This versatile software “de-constructs” music—but that’s just the beginning
by Craig Anderton
Editor in Chief, Harmony Central
Roland R-MIX is a product, but it’s also a technology. That’s an important difference, because while a product is intended to provide a specific set of functions, a technology is much more open-ended—and delving into R-MIX can reveal applications that maybe even the original designers didn’t have in mind.
THE MUSIC DE-CONSTRUCTION KIT
Basically, R-MIX is a signal processor that loads or records two tracks of stereo files (WAV, 16-bit, 44.1/48kHz, mono/stereo). Thanks to Roland’s VariPhrase technology it offers real-time control over the file’s pitch (up to +/- an octave) and tempo (from 50% to 130%), but the program’s heart is the “harmonic placement” window. This display deconstructs the audio into colored “elements” that show frequency, panning, and amplitude at a glance (Fig. 1). The element’s color indicates amplitude (black for quiet and white for loudest; colors indicate in-between gradations). Higher frequencies are higher in the window, lower frequencies are lower, and stereo placement maps from left to right.
For example a round, white element in the window’s bottom center that hits briefly and rhythmically is probably the kick drum. A yellow, elongated element located higher up and toward the left is likely a hi-hat. A consistently loud, centered midrange collection of elements is almost certainly the vocal.
The key to using this information is a frame, indicated by a red outline, which you can adjust to isolate a specific frequency range and stereo position. In the examples given above, you could adjust the frame to outline where the hi-hat hits, and process only the hi-hat. Or, you could draw the frame around the vocal. This frame can be either rectangular/square or circular/oval.
Fig. 1: The main R-MIX screen. The waveform being de-constructed is along the bottom. The various colors and positioning indicate levels, frequency, and panning.
Of course, this isolation can’t be perfect when working with a mixed track. If you’re isolating a vocal and another instrument covers the same frequency range in the same stereo position, you’ll process part of the other instrument too. However, in practice I was surprised at the framing’s effectiveness. In one song, a vocal was panned to center and another was slightly left of center in the same frequency range. I thought they’d be panned too closely, but drawing a very narrow frame allowed adding reverb to one vocal without affecting the other. It was almost like “reaching inside” the original multitrack to add the new vocal reverb.
There are separate level and pan controls for what’s inside and outside the frame, as well as preset effects for signals inside the frame: two types of compression, three delays (short, medium, long), and three reverbs (room, hall, plate). If you want to use a different effect, simply export a version with just the inside frame audio, another with just the outside frame audio, import them as parallel tracks into your DAW, and process only the track with the inside frame audio.
What’s more, you can place a cursor anywhere in the file to see what’s happening at that specific point. For example, place it over where the kick hits, and you can see the exact range it covers (Fig. 2); this makes it easy to draw a precise frame. You can also loop an audio selection for finer analysis.
Fig. 2: The kick drum in this loop has a frame drawn around it; lowering the “inside level” removes the kick sound.
Probably the best way to understand R-Mix is to consider a few applications.
Remix existing music. This isn’t just about vocals. You could isolate, say, a percussion part and make it softer, louder, or compress it. By turning down the outside frame level temporarily and altering the frame size and position, you can isolate sections precisely. For example I’ve been able to reduce the level of an overbearing hi-hat, and bring up the level of a rhythm guitar part that was panned to the left.
Here's an interesting audio example.
Click to hear the unprocessed example with two vocals, a lead vocal and background vocal, both without reverb.
Click to hear the same clip processed via R-MIX, where only the background vocal has had reverb added; note that this doesn't affect the lead voice.
General EQ. If a song sounds “muddy” due to build-ups in the 300-400Hz range, not only can you see this, you can draw a wide frame covering this region and reduce the level slightly to minimize the mud. This is very much like conventional EQ, except the visual component can really help zero in on what needs to be edited.
Loop alteration. I found it was possible to remove the kick drum entirely from several electronic drum loops, export the loops, bring them into Sonar, and overdub only the kick to give a different “feel.” Another loop had an annoying, high-frequency percussion part—gone. This kind of alteration can have a really dramatic effect, as these audio examples show.
Click to hear the original loop, without any R-MIX editing.
Click to hear the same loop, but with the kick removed.
Click to hear the same loop, but this time, the hi-hat has been panned left instead of right, and delay has been added to only the hi-hat.
Vocal removal. Most vocals cover the midrange and are panned to center. Drawing a narrow frame around the vocal can remove or reduce it, while not affecting instruments above and below the vocal range that are panned to center (e.g., kick, bass). While an obvious use for this is karaoke, you could also do a trick like sing a harmony along with Elvis Presley, yet reduce the level of his voice a bit so that the two voices singing together don’t overpower the song. Having two tracks for this type of consumer application is very useful, as you can record a new vocal in the second track while the first track plays. You could even isolate Elvis’s voice, export it, and (assuming you can get copyright clearance), base a remix around his vocal.
Noise reduction. R-Mix has a dedicated noise reduction function (independent of the frame) for canceling out hiss, hum, wind noise (camcorder users, take note) and air conditioning. You’ll love this feature if you have some old cassettes sitting around and wish you could make them less hissy.
Dub and DJ remixing. If you’re a DJ, you know what a kill switch is—R-MIX is the ultimate implementation. For dub, one really cool application is to isolate just a portion of the midrange and add echo to that, while leaving the bass, kick, and hi-hat unaffected so they can continue to drive the song.
Process individual DAW tracks. I imported a narration track with a few nasty p-pops, drew a frame around the p-pop range, turned down the inside frame level, and solved the problem.
Sound design. Narrowing in on specific ranges, changing pitch, adding processing, and altering tempo can turn just about any sound into something completely different. Want to turn a wall fan into a starship’s engine room? Be my guest.
While these indicate some of what R-MIX can do, surely other uses are yet to be discovered...and I expect to find at least some of them!