a full moon gathering in the forest (atmospheric, mysterious, dark, epic); and of course, the music I made myself as AFK, Royal Assassin, Tiebreaker, Emerald Green, Trifecta and so forth, i.e. featured artist kind of stuff. All of these are distinctive sounds and very different creative directions, and any one of them could easily be a set on their own – and have been.
I don’t DJ at parties and clubs much any more; my lifestyle has changed to be less nocturnal – but the music itself is something I haven’t given up. It’s just something I have been enjoying mostly on my own.
Out of all my DJ mixes, this is likely the most introverted. Exploring music and listening for the layers and the mood of each composition is not really a thing you do in the company of people, unless you know people already do that on their own. It is wordless on purpose as to not distract from the qualities of each piece. Not to say that vocals cannot be an introversion, but rather that they can be demanding and engaging on a level that leaves a listener wanting more vocals of a similar quality, or turned off regardless of the quality of the music behind it; vocals can be quite polarizing for the listener.
Vocals over EDM have become a hallmark of pop music lately, and I’ve felt like distancing myself from that. Although you can dance to this music, I would not call it dance music. It’s a different relationship with music that I wanted to push away, at least this time, in favour of this study of synths and sifting syncopated sounds.
This is my first new mix since 2012. I’ve been gathering music as it comes up. These are pieces of inspiration; the fruit of 2 years of hunting. I spent a full year putting this together, and another 2 months making sure it flowed right, the levels worked, the cues made sense, and the right chances were being taken with some of the ambient blends. A 3.25 hour long mix takes a while to wholly proof. I do not know how many hours I have put into this, but the mix has been my getaway, consistently, for the last year. It’s a little creative outlet.
So this means that I have been working on it while I have been travelling: Tofino, Vancouver, Nashville, Sarasota, Key West, and also at 35,000 feet. The traveller theme is completely built into the mix philosophy: the mix image was taken with my iPhone while taking off from Houston, Texas. The lines are the skyline of the city as the camera did a time exposure and the pilot banked to turn the plane in the right direction.
“Completion-date” for the mix was never a question, I just worked on it when there was time, and didn’t know when it would wrap itself up. It has it’s own life, and in years-spent-on-music terms, this represents 11.25% of mine.
At 3.25 hours and with no explicit narrative, I don’t really expect this kind of mix to appeal to most people. It’s fairly specialized in a direction that isn’t what I’d call popular. I called it a “study” above and I believe that’s what it is – how to weave several different sub-genres together over several hours. It is for the listener to interpret; it is meant to accompany the listener during whatever it is they want to do, and it provides no instructions on how to enjoy it.
rules and illusion
There’s all these rules I’ve made up for myself in order to make a good mix. They’ve been practiced in almost all of my previous mixes: the current track has the energy of the preceding track +1; foreshadow and hint early in the mix about different styles that will follow later in the mix so that the introduction of a full tangent in those directions is not a big surprise and flows naturally; give the listener a full exploration of the tangent before mixing away from it, or make the tangent build into a whole new direction; build from basic sound designs into more complex and affected sound designs; and evolve from simple repetitive riffs into melodic widescreen epic scores. There is a shared aesthetic logic to the collection.
There’s probably more that I can’t remember right now, but the sum of that is that you have a mix that seems to speed up, slow down, wind this way and that. But the truth is, this mix never changes tempo – it’s 126 BPM the whole way through. It seems to get quite fast towards the end, but it’s an auditory illusion created through layers and sequencing.
break up or stay together
This mix could have easily been 3 or 4 different mixes; it certainly has the content and the scale for it. That probably would have been easier on me to put together, and probably easier for the listener as well. That’s what I’ve done in the past, for the most part, but early on when I was putting this mix together, I decided it was not going to make compromises based on time – that the journey was going to take as long as the music in it demanded. This is the least I could do to really place these pieces in a way that honours the countless hours that the producers and remixers listed above put into their pieces.
Mixed in Ableton Live 9 with the Complex Pro mode to preserve as much quality as possible while still being able to properly re-pitch tracks as necessary. It was exported as a 1.99 GB AIFF and then compressed to MP3 with VBR turned off, as well as the filtering options turned off. The mp3 is at 320K, and sounds, I think, pretty good.
After my last mix (Nothing But You And The Beat) in late 2011, I wasn’t certain that I’d be in much of a rush to do another. And, as it turned out, I wasn’t in a rush. There were no radio shows to guest on, no new stream of productions to feature, nothing to provide urgency. It wasn’t until June of this year that I had even given it much serious thought – that’s when I heard Blunt Force Trauma and realized there may be some more music worth mixing and sharing. In August, I actually got the motivation to do something new. That month, there was a spectacular meteor shower that I watched out at Witty’s Lagoon (Tower Park) until 4 AM – far from the city lights and on a weekend, so far from alarm clocks as well. That weekend I got the inspiration to actually put something new and spacey together. You’ll hear some Isaac Asimov references in here as well – that is meant to complement some of the big wide open sounds you hear in the music. That’s it for now. Enjoy!
Mono Electric Orchestra – Blunt Force Trauma [Manual Music]
Micah – Matter & Light [Proton Music]
Luke Chable & Danny Bonnici – Blue Skies & Butterflies [Mesmeric Records]
Pryda – Alfon [Pryda Recordings]
Dousk – Estrange (Kasey Taylor remix) [Vapour Recordings]
U.N.K.L.E. – Heaven (Charlie May remix) [Surrender All / Essential]
Robert Nickson Pres RNX – Suffer [Encolourized]
John Digweed & Nick Muir – Raise [Bedrock Records]