Mixing with EMF Recordings

How to plan a mix?

The intuitive approach depends mainly on the musician’s listening capacity, creative flow and prior musical and technical knowledge.

The algorithmic or mathematical approach is based on calculations of relations between musical properties such as timber, frequency, amplitude, duration, melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, structure, and expression (dynamics, tempo, articulations).

The programmed or conceptual approach draws from topical musical or extra-musical concepts that produce specific psychoacoustic, associative or narrative effects. For example, refer to music by Ellen Fullman, Nicolas Collins, Alvin Lucier, and Catherine Christer Hennix.

A genre approach with typical signifying building blocks, such as pad, snare, kick, bass, hi-hat, clap, and reverb. The project should also be set to a desired beats-per-minute (bpm) to follow the genre conventions.

Mixing requires some awareness of the psychoacoustic effects of sound, such as masking qualities and the localisation effect.

A spatial approach to music mixing or localisation effect

Volume creates the feeling of something being upfront when it is louder and behind when it is quieter. Pitch makes the vertical approach where high pitches are perceived as airier, sharper and coming from above. The lower tones are perceived as more encompassing, fatter and coming from the ground and below.

Panning is the function of the sound distribution between the left and right stereo channels perceived as coming from the left or right.

Multichannel distribution requires more than two speakers, producing an even more enhanced spatial effect. We can choose from various approaches to multichannel spatialisation. “Surround” (5+1, 7+1) is mainly used for film, and it has a (frontal) axis of listening. In “diffusion”, a stereo mix is distributed over an assigned number of speakers with a mixing console. In “octophonic”, a direction of listening is not necessary, and the sound is distributed over eight speakers in a square or circular linear shape in the space. “Wave field synthesis” is an object-based rendering technique that creates an array of linear virtual acoustic environments without a sweet spot. “Ambisonics” is a full-sphere surround sound format in multiple layers (3rd order, 4th order, 5th order) with a distinct sweet spot, containing between 12 and 48 speakers. Reaper allows for easy application of multichannel mapping, but it requires a sound card with an assigned number of channels and the assigned number of speakers.

Digital Audio Workstations (DAW)

• Sound editors such as Audacity or Audition are not DAW because they do not enable multi-track Automation. They don’t have equalisers (EQ). Using plug-ins for sound processing or third-party Virtual Studio Technology (VST) or Audio Units (AU) is also impossible.

• For more complex composing and mixing, many closed-source DAW exists, such as Logic ProX and Garageband by Apple, Reaper by Cockos, Cubase by Steinberg, Cakewalk, Studio One, and FL Studio. I find Reaper very ethical because it offers a fully functional demo version with no restrictions for educational purposes and only requires purchase for professional use. Make sure to contribute to their development, especially if you wish to publish your music produced in Reaper. Publishers will not accept mixes from a demo version.

• Best DAW for live processing of electronic and other types of music is Live by Abelton.

• Industry standard DAW for recording studios is ProTools by Avid Technology.

• Many musicians who wish to apply non-European music traditions find the rhythmic and tonal properties suggested by existing DAW restricting. They have had to invent many workarounds to make the tool fit their needs. Musician Khyam Allam, for example, created a browser-based tool that is more suitable for creating micro-tonal and polymorphic music (LeimmaApotome).


The first and most essential part of mixing is your monitoring equipment. It will give you an image of your sound output. The better your monitoring, the more balanced your sound output. Your mix should sound relatively good regardless of where you play it. It should sound as nice on the radio as on a high-definition PA system.

Headphones: For beginners, creating a decent mix on headphones is possible. The best headphones are not necessarily the most expensive. However, they have to emit a full frequency range in a relatively balanced manner. The small phone in-ear headphones do not emit a full frequency range and may damage the ear if used for a prolonged duration. The most comfortable headphones are the so-called “over-ear headphones” because they do not directly press on your ear. However, they do not insulate the outside noise, so one must mix in a relatively quiet space to hear an accurate audio image. The “over-ear headphones” are suitable for a shorter duration of use in a nosier environment. Generally, the mixing environment should be relatively quiet. Speakers: Beginners may connect external speakers directly to their computer’s built-in output.

Sound cards: A more advanced and professional monitoring system includes high-quality speakers connected to a sound card that receives audio output from the computer’s USB connection. For this connection to function, you must assign the sound card in the Audio Preferences of the DAW. Some professionals use a mixing console and multiple processing tools (such as compressors, limiters, and effects) between the sound card and speakers.

ATTENTION! Much like your spine, your ears will thank you if you take a 5-minute break every hour of mixing. Avoid mixing more than 3-4 hours daily as your ears get tired. Take care of your ears and always mix quietly to prevent hearing loss. Use higher volume only for the final touches.

Project setup

Make it a habit to create a new designated folder with a project title on your computer or external hard drive to store your Reaper project and, most importantly, all the samples you will use in your project. In this folder, create a folder named “samples” and copy all your EMF audio files to this folder. Reaper remembers the path to your samples and may forget them if they are misplaced. If Reaper loses the path to your audio, you must search for the paths to files in your drive.

Save the project into the folder you created before doing anything else.

Audio settings: For those who have connected your computer with a sound card, go first to Reaper / Preferences / Audio / Device and choose your audio device in a scroll-down menu. If you are working with headphones, you should set the audio device to Built-in-Output.

Sample rate: Go to File > Project Settings and choose your track’s sample rate, beats-per-minute and time signature. The latter two are essential in genre music and not crucial in experimental formats. The standard resolution of the sample rate is either 44.100 or 48.000 Hz. The film industry standard is 48.000 Hz.

Basic navigation

To learn basic navigation in Reaper, please follow this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_shjd4GBILo or follow the instructions below.

Create a new track by clicking twice on the empty grey area on the left of your screen. Drag and drop an audio .wav file from your sample folder to the grey timeline grid on the right.

• Space bar = start always playing from the same location.

• Enter key = play and pause, then play from the last location.

• R = turn the “select range to repeat” on or off. The toggle selection is indicated with a light blue button next to the record button.

• Bellow on the right = set bpm and time signature (number of beats per bar).

• Explore the work environment: add new track, recorder, repeat, mute, solo, mixer (cmd+M), channel, master. *

• The volume level on a mixer is measured with a decibel meter. It is best to put it at a maximum of 0db, and the highest peak of your track should not exceed -6db to prevent distortion.

ATTENTION! I use Mac shortcuts. To use the correct shortcuts on PC, replace cmd with Ctrl.

Moving in the track field

• scroll = extend track length horizontally,

• cmd+scroll = extend track height vertically,

• alt+cmd+scroll: scroll top to bottom,

• alt+scroll: scroll in time.


• S = Splice your track into two or more independent samples by placing the cursor on a designated splice point at the top of your timeline (where your bars are) and pressing S.

• To change the position of a sample in your timeline, click it once to select it (it changes colour), then drag and drop it.

• Fade-in = mouse on the top left corner of your track – see your mouse change into a small curved icon, then click and pull

• Fade-out = mouse on the top right corner of your track – see your mouse change into a small curved icon, then click and pull

• Click and drag the item edges (the mouse icon changes) to adjust its length. If you extend the item, it loops from start to finish.

• Looping: hold cmd+drag and drop a sample to multiply the same sample selection multiple times with smooth transitions (shown in red curves).

• Alt+grab the edge of a track to time stretch it.

• Volume: pull from the top of a track to lower the gain of a track, which reflects in the waveform. You may also adjust the volume of the entire track with a volume knob next to the track title. To make the volume change in time, please see Automation below.

• Panning: you may pan your track toward the left or the right speaker. To make the sound pan smoothly from left to right speaker and back in time, please see Automation below.

• Hold cmd to choose multiple tracks at the same time.

Plug-ins, filters, Virtual Studio Technology (VST)

FX = are VSTs or so-called Virtual Studio Technology, also called plug-ins. They are rich and powerful tools for sound modulation. The default VSTs of Reaper all begin with Rea. Search for default VSTs by clicking the “Add” button on the bottom left of the FX window. Tick to disable or enable a certain FX on the track to compare the original sound with the affected sound. You may also remove it or disable all the FX to the entire track with the green on/off button.


• ReaVerb is a (spatial) reverberation effect. It creates the illusion that the sound is occurring in a space. Reverb produces an effect of a reflection of sound from a surface in a room of any size. The most important settings are Dry (without reverberation), Wet (with reverberation) and Width (size of reflection). EMF recordings are often very frequency-dense, so the effect is not as pronounced as with more frequency-limited sounds.
• ReaDelay is an effect that comes from early tape recording technology. It takes incoming signals and plays back delayed duplicates to simulate the sound of echoes. The most important settings are Dry (without delay), Wet (with delay), Length of delay time and feedback.
• ReaPitch is a pitch shifter. EMF recordings are often very frequency-dense. A pitch shifter may help to enhance some of the tones in the recording.


• ReaComp is a compressor. It creates a reduction of the dynamic range of an audio signal. Dynamic range is the difference between an audio signal’s loudest and quietest parts. The most important settings on a compressor are Threshold, which indicates at what loudness the compression starts and Ratio, which shows how strong the compression is. Quite important are also Attack and Release, which indicate how fast (in milliseconds) the compression starts when it comes over the threshold and how fast it ends.
• ReaEQ is an equaliser. With an equaliser, we may control the frequency range of our track. Often, the EMF recordings have some very high-frequency peaks that may be pretty disturbing for the ear. We can easily decree these peaks with an EQ by choosing a frequency, limiting its bandwidth and reducing its gain. ReaEQ has a default number of 4 frequency ranges. We may select any number of ranges that we need.
• ReaLimit is a limiter. With a limiter, we control the perceived loudness by increasing the quietest parts of an audio signal while preventing the peaks from clipping.

Automation envelope

Click TRIM to enable automation envelopes that you may use to change the volume, panning, or effect properties in time. These appear as secondary tracks below the initial track with an envelope line you can pull up and down. Hold down cmd to draw an automation curve. Hold Alt to remove any of the automation points. Bypass an envelope with an on/off button on the left on the envelope track.

Create your automation envelope automatically by setting your Trim setting to Latch. In latch mode, the programme will detect any change you will make and save it as an envelope. For example, you don’t need to draw volume automation. You can select Latch, then turn the Volume knob as you are playing your track, and the envelope will save your knob settings in real-time. In this way, you may adjust any property of your FX in real-time.

ATTENTION! If you use the Latch function, remember to set it back to Trim/Read once you’ve finished with your envelope, or the system will continue to monitor and save your every move, which you might not want.

Rendering a mix in .wav

You should save (cmd+S) your project as often as possible to prevent losing your work if any crashes occur. It will create two files in your project folder in the following formats: .RPP and .RPP-bak. To translate this format to something that any other device but your computer can play, you must “render” your project into a .wav file.

• Go to File > Render or press Alt+cmd+R to open a Render to File window.

• Track stem is each individual track with all functions that you have defined in it (such as Automation, filters, volume, etc). Choose to render the entire project.

• Name your export file name.

• Set sample rate to 48.000 Hz.

• Set the number of channels to Stereo if you export a stereo mix.

• Set WAV bit depth to 24-bit PCM.

• Set Large files to Auto WAV/Wave64

• Click Save Settings if you wish to preserve these settings for later.

• Click Render 1 file.

• This process may take a few minutes depending on the complexity and length of your mix, by which time you should have a wav file ready to share with the world.

For more tips and tricks for mixing in Reaper, refer to tutorials on Music Repo or Reaper Mania YouTube channels.

To learn more tips and tricks for mixing in Reaper refer to tutorials on Music Repo or Reaper Mania YouTube channels.

Practical assignment: Your first mix

• Put your Master level on 0db
• Create multiple tracks (between 5 and 10) and spread them for a maximum of 5 minutes.
• Place different sounds on each track. Listen to relations between two or more sounds.
• Use S splice, Look, Fade-in, and Fade-out to create transitions between sound files.
• Adjust Volume and Panning.
• Use VSTs for sound balance adjustments such as ReaEQ, ReaComp, or ReaLimit.
• Use at least one filter/effect on different tracks, such as delay, reverb, or pitch shifter.
• Automate volume, panning and at least one characteristic of your VST with the Trim / Latch Automation Tool.
• Render your final mix in .wav format in File > Render.


When you have created your mix and are happy with the results, sharing it with your potential listeners is nice. Use any available platforms, such as SoundCloud, MixCloud, Bandcamp, or even YouTube.

Besides the listeners who follow you on music platforms, let others know about your mix on social media with links, descriptions and teasers on platforms such as Mastodon, Instagram, FaceBook or even your personal webpage.

You may listen to some of my compositions on beepblip.orgbeepblip.bandcamp.comsoundcloud.com/beepblip or follow my work on instagram.com/beepblip or facebook.com/beepblip.

Back to workshop page: Electromagnetic Field Detector.

Teaching materials were commissioned by konS – Platform for Contemporary Investigative Art and produced by Rampa Lab and LokalPatriot.