Gino Robair is former editor of EM

Message from the Road: A Reality Check and Andy Rehfeldt

Andy Rehfeldt

One of the most satisfying things about touring is meeting new people—musicians, dancers, and other artists—and seeing how they work. And as a former editor of a music-technology magazine, I’m particularly excited when I get to see someone’s studio or live rig—inevitably there is some kind of surprise. Sure, it’s getting more and more likely that he or she will have the same small-format mixer and inexpensive monitors and mics. But there is usually a major reality check for me. Let me explain.

When I was an editor for EM, I spent a portion of my time removing superlatives and nonsense from press releases, and toning down the vitriol of reviewers who were incensed by some trivial aspect of a product. I’d go to MI trade shows and pester the engineers at each company about specs for a newly announced product that we might not see for months, just so I could figure out how the product was different from the others being announced by their competition. Because, often, the items were being manufactured in the very same plant in China or Korea.

In other words, I was 100 percent distracted by the game, where a new product has to be announced every other quarter to keep investors happy (rather than, say, a world where manufacturers actually create a product that is so astutely designed and well built that there is no need to improve upon it each year).

So here I am in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Athens, Georgia, doing a show where the opening act includes a 19-year-old woman coding her own video transformation app’s because she was able to download Pure Data for free and figure out OpenGL on her own. Meanwhile, the percussionist I’m touring with is lamenting that he preferred using Logic 6 to the latest version because of how intuitive it was for his work (whereas the latest version is bloated because it’s trying to keep up with the other DAWs on the block).

Sure, there’s always something to complain about regarding the software you are used to, as opposed to the unknown of the upgrade. But imagine what would’ve happened if every year or two there had been an “improvement? on, say, the violin centuries ago? We wouldn’t have such a rich body of compositions if new strings were constantly being added, or if there were major changes to the design on a regular basis.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, computer-assisted music making is just barely out of the toddler stage. For example, we’re still waiting for the industry to finally settle on a standard that replaces MIDI with something with greater resolution. Right now, with so many protocols available, it feels like we’re stuck in the primordial soup, if I can use evolution as a metaphor. I’m not advocating that we stop developing software: We still need to do things more efficiently, faster, and at a higher resolution. It’s just that I don’t want to have to completely scrap the product I buy today because there has been a major upgrade tomorrow.

On tour, it’s inevitable that I will be on a bill with someone who is using grime-covered gear from 20 or 30 years ago and making amazing music. It’s a reminder that these are tools for creating art. It’s not about the annual beauty pageant we call NAMM, AES, or Messe.

Here’s a classic example. You’ve probably seen the “shreds? video parodies, where Finnish guitarist Santeri Ojala dubbed himself playing and singing badly onto classic rock videos. (If you’re unfamiliar with them, do a search on YouTube.) It takes the concept of the mash-up and turns it upside down by exposing the ridiculousness of MTV and VH-1 fare.

The next level of the parody/mash-up, however, is emerging thanks to LA-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Andy Rehfeldt. Rehfeldt’s mash-ups marry a convincingly re-scored—and often recomposed—soundtrack to either the original vocals or his own singing (sometimes in a death-metal, Cookie Monster voice). But it’s the humor in his work that pushes these mash-up beyond the typical “Lady Gaga vs. Meshuggah? stuff you see on the Interwebs.

With subtitles such as “Metal Version,? “Smooth Jazz Version,? and “Disney Version,? Rehfeldt recontextualizes the songs of well known artists in a dynamic way that clearly demonstrates why our intellectual property laws should be rewritten from an artist’s perspective rather than by multi-national corporations. Check out his treatment of “Metallica-Enter Sandman (Smooth Jazz Version)? or “Party in the USA (Metal Version)? by Miley Cyrus. But then again, it’s hard not to like his “Radio Disney Versions? of songs by Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth.

Rehfeldt’s most astute example is “You Belong with Me (Metal Version)? by Taylor Swift. Rather than simply re-orchestrating the song with a metal sound, Rehfeldt completely changed the chord progression. Yet it fits absolutely perfectly with the original vocal melody, which he snagged as an a cappella audio file, online. Although done as a parody, it is a fantastic example of where someone with a musical idea, and the talent and chops to execute it properly, can take a song. It’s not trivial to make this sort of thing work.

Not surprisingly, Andy Rehfeldt has spent years in the trenches doing work for film and television. He won a Grammy for Best Children’s Album for his work on The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999; Columbia Pictures) soundtrack with Siedah Garrett and Jeff Elmassian, which included his “I See A Kingdom? sung by Vanessa Williams and “Precious Wings? sung by Tatyana Ali. His CV also includes scores for director Christopher Coppola and the soundtrack to The Prisoner.

You might be saying to yourself, “Rehfeldt probably has a killer studio with a resume like that.” I emailed him a few questions recently to find out.

Are you doing all this work in your own studio?
Mostly, yes. But sometimes I’ll record a couple things at Endless Noise, where I work, and take them back home.

There are a few exceptions. A year ago, When I first started doing these, I did them at work—Lamb of God “Set to Fail,” Slipknot “Wait and Bleed,” Beyonce “Halo.”

What inspired you to redo the music for these videos?
I was inspired by the “shred” videos on YouTube. I also discovered that there is a boatload of original vocals, split out, on the Internet. So I started envisioning all these funny versions that I could do. And obviously, as a musician and composer, I was starving for attention.

How long did it take you to do, for example, the Metallica “Enter Sandman (Smooth Jazz Version)?, or Miley Cyrus “The Climb (Metal Version)??
It takes about an hour to come up with the new chords and arrangement. And then it takes three to five hours to sync tempos, program drums, record instruments, and mix. I do a little here and there when I can.

What’s your studio setup?
My equipment is Pro Tools LE (an old version), a Boss GT-6 processor, an Alesis DM-5 drum machine, an old EMU Proteus sound module, a Fender Strat, and a Yamaha bass.

Do you use a video editor to tweak the visuals to match the music? What app are you using to marry the music to picture?
I actually don’t tweak the video at all. I painfully make a tempo map, every four measures. I have an old version of Pro Tools at home, so I can’t write to picture. When I’m done with the music, I line it up to the video with Logic on a different computer.

Have any of the artists you’ve covered contacted you about the videos?
None have contacted me.

What other musical projects do you have going right now?
I just finished a Honeynut Cheerios commercial, and now I’m writing movie trailer tracks for the library. I’m almost done with Mötörhead “Ace Of Spades (Orchestral Version).? I’m using the EMU Proteus and Sample Cell for that. [Laughs]

So here I am in Birmingham, Alabama, contemplating how someone with a massive amount of talent can come up with his own post-modern take on pop culture with media tools that are, in the case of Sample Cell, well beyond their intended expiration date.

By the time you read this, all of the journalists in the MI space will have just sat in on an embargoed “pre-briefing? phone call from a well known developer about an announcement that “will make waves in the next generation of flagship audio solutions.? I’m not convinced it will. To me, it simply continues the paradigm of systematic upgrade paths for the high-end audio user. From what I’ve seen, people are making music with this company’s legacy gear and don’t give a damn about anything the developer will say or do this year.

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Editor’s note: the views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of EM or Penton Media.

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