Good Neighbors Mix and the AFX003 tuning file

  • Post category:Mix Journal
I wrote Good Neighbors in May of 2018. I only had one goal when I started this fresh Cubase project: Figure out how to load .tun files into my U-He Zebra synthesizer in order to make microtonal music. Or at least I thought I was making microtonal music.
I downloaded this Aphex Twin custom tunings pack. I tried out each of 6 tunings to see what they had to offer. AFX003 yielded some great sounds right away. Before long, I’d created the original Good Neighbors loop, which you can hear below.
At the time it didn’t feel long enough to be a proper song. Occasionally, I’d open the project and try to add a new section. Then I’d close the project, unsatisfied with the results. Whenever I go back and listen to the original loop, I appreciate how straight to the point it is. It begins, makes it’s case, then ends. No fluff.
Today I finally decided it was time to mix this song. To finalize it the way it is. Except the project was still a mess from the last time I tried moving sections around. There were a bunch of scrap parts interspersed that needed to be deleted. Sorting that out created a delay, opening an opportunity for me to try a couple new ideas. Maybe I could replace these old junky ideas with a fresh new one. It didn’t take long to realize this was a bad idea. The song is good the way it is. Stop forgetting that!
But when I was trying new parts with the harp patch something occurred to me. This tuning I thought was my first foray into exotic microtonal music sounded an awful lot like, well, the regular old minor scale. Ironic. I was so focused on playing in a way I never had before I didn’t notice how regular the notes really were.

Testing the nature of the AFX003 tuning:
The D3 key in the AFX003 tuning equals the D3 on a regular keyboard.  On a regular keyboard, start on D3 and play only the white keys until you reach D4 an octave up.
D E F G A Bb C D
This is the D minor scale. It’s also the 7 notes in the AFX003 tuning. Except in AFX003, these notes are mapped onto on 7 consecutive keys. Activate the AFX003 tuning. Start on D3. Play every key, including the black ones, until you reach A3.
D E F G A Bb C D
It’s D minor, although in the space of 7 piano keys instead of the usual 12. 
Now play only the white keys from D3 to D4.
D F G Bb D F G Bb D

I can’t help but notice these letters are all in order on my computer keyboard. Does this mean something? Probably not. But I am curious about the inspiration of this tuning. If you were only going to use the 7 notes of the minor scale, it would be easier to play if you mapped them to only the white keys and left the black keys unmapped.

So, this tuning ended up being more regular than I’d hoped for. And yet, it yielded a song that sounds different than something I’d usually make. I can think of a few reasons why that may be.
  1. I was focused on playing it in a way I never had before.
Musicians, and perhaps especially guitarists, can get stuck playing the same old patterns. Consider these two composing mindsets:
“Today I’ll write a song in D minor.”
“Today I’ll write a song in a new, unknown tuning. One that I’ve never used before. One that I’ve never even heard the sound of.”
You probably have preconceived notions about the sonic possibilities of D minor. You may start thinking about chord progressions in the key. Or about which harmonies to use. Conversely, the second mindset is more childlike. Here’s a tuning I’ve never encountered before. I don’t know anything about the harmonic relationships. Therefore, I must rely on only what sounds good as I play. The more music theory you understand, the harder it is to play with this type of carefree creativity. To do so is rare and valuable. As they say, you’re unlikely to discover anything new by following the same old road map. 
  1. Although the notes are ordinary, their mapping to the keyboard is not.
Again, old habits die hard. Common patterns ingrain themselves through muscle memory. Your fingers probably have a tendency to land on all the usual intervals. Major thirds. Perfect fifths. And of course, octaves.  The AFX003 tuning condenses the 7 scale tones down to 7 consecutive keys. This almost guarantees you will play wider intervals than normal. Notes that would have been a stretch are now close by. Notes that were too distant to ever be considered are now in reach. Even if your fingers fall in all the usual places, you’ll still be playing different notes than usual. 
  1. There might actually be a slight microtonal quality to these notes. 
I’m leaving this one up to you to decide. I played the AFX003 notes along side the D minor scale over and over. Most of the notes sounded identical. But a couple of them sounded the slightest bit out of tune. Or maybe I entered a state of delirium and was only imagining a difference. We may need to consult the World’s Greatest Ear to confirm or deny this claim.

The following is a summary of the changes I made to the original Good Neighbors demo during the mixing stage:
Expand track some to give the composition more dynamic. Keep punchy in and out feel of original short demo.
Heavily compress droning bass synth. All flutters all over the place and needs to be tamed.
Slight widening to snare. EQ to brighten a touch.
Light short reverb on the drums to create a room feel
Swap pan sides for harp and strings
Build intro out of recycled harp line
Eq work on the vocal lines to get them to sit properly/remove mud for clarity
Add delay fx tails to the ends of vocal lines
Spice up transition between main section of song and outro
  • Stutter fx on Stereo out bus
  • Tight BP filter on repeat of vocal line
  • Have bottom drop out of the drum