After the relative intensity of the production chapters previously, I thought I’d take thing’s down a notch for this post and talk a little about harmonic mixing and how I implemented into the remake.
HARMONIC MIXING THEORY
Harmonic mixing operates on the basis that as tracks are usually written in a particular musical key, in theory by understanding what key your records are in, you can then mix compatible keys together to create more fluid and harmonious transitions.
At it’s most basic form the technique relies on the age old ‘circle of fifths’ which as anyone familiar with music theory will know, is a tool portraying the relationship between the tones on the chromatic scale, and the amount of sharp or flats contained in a key.
When looking at the above diagram, harmonic mixing comes into practice by understanding that blending a record in a particular key one step to the right or left, or directly above or below can in effect create a ‘harmonic mix’.
For example if you have a track using the Am scale, you can mix with:
- Am (the same key otherwise known as the tonic)
- C Major (3 steps above in the scale also known as the relative minor)
- Dm (4 steps above in the scale also known as the subdominant or ‘perfect 4th’)
- Em (5 steps above in the scale also known as the dominant or ‘perfect 5th’)
Another element of key mixing that I used within the project was to use the tone directly above or below in the scale, for example Am into Bm or Fm into Ebm, which although not strictly harmonic, gave the impression of an energy surge or a sense of drama as the scale uses notes not familalr with the previous key.
As with everything in music theory, the topic of harmonics is a very deep subject, far beyond the scope of this blog, and although the above guidelines are a very basic introduction to the subject, the truth is that there is no limit to what you can achieve if you understand music, scales, modes and chords as music all works on the same basic fundamentals.
A point I’d like to cover in this section is that due to using Ableton’s time stretching algorithm for the mixing, I had the ability to lock the tracks tempo but change the key – something that would have been impossible on vinyl back in 1998 due to the fact that turntables work on the principal of varispeed, in which altering the tempo would also alter the pitch.
I believe that for most instrumental tracks a change in +/-1 semitones is fine, but anything more can be quite noticeable, and for vocal tracks I find it is a definite no go area, although it does have creative uses – Madonna famously had her voice pitched up on ‘Like A Virgin’ to give the illusion of her being younger, and Tom Jones did the same thing on ‘Stoned In Love’ – his collaboration with Chicane in 2006.