HEADLINES

In the Future, all music will be made by The Wubmachine

Or; I dubstep remixed a Skrillex song ten times.

In the very first podcast I recorded for you people, I stood before you, naked and humbled, and defended dubstep as a legitimate form of music. I had not then, nor have I since, ever listened to a dubstep song in its entirety. Not even ones I have listened to as a joke.

My point still stands, though. It is far too early to call dubstep a full-on “genre” with any certainty, as at this point it is still entirely possible the whole thing will fizzle out at any moment, but if it does last – if they are still making dubstep five or even ten years down the line, I do consider that a bleak future. We are in the early, early days of dubstep now. For all we know, we don’t actually know what actually is yet – in two years, someone could release a dubstep track featuring harmonised lutes, and that could have been the missing ingredient all along (it’s not). 2009-2012 would be looked upon historically as “that weird non-harmonised lute” period of dubstep (it won’t be).

What I’m saying is, just because I’m not a fan of dubstep in its current form doesn’t mean I won’t ever be. I feel like right now it’s possible we’re just waiting for someone to come along and Einstein the whole thing into something great. Muse are supposedly working on something dubsteppy (haha, yeah they are, aren’t they?), I mean heck, maybe it will be them (I mean, it won’t be, but it could be)!

Or, maybe it could be one of us. Humble internet folk who don’t know wobble bass from double bass. Is making dubstep really as easy as the detractors say it is? The Wubmachine is a website which allows anyone to create a dubstep remix of a song simply by dragging the audio file into a “remix” box. The site was first pointed out to me by a friend of mine who really hates the dubstep scene. He used the site as proof of the oncoming musicpocalypse, as “anyone” could simply make dubstep now.

You have the choice between an electro, drum and bass or good old-fashioned dubstep remix. The remixes are incredibly basic, but I have to say I found myself incredibly captivated by the site, and interested in how the machine worked.

As always, the easiest way to find out how something works is to break it. And break it I most certainly did – but first, a few examples:

Here’s a basic example of what a remixed song sounds like on the “dubstep” remix function…

… Drum and Bass…

… And electro (hey, this one turned out pretty cool).

Now at first this seems pretty fantastic, however, the more remixes you make, the more obvious the formula for remixing becomes. Compare the Mingus remix to this Hold Steady remix:

By taking two songs that sound nothing like one another and subjecting them to the same remixing process, you can start to see the strings behind the remixing technique. For instance, you can tell just from the waveforms that the “Drum & Bass” remixing program is set to start each remix with around a 24 second “intro”, after which the building background tones set in. Similarly, around two-thirds into each song the remix inserts a 20 second“breakdown” where the tones again disappear. While frantic, you can also clearly make out the pattern the remix is making with the “percussion” of each song (it’s easier to hear in the Hold Steady song due to the chopping of vocals).

Now, onto the dubstep itself…

Eh, still a better remix than “Otis”.

Now, I could only play for this machine for so long (read: days and days) before I got the sudden urge to do something that had been in the back of my head for a while; I was going to dubstep-ify an already dubstep song. Where better to start than with the grand pumbah of dubstep?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpS7nCweYZI

What you’re hearing is the Skrillex-ified remix of “Reptile’s Theme” from Mortal Kombat. I don’t know anything about dubstep so maybe this is a classic that I’ve ruined, but let’s listen to what happens when you run dubstep through the Wubmachine:

Mmm… That’s some pure, concentrated dubstep. Right off the bat, it seems obvious what the program is set to do for each songs “intro” – in fact, the initial kick just sounds like a soundbite that’s overlayed onto the song rather strictly being an element of the “remix”. This becomes more noticeable when we remix this remix:

And then remix that remix, and so on until we reach the fifth iteration;

What’s interesting here is that we suddenly lose quite a bit of music. As a result of the Wubmachine remixing itself, you can also see from the Waveform the sound is becoming more a solid block. As the program remixes itself, the intro becomes longer and longer, and the remixing program has less and less of the original song to work with each time.

Suddenly, on remix eight! We lose half the danged song! And on top of that, the intro has now been stretched to encompass a quarter of its runtime. We can also hear that each “major” drum hit the Wubmachine adds now has an echo from being picked up on and repeated so many times. I also think this is the track that broke the website for a while on the 11th. My bad guys, I just had a dubstep heart that wouldn’t quit.

And finally, we have Reptile to the Power of Ten. I call this “Wubmachine Basic”, because by his point the Wubmachines innards are all laid out for us to see. Reptile is totally gone at this point, with the “remix” elements of the song accentuated to the point where they are all that remain. If you couldn’t tell from your first remix, this is what the Wubmachine does when it remixes your audio.

So, what have we learnt? Well, for starters, free browser-based dubstep programs still have a really long way to go. The Wubmachine is a really fun idea, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kick a kick out of every new remix, but it’s such a formulaic tool that it can’t really be seen as anything more than that. Even the most basic dubstep song or remix on youtube at least requires actual composition – that’s why people keep doing it. That’s why people are interested. If something akin to The Wubmachine ever became popular, the lack of human effort and involvement in the music would turn people off instantly – you don’t have to have a trained musical ear to be able to tell that all these remixes follow the same basic outline.

Whatever the future of dubstep may be, I think we can assume that it will involve more than the dragging and dropping of audio files.

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