This blog entry is about aggression, and how a book about post-production audio also conveyed the particular benefits to having an aggressive approach to the creative process.
Every now and then I’ll pick up this aforementioned plain black book from a shelf in my recording studio. The book cover has some script lettering and a modified yin-and-yang symbol in a dull bronze color that doesn’t exactly leap towards the eye. Most of the reference books around my studio are bright and crisp, so this one stands out by contrast. When I pull it out I tend to just flip open some random pages. It usually doesn’t matter where I open it, because there’s interesting content throughout. The author goes by a moniker that bears more in common with a superhero name than a person’s literary pseudonym. Mixerman is the author of the book, “Zen and the Art of Mixing.” From a practical standpoint, the book doesn’t directly correlate with the work of a game composer, but I find much of the underlying philosophy of the book to be right on the money. I’d recommend it as a solid read for any game audio professional.
Today I was reading Mixerman’s thoughts about aggression – a subject matter we might not expect to find in a book about post-production audio. According to Mixerman, mixing aggressively is the act of making fast gut decisions and sticking with them. To be aggressive is to decide what we want as quickly as possible, and then pursue it like a bloodhound. As Mixerman expressed it, “The aggressive act of mixing quickly virtually forces you to trust your instincts.”
This mindset is great for developing an innate trust in our own musicality, but can be a difficult skill to master. As kids, we make snap decisions about things we want and then go after those things with single-minded purpose, but as adults we doubt ourselves more. Putting this doubt aside can be tremendously liberating, but it takes some concerted effort. I think the freedom in this aggressive mindset can be extended to all creative acts, including music composition. Taking this a step further, there’s a particular aspect of Mixerman’s “aggressive mixing” that can be directly extended into the realm of interactive music composition.
In urging us to make decisions instinctively and impulsively, Mixerman also advises us to not be afraid to strip elements away and simplify our mixes, testing to see if “less is more,” so to speak. Composing for game music interactivity often involves creating submixes of the whole, in which just a percentage of the instruments in the overall composition are playing while the rest are muted. Making decisions about these submixes involves some complex evaluations of what instrument groupings can function without the benefit of the others. I think these sorts of decisions can benefit from Mixerman’s aggressive mindset. Without pausing or leaving room for doubt, we can instead ruthlessly strip away and isolate subsets of our compositions to see what will work and what won’t. Such an approach might reveal very simple submixes that are surprisingly effective on their own. Some bravery and unhesitating aggression might reveal things about our own music that we might not have discovered otherwise.
Reading Mixerman’s thoughts on aggressive mixing can be illuminating for a game audio professional, and I highly recommend his books and his web site, Mixerman.net. By the way, Mixerman’s non-superhero alias is Eric Sarafin, and you can see an interview with him on YouTube here.