Duncan Sheik

Fixing it in the Mix

Music Features Duncan Sheik
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If you don’t like the sound of Duncan Sheik’s new CD, there’s an easy solution.

With its bonus DVD, listeners with decent computers can actually remix the record themselves.

Sheik originally set out to make a “minimalist electronica” album (he cites Boards of Canada and Björk as influences) but, owing to his self-described “folksinger” roots, the CD turned into a more organic band project. Sheik says opening the record for remixes is a backdoor to possibly obtaining the record he originally envisioned (via listener remixes). But it’s also a way for the singer/songwriter—best known for 1996 chart-topper “Barely Breathing”—to set himself apart.

“I didn’t want to be another white guy with an acoustic guitar,” he says, chuckling, while taking a break from crafting an independent-film score in his downtown New York loft. While White Limousine, a collection of moody—and often pointedly topical—songs stands on its own, Sheik went a step further and broke down the entire album in a software package called Live, included on the bonus disc.

This means listeners have unprecedented leeway with the album’s contents, with the ability to mute or emphasize any instruments in the mix, or replace them with electronic textures instead. With the right equipment, a listener can even plug in a guitar and re-record key parts, or mute Sheik’s vocal for instant karaoke fun.

Curious about how far this could be taken, Paste asked The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow—who excels at studio geekery—to take a stab at re-imagining one of the album’s songs.

“‘Shopping’ had some interesting vocal turns,” Stringfellow says, “and I decided to try to pull out the darkest vocal [the line ‘erase the wreckage of your dreams’] and put it up front.” Perhaps since he was hacking at this in hotel rooms and vans during a European tour—or possibly because the famously “pop” songwriter was attempting to go against his natural tendencies by making an already dark song darker—Stringfellow had a hard time getting the track to do what he wanted.

During a conversation with Sheik, the two discuss music-manipulating software as Stringfellow figures the best path to achieve his goal. As the discussion draws to a close, Sheik points out that it isn’t necessarily a particular method he wants to highlight, but instead the process of making a record interactive.

“I’m really interested in what other people do with this material,” he says, adding that it’s an honor for Stringfellow to be the first “beta tester.”

One potential pitfall of an interactive record is that individual performances could become raw material for those with deficient ethics. An unscrupulous producer could isolate Gerry Leonard’s guitar, for example, and incorporate it into a different recording. But Sheik isn’t worried about that. “If Gerry hears his guitar parts in a commercial I’ll let him deal with the lawsuit,” he laughs.