Josh Gabriel: From Programmer to No. 1 Remixer
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What is "a lot of plugins" for you?

On a dual two-gigabyte Apple G5 with Logic—wow, it's just amazing what you can do. It's common for us to have 150 to 200 plug-ins going at a time on 30-plus tracks of audio.

Mixman DM2 The inexpensive Mixman DM2 controller and Mixman software (Windows) brought remixing to the masses. Buttons on the miniature turntables trigger audio loops; the turntables and joystick add real-time effects.

Describe your early days developing what was to become the Mixman DM2 package.

In 1988, for my final year at California Institute of the Arts, I moved to Den Haag [Holland]. I was an exchange student there at the Institute of Sonology, in a one-year program concerning the science of sound: psychoacoustics, digital signal processing, sound synthesis, and programming. They had the Forth and LISP languages, and I chose LISP. I had a year in Den Haag to design and program something as a performance final, a sort of thesis.

What were you programming with in those days?

I was using the Atari 1040ST [one of the only computers to have built-in MIDI ports]. But the MIDI In was busted on their LISP I was using, so I looked around for another controller to drive the MIDI, and the easiest thing to find was a joystick. It was this big, fat, eight-direction joystick with a button—this was long before PlayStation. I ended up taking sound loops and chopping them up into 16th-notes with the program I created and then triggering those loops with the joystick. That eventually, in the mid-'90s, evolved to the early version of Mixman DM2.

A joystick music controller?

Actually, there were two joysticks. I could do pitch-shifting and other signal processing moves with one while performing the piece with the other. It looked like I was driving a tank around the stage. [Laughs.] There were eight loops per joystick, so each direction on the joystick was triggering a loop.

I was working with a real genius electrical engineer guy [Karlheinz Stockhausen's tech man Jan Pannis] who helped me change from the joystick to a much cooler thing. We built something with eight light beams and light-sensing resistors: Whenever I would break a beam with my body on stage, it was the same thing as moving the joystick in one direction or another. Above and below me were light beams that I triggered with my hands at dance club performances in 1988. That was right in the middle of the whole acid house time in Amsterdam which, to be honest, I didn't quite understand. I didn't really appreciate where I was at the time because I was so much into what I was doing with the joysticks and light beams at the Institute.

Were your early joystick beta versions toy-like?

No, not at all. If you think of a mixing console with eight faders, and of a joystick with eight directions, that's the comparison. It's far easier to get muscle memory of the direction you want music to go with a joystick or breaking a light beam than by reaching for a mixing board. For instance, if I say to you, "Channel 5!" you actually have to look down at the mixer, count over five channels, and then pull up the fader for channel 5. If I tell you, "5-2-8-3!" really fast, as in a song with a fast tempo, you couldn't follow me on the mixer. But, with a joystick, if I say "up" or "down-left" or such at any speed and repetition, you don't look down and to the left to trigger the sound: You just push the stick up or over and you're there.

What kinds of sound loops were you creating and triggering in those early days?

I always had the hi-hat loop up, snare rolls down, drum beats left and right, bass line down-left, and melody up-right. I became very used to where each was by second nature. Remember here, it's only 1989, and the concept of remixing other people's music was not even close to a mainstream thing at all, let alone remixing in real time with a pair of joysticks.

Mixman Beta The Mixman prototype was more like a Walkman than a turntable.

What did your early betas look like?

My idea was that you'd have songs on memory cards you put into boom boxes with joysticks on them! You'd have the boom box, of course, but then you could also remix those memory card songs on it with the joysticks.

The idea went nowhere with Sony because the PlayStation was in development, so about that time I met my eventual Mixman partner, Eric Almgren, and we took the concept from there ourselves. The reason we called it "Mixman" was because of the Walkman and Discman, so the Mixman was "the next evolution in portable audio players."

At the time our idea was not at all about making computer software, which eventually came out of the LISP program I wrote just to prepare the audio loops. We actually first had a hardware device about the size of a small paperback book that read a small song cartridge you put in with enough memory on it to remix a couple of songs.

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