Mild Apologies to Richard D. James

Well, NoFEMBR was kinda slow, but the upshot of it is that all that work is spilling into December! This was never a high-priority project, but I wanted to get it done anyway because it was fun to do. I’m calling it 6 Mixes for No Cash, and you can download it or stream it in the music section of my site.

Toxic Doom's 6 Mixes for No Cash
Toxic Doom is the new music project name I’m using for any of these goofy little “making music in games” ideas I have. That’s the name of the FreQ preset I use in Amplitude.

The idea behind this was to see if it was possible to make interesting, catchy, unique tracks using only the Remix mode in Amplitude, a creativity toy that lets you toy with the sounds of the in-game songs, playing your songs back when they’re done as anything else on the soundtrack or as new game levels.

A favorite:

“Scavengers” (a remix of Dieselboy’s remix of Styles of Beyond’s “Subculture”)

6 Mixes was actually quite the challenge because of how limited Remix mode really is. You get a list of song sections, either what was originally in the song or totally from scratch (which is what I always did). You can put down your own drum beats or melodies using whatever samples Harmonix set for each of the song’s six instrument. There’s a Loop tool for quickly writing two bars of a song and having it populate an entire section. You cannot place notes faster than 16ths.

For effects, you can slightly (about 20-30BPM) raise or lower the tempo, and that’ll also affect the pitch of the entire song. (It can’t vary throughout the song, but then again, Amplitude tracks are a constant BPM anyway.) A stutter, chorus, or delay effect (or any combination of the three) can be applied to any instrument on a per-section basis, and if you want, you can also mute the vocals for a section. You can also press X to delete one bar, or double-tap it to delete the entire track for that section.

It’s both surprisingly complex and still very limited. To list off some of what I had to work around:

  • Three notes max per instrument, with the sample each note represents sometimes (but not usually) changing throughout the section
  • No proper mixing controls
  • No copy and paste
  • Samples cannot be played at the same time (no hi-hat + kick/snare at the same time on one track)
  • No ability to see the note streams of other sections without going back to those sections, making keeping the same beat going between sections clunky
  • No swing, notes are always quantized straight to a grid
  • Effects are a simple on or off, with no way to set any parameters or intensity
  • Vocals are on or off, you cannot edit them in any capacity

This is still light years ahead of FreQuency‘s Remix mode, which doesn’t let you edit the BPM or delete notes by playing them again. You have to delete the entire bar to edit what you wrote, and given how tight that game is to play, playing a brand new note track with the beat isn’t happening.

I was able to work around most of the limitations, thankfully. A swing can be implied using a lot of off-beat notes (see the “Cool Baby” remix for that). Each song usually has two drum tracks, and I’d use one for a hi-hat pattern and another for a fun kick-snare pattern, usually doubling snares for power. Stutter can act as a volume cut in a pinch, and chorus can act as a volume boost in a pinch (and I used them a lot to pump up basslines or vocals, though it is very coarse). Raising or lowering the tempo really helps give a mix a different feel than the original.

I found Remix mode works best when you keep the original song’s arrangement in mind. Since you can’t edit the song’s sections, songs like “Pepper” where it rises and falls like the original “Out the Box” tend to work the best and come out the easiest. Mind cohesion between sections (so build on beats and riffs if possible, don’t just make up something new for each section), make sure the instrument samples work together (sometimes they don’t…), and it’s definitely pretty possible to use the Remix mode to make real music.

“If It Were Any Slower, It’d Be Backwards” (a remix of “Cool Baby” by Symbion Project)

It’s actually really hard picking a favorite of the bunch! I like them all for what they are, but the “Cool Baby” remix is definitely up at the top. The original song is a pretty fun house track, and I was able to turn it into something kinda dorky and swingy and fun instead. It’s definitely one of the most altered remixes, and it was the last one I did, so I was glad to be able to end strong.

This was a fun little project, and I’d love to experiment and make some more albums with other game-based musical toys in the future (Electroplankton, anyone?).

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