Digital Media ProjectsDigitial Media Studies ProjectsUndergraduate

Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole

As a part of my Intro to Digital Studies class, I decided to take on an audio mash-up with the intention evoking the mesmerizing editing style of famous web musician Nick Bertke. As Nick Bertke uses no other source for his audio samples apart from those directly available from the original media he is representing, I similarly chose to limit my resources. The media I chose to create a mash-up of was the original Matrix movie. Being honest with myself though, the end result of my green efforts to digitally compose music the way Bertke does ended up pretty damn comparatively crude, and I can now appreciate far better than ever just how difficult creating music from audio samples can be! Before I say anything else, I have to mention that this is an incredibly revealing process in which the person editing and scouring the media source for samples pretty is forced to get closer to that media than ever have before. Meticulously digging around for the right samples by re-watching re-listening to each scene multiple times allowed me to get very up close and personal with the Matrix, and opens up a whole new vein for appreciating and reading the source as somewhat of an audio text. The iconic lines in the piece become all the more memorable, and a wide array of nuances and neat hidden gems in the source’s audio make themselves known on such a close inspection.

For my process, I started with a small, technical audio tutorial by none other than Pogo himself.

In all honestly, as much as I loved to see his processes this video didn’t help me very much apart from giving me software suggestions and a few general tips about hand-picking different qualities of audio. I don’t have the fancy-pants audio-card that allows for the simultaneous recording of all surround sound channels into one channel, nor do I have a Mac. Most of the tips in this video had to do with the fancy techniques his hardware allowed him that which I would love to utilize as they help the quality of his pieces to consistently stay so hgih, but they were neither necessary nor possible with my current circumstances and resources. Ultimately, I didn’t even end up using the audio editing software he demonstrates at the end of the video, Ableton Live, as it ended up being far too complicated for a novice like me. FL Studio however, while being similarly complicated and full of nuanced, label-less tools that I still don’t understand, was friendly enough that I was able to pump out a semi-finished product. I say semi-finished product as I have thus far been unable to sync the audio samples in my mash-up with their respective video samples as Pogo does so well. For recording the audio samples, I used a combination of VLC Media Player to play the Matrix while I simultaneously ran Audacity to record the audio input my computer and transitively the movie. This part was a lot of fun- as I mentioned earlier, it allowed me to get really intimate with the Matrix, and it also allowed me to start developing an ear for picking out harmonic, narrative-relevant, and otherwise interesting-sounding samples from a media body as large as the original Matrix movie. This took WAY longer than I anticipated, but apart from the stress of an encroaching project deadline I didn’t mind that at all. The really stressful part sauntered into view with the editing stage of my project. As I mentioned before, my first attempts at Ableton Live lead to great frustrations on my part due to the complicated, highly technical software, and the fact that it is oriented towards generating beats rather than abstractly melded tunes like I had in mind. So, feeling like I was fighting a particularly difficult uphill battle, I investigated alternatives. And so I dug around for further regular tools of Bertke’s, I found FL Studio, and I found a slightly more malleable bit of software. It didn’t compact and distort my audio samples to cram them into very rigid, precise beats, which allowed me to be far more liberal with what clips I used. It was also far more oriented towards editing solely through the timeline, which is what allowed me to work with it with minimal reliance on tutorials. As someone who has not really composed music before, I was faced with the fact that I had no idea how to start. So, after hours of agonizing over my painfully boring orchestrations, I finally settled on using a single string of audio through which to frame the more meatier, flashy audio samples I wanted to incorporate in the project.

As I probably created too many audio samples, I was concerned that I didn’t incorporate enough repetition or recurring, catchy lines within my song. What I did like about the variety however, was the sheer bulk of the Matrix I was able to represent through the audio samples I used. I was so excited about including all of my favorite moments from the film into this mash-up that, in the end, I couldn’t sacrifice that variety for the repetition that might have made my song more catchy and memorable.

In the end, as an initial foray into the world of audio-editing, I am quite pleased with my finished product. I enjoy the moments from the film it captures and evokes, and even if it’s far less complex than any of Pogo’s videos I believe I captured a similar trancy, abstract quality to those I admire in Bertke’s work.


“Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole”. Released: 2013.

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