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This is a pretty embarrassing thing to admit, but one of my nerdier musical pastimes (and I do have many) is finding bootleg multitracks of classic songs and flying them into my DAW of choice just to see how the sausage is made.
It’s a telling exercise, sitting back and listening to songs you have heard hundreds of times on classic radio, soloing and muting individual tracks and instrument groups to really get the full picture in the hope of learning what it is that makes them tick. The things you can learn about individual arrangement ideas, timbres, and production techniques and the interplay between them all makes for some truly compelling listening.
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Now as you can probably imagine, there isn’t always a surplus of these kinds of multitrack sessions available to the public and those that are out there tend to exist only by virtue of a light-fingered studio assistant having smuggled them out of their former place of employment, many moons ago.
Over in the parallel universe that is electronic music production there also exists a similar demand for isolated tracks and stems, primarily for the purpose of sample, loop, and remix creation.
For decades, beatmakers and DJs have had to rely on a less-than-ideal combination of heavy-handed EQ and filtering, combined with various phase and expansion tricks to try and extract individual instruments out of existing tracks with as few artefacts as possible. This has almost always been an inexact and extremely laborious task.
Needless to say, the ability to digitally isolate, locate, and draw out specific instruments from within a busy master track (and to do so with proper accuracy and limited artefacts or spill), has been something of a holy grail for crate diggers and sample fanatics ever since the beginning of the DAW revolution – it has just taken a while for the technology to get to a point where it allows for consistently musical results. This is precisely where UK developer Hit’n’Mix and their flagship RipX software come into the equation.
For over 10 years Hit’n’Mix have been on the forefront of refining this kind of technology and it shows in the attention to detail and impressive processing power of their latest offering.
Comprised of two main components – DeepRemix, which is a broader set of tools primarily for separating audio files into individual vocal, bass, drum, and instrumental stems, and DeepAudio – which allows you to really hone in and manipulate particular elements from within your imported audio file, the RipX package may well be the most powerful and best suited tool for this kind of processing we’ve come across, I mean there is some serious voodoo going on here.
The first step is the analysation and extraction process, which is as mysterious as it is impressive.
Using sophisticated AI algorithms and powerful DSP, the ‘ripper’ somehow manages to extract and analyse audio with an accuracy unlike anything we’ve really seen before, reverse engineering tracks regardless of source quality and providing clean, usable results on an incredibly consistent basis.
After a couple of successful imports, I thought I would try and throw RipX a bit of a curve ball in the form of a bleed-filled garage punk song I recorded in high school. The accuracy and intuition with which it was able to discern one instrument from the next was really quite remarkable, and its ability to predict intended tempo and pitch (of what was in reality quite a ramshackle and poorly executed performance) was something to behold.
Obviously, given the complexity and detail of what we are asking RipX to do, this kind of processing does take a little bit time to analyse, so it’s probably worth making a coffee while you let the software do its thing. Once extracted though, you are left with high quality stems that are the perfect starting point for loops.
The handy little faderbank and mix component of the software are a central place to audition changes, mute and solo extracted stems, and mix within different instrument groups.
For added tweakability, the aforementioned DeepAudio offers advanced stem clean-up and audio manipulation tools to the workflow, so you can create the highest quality extracted audio, and from there customise and creatively process your sound to your heart’s content. Timing and pitch are all quantisable and the software’s ability to allow for in-depth polyphonic editing means that bung notes and slightly out of tune performances can be rectified prior to export.
Perhaps some of the most practical features on offer here are the extended export options, with the choice of MIDI, MP3, MP4, and WAV providing heaps of flexibility at post. While audio to MIDI is nothing new in the DAW world, the ability to draw out said MIDI information from complete stereo masters and inherently know which instrument it is assigned to is a very powerful tool. Suffice to say those chiptunes and 8-bit fans would have saved themselves a lot of time had something like RipX DeepAudio and DeepRemix existed during those genres heyday.
Perhaps the true beauty of RipX DeepAudio and DeepRemix is how its usefulness transcends regardless of application. For the traditional musician, you have a powerful analysis engine and transcription tool, with the ability to isolate and transpose to better help with ear training. For remixers and beatmakers, you have the ultimate isolation tool and the perfect starting point for samples and loop work. For DJs, the ability to remix and remove troublesome midrange instruments for extended versions before exporting straight to WAV and then on into your DJ software is an optimised workflow of the highest order.
For me personally, the ability to just be able to chuck a track into RipX and pull out a passable multitrack to drink beers to is more than worth the cost of entry. I’ll go back to my corner now.