Medieval meets modern

September 26, 2011

NOTE: for info on Devices & Desires [Expanded Edition], click HERE.

This past June, we joined forces with Indaba Music to host Devices & Desires, an online Gregorian chant remix competition. The contest made available three of the genre’s “greatest hits” (Victimae paschali laudesGaudeamus in omnes Domino, and Beati mundo corde) that we recorded exclusively for the competition. Each chant was featured in a stand-alone contest, allowing entrants to remix their favorite.  With the help of Indaba’s user-friendly interface, powerful web-based software and a user community of over half a million musicians, we had high hopes that competition would yield groundbreaking and genre-bending results.

Our high hopes were exceeded.  The competition was an enormous success.  We received hundreds of remixes in a dizzying array of styles from musicians all over the world!  So when the four of us began to compare notes on our favorite remixes, it became clear that selecting a grand prize winner was not going to be easy.  The styles represented were too diverse and the techniques employed too varied to apply a simple set of criteria to the 200+ remixes.  So, we listened to them… over and over.  In the end, our choices were based on a combination of technical analysis and “gut” appeal.  (And we argued a lot.)

Throughout the evaluation process, it became clear that our job was absolute cake compared what we were asking the contest entrants to do.  We just threw a couple of tunes into the electronic ether and said “go!”– no accompanying parts, no meter, no rhythm… we didn’t even provide any guidelines!  Against the odds, everyone managed to thread the needle in their own way and in their own style.  Hear for yourself– you can still listen to all of the entries on the Indaba website:

Victimae paschali laudes remixes
Gaudeamus in omnes domino remixes
Beati mundo corde remixes

I can’t tell you how cool it was to hear everything from Richard Walker’s hypnotic soundscapes and Wes Bender’s cinematic interpretation to Ken Andruk’s tree frogs (yes, tree frogs!) and AlexB’s epic guitar solo at 4:52.  And if you haven’t listened to The Cheese Factory’s gospel-tinged remix of Gaudeamus, do yourself a favor.

The end result?  The EP Devices & Desires, a 9-track, digital-only release.  To kick it up a notch,, Sony Music’s new online classical music store, signed on as our EXCLUSIVE retailer.  Purchase a copy today for only $4.99 by clicking HERE.

Because the winning remixes were so creative, we wanted to give their creators an opportunity to explain how they went about their work.  Here are their stories:

DAVID MINNICK (Victimae paschali laudes): “I used no sound sources other than New York Polyphony’s vocals to make this. I kept the chant melody in tact and went crazy with editing, filters and effects. I used very short segments of the vocals to make drums, bass and other sounds. This was more fun than anyone should be allowed to have!”

ANDREW BROADWATER (Victimae paschali laudes): “The mix was created using Logic Studio. Instrumental parts were performed by Peabody Conservatory and NYU alumnus, Andrew Broadwater. Instruments include alto and bass recorders, tin whistle, and violin.”

EILEEN CARPIO (Gaudeamus omnes gentes): “The whole process was very instinctive and I did it one afternoon. I had wanted to try Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch, an open source software. I used this to time stretch the original full recording. I chose a segment which most appealed to me sonically and laid it alongside the original track. Then I simply improvised 4 tracks of harmonies, not allowing myself time to think too much about it. When I entered the competition I thought that my piece would at best just go unnoticed. I’m delighted with the comments and feedback and the amazing community on Indaba.”

MIKE LIST (Gaudeamus omnes gentes): “I work with Igor Houwat (oud) in a group called Wisaal that combines Arabic music with other influences including western art music, klezmer music and a bit of Indian and South American sounds.  When I heard about the Devices and Desires contest I had an idea for a remix influenced by some of the Aisian Underground music I have listened to.  I mentioned the idea to Igor and one week after a Wisaal rehearsal I explained to him what I was looking for and he laid down the ‘oud part.

In western music the lute is regularly associated with early music and the fluid rhythmic style of Arabic improvisation easily complimented the fluid rhythm of the chant.  I’m really happy with how all the pieces of this came together to be something that hopefully feels ancient, yet exotic and meditative.”

INGE SKALAND (Beati mundo corde): “When I work on projects like this I usually start with listening through the vocal track a couple of times, then I import it into Ableton Live to “time it up”, I use Warp markers to stretch the audio stems i choose to use so it will fit the timing in the project and with beats.

The NYP tracks was a little tricky, chopping with warp markers usually makes artifacts to the audio. Especially if you increase the BPM to much. The reverb tail on the vocals is very delicate and may easily have been destroyed. I chose to start in 96 BMP and then after about 50 seconds silently increase the BPM to 120 to get it inn the beat.

I ended up with supporting the voices with two basic layers of synth pads, and made it as smooth as possible and to have a movement in the sound. To prepare and reveal the beat I used a soft deep bass sound for then fade inn the beat.  I filled inn some extra vocal samples, some recorded and some choir sound from the soft synth Omnisphere. For the synth solo part I found a lead sound that I liked and made an intro – solo and ending, I find it most easy to play the solo parts when the chords are there and the beat is going. When I find the basic moods, sounds and the chords, I try to stick to it and make additional elements support and fit to the basic sounds.”

BARRY PHILLIPS (Beati mundo corde): “I wish I had a snappy story about arranging the music, but it’s pretty straight forward. Since the chant is in free rhythm and since harmony is usually my first thought in music composition, I harmonized the chant in fairly modern homophonic style first. Then I arranged the map of the arrangement as solo lines with drone, solo followed by the harmonization that could have happened simultaneously but didn’t, and lastly the chant paired with it’s harmonization. Deciding those arrangement details took most of the time I spent on the arrangement.”

And, lastly, we couldn’t have pulled off this project without help.  Here are the people behind the scenes:

Audio editing: Acis Productions
Mastering: Tom Durack
Engineer: Jason Slote
Assistant engineer: Alden Slote
Design consultant: 125mg Design
Recorded at Grace Cathedral, Topeka, Kansas – December 2010

Special thanks to the Indaba Music staff and Craig Zeichner at for taking a chance with this out-there project!