tony_anytuneKeymasterOctober 4, 2016 at 9:18 amPost count: 300
Fabio created ReFrame because he loves to dissect music. Fabio has been ripping music apart and replacing individual instrument tracks with his own for years. Here is some of his thoughts.
Also published on anytune.us/blog/2016/04/reframe-audio-isolation.
Listen to music in wonderful new ways
I like dissecting music. Every time I listen to a piece of music I can focus on something else. Just the bass, how the guitar and the keyboard interplay the rhythm, the sax solo, the vocals, the percussion, and sometimes even the song as a whole!
Our brains, with practice, can become quite good at focusing. I find it amazing that we can pick up what one instrument is doing in a piece of music if we pay attention.
Our new Anytune feature ReFrame is a tool to help us isolate what we are interested in. It’s not perfect, but it can help. And this is how it works.
Most music we listen to is in stereo. When we put on headphones we hear instruments only on the left or right ear, or somewhere in between. This reflects how the song was recorded and mixed in the studio.
A multitrack recording these days can dedicate one track (or more) to each instrument/vocals. The mixing engineer uses a big mixing console to combine all these tracks into a stereo (two track) mix.
The basic mixing tools include: volume, pan and effects.
The volume of each recorded track is carefully adjusted for overall balance.
The pan position of each track dictates its position in the stereo field. A track can be panned centre, full left, full right, or anywhere in between.
Effects can be used for shaping the sound of each track (like EQ, modulation effects, delay effects) and also to make them appear closer or farther away (Reverb).
A good mix strikes a fine balance between the whole and each part. Pan position and EQ can be used to carve a space in the sound space for each track.
Pan: If the frequency range of two instruments is very similar, pan position can help separating them. An example is panning the rhythm guitars/keyboards left and right. Main vocals and instrument solos usually take the centre, along with the low end (bass, bass drum, etc). Backup vocals and rhythm section usually spread across the sides.
EQ: can be used to avoid overlaps in frequency range. An example is cutting off lows from a guitar track and highs from the bass track. Backup vocals can be limited in frequency range not to compete with the main vocals.
All these tools enable the mixing engineer to give each part a place in the whole and to drive our attention to the main pieces in the arrangement: volume, pan, effects (changing over time).
The best possible way to listen to each track or track combination in a mix is to get invited to the mixing studio and play with the mute/solo buttons and volume slider of each track in the original multitrack recording. This could be called perfect isolation ?
The next best thing is to use Anytune ReFrame.
ReFrame uses pan position and EQ to help us focus on a desired part of the mix. It consists of a visualizer, a cropping window, and isolation controls.
The visualizer is a collection of LEDs organized in columns and rows. Each column corresponds to a pan position. For sounds panned centre, LEDs in the centre column will light up.
Rows correspond to frequency contents. The LEDs in the bottom row light up for low frequency sounds (like bass notes), while the LEDs in the top row light up for high frequency sounds (like cymbals).
The brightness of each LED represents the volume of its corresponding frequency range at its pan position. LEDs are animated in real time following the music.
Start by watching the ReFrame visualizer while listening to your favourite song. This will help you identify the main components in the mix.
Try the Solo Vocals preset. A cropping window or frame appears. Sounds inside the cropping window are not affected, everything outside the cropping window is attenuated. How much attenuation is controlled with the attenuation slider. Keep the attenuation at 100% for now. Try hitting the Mute button. Now the reverse happens, sounds inside the cropping window are now attenuated while everything outside is unaffected. Hit the Off button to go back to the original mix.
Now hit the Solo button and try moving the cropping window around by grabbing the diamond in the centre of the window. You will hear different portions of the mix depending on their pan position and frequency contents.
When you move the cropping window left and right you can focus on sounds at different pan positions. When you move it up and down you can focus on sounds with different frequency contents.
Try resizing the window by grabbing its side handles. Making it wider will include more of the stereo field. Making it taller will include a larger frequency range.
With attenuation set at 100% try moving and resizing the cropping window to frame all the interesting areas of the mix.
As you can tell already, the separation is not perfect. It is not always possible to completely isolate an individual instrument. The instrument(s) you are trying to isolate may sound different. And the rest of the mix that you are trying to attenuate may be creeping in and out, producing a “bubbling” sound effect. It all depends on the music style and specific mix.
Time for playing with attenuation! We can control how much we attenuate with the attenuation slider. It is a personal trade off between level of isolation and undesirable side effects, which may be distracting. For example, when trying to pick up a solo, you can start with the Solo Vocals preset and tweak the cropping window until the solo instrument is in focus. Smaller windows will produce more isolation, but will also introduce more side effects. Reducing attenuation will bring in more of the rest of the mix and minimize artifacts, while boosting the solo enough to make it easier to pick up in context. Each song is different, you have to play with the tool controls to achieve your desired results.
After you isolated the solo and slowed it down to pick up each note, you can switch to Mute to remove the original solo and use LiveMix to play along with the accompaniment. Again, adjust the cropping window to your taste.
A fun experiment is to listen to a playlist of your favourite songs with the Remove Vocals preset. Suddenly the instrumental accompaniment takes first row while the singer is off stage taking a break.
This is just the beginning. As you play with ReFrame on different songs you will understand the potential and limitations of the tool, and get better at adjusting the controls for each situation.
At Anytune we would love to share our experience using ReFrame, and can’t wait to see what you do with it! What songs were easy/hard to isolate? What is your workflow? Suggestions for improvements? As always we would love to hear from you.
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