Nick Bertke takes remixing to a brilliantly panoptical level. The audio/video mashup maestro, operating under the moniker Pogo, has advanced himself far enough for his most ambitious project to be titled "Remix the World"—and there’s not even a hint of exaggeration. Bertke, a 24-year-old Perth native, has already traveled to South Africa, Bhutan, and New York City, filming original video footage only to dice it up later, and recording sounds and conversations with natives for eventual "live-action remixing." Pogo’s latest mesmerizing creation is "Boo Bass (Monsters Inc. Remix)," which, like many of the electronic artist’s previous creations, mixes video and audio clips from a well-known cultural work to create something that’s mind-blowingly new, not just nostalgic.
Before the monsters and all that global remixology, Bertke was a kid with a computer and an eclectic love for TV and film—Terminator 2, Snow White, Hook, Lord of the Rings, and, most recently, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air have all acted as source documents for Pogo’s dually impressive and danceable works.
Bertke, who has been honing his skills as a remix artist for a decade, with commissioned work from entities as disparate and massive as Pixar, the United Nations, and Showtime, walks us through how to make a killer remix.
The golden rule when you’re searching for audio to use is to find sounds that stick out to you. These can be vocals, sound effects, chords—I generally go through a film about three or four times looking for sounds. There are small differences between what makes a vocal sample annoying, smooth, sharp, too flat, what makes it rhythmic. You have to find it yourself and play with it as much as you can. I think just by finding things you like the sound of, you’re already creating your own style. You’re actually finding inspiration in the work as it’s being created.
If you start with a sound that inspires you and you lay it down as your foundation, you’re off to an excellent start. If it’s something you could happily listen to on a loop, and you can almost hear music being created by just looping, that’s usually a really good thing to look for. You find more sounds like that, layer them on top, and three or four hours later you’ve got a whole orchestra of these sounds from Harry Potter or Inception or whatever you please. It’s good to start out with a chord structure, because that’s how you figure out what voices go where.
When you’re in a front a computer, you’re always thinking. But when you’re making music you need to get out of the way. If you think too much it’s going to be mechanical and very constructed and contrived and it’s not going to sound great. It needs to flow from somewhere; that usually comes from within you, in some deep part of your spirit. I think that’s very important to recognize when you’re in an environment as digital and mechanical as software and computers.
You can get by with a laptop and a pair of headphones; you don’t even need an external soundcard. I found FL Studio and I remember my jaw dropping to the floor because it was so powerful and so obviously professional. I just taught myself about it. It’s actually quite a simple program, and I couldn’t recommend it more to people wanting to make electronic stuff. I’ll use FL Studio for sequencing; if I have all of these sounds and I need to sequence them into a crochet or a patchwork, FL Studio allows me to do that extremely quickly. A lot of people use Ableton Live for this sort of thing. I do use that, but it’s a bit cumbersome in comparison; you have to set up a lot of your modules and your instruments, whereas in FL Studio you can use that time to actually be making music. For recording sounds out of a film, I use Adobe Audition. For video I’ve recently converted to Adobe Premiere. Final Cut is great, but Premiere is pretty much the same, with a few extra features I like. That’s really all the software I use.
If a remix is not something I’d want to put on my iPod and listen to all the time, then I don’t think it’s worth making a video for and putting on YouTube. "Alice" is the first thing I ever made, which is a remix of Alice in Wonderland, which was one of the first main attempts I made at remixing a film. Long before I put it on YouTube, it was just a track on my iPod, and I really liked the direction of it and I listened to it a lot. Then I decided, "Maybe I should try making a video for this, that could be kind of interesting."
You’ve got all these shots that keep changing so rapidly; it’s quite good to figure out how you can smooth that out. You can crop down to the faces or keep the eye-lines or the colors consistent. You need to have somewhat of an eye for visual resonance. It’s always in the subtleties; if I have two shots of two people and one is on each side and the shots and intercutting quickly, you need to be able to identify that as jarring.
The video’s more of an afterthought. It’s not something I enjoy, actually, very much. I think it’s good to concentrate on your strengths. With music, you can alter that quickly, and you can express your soul in a very quick and efficient way. With video, you’ve got to sit down in front of a computer screen for many sleepless nights piecing together clips. That can be very tedious.
You want to find your own style, for sure. You don’t want to say "I want to sound like Chris Brown" or something like that, you definitely want to find your own sound. But at the same time, you don’t want to think your music into existence—I think you introduce more obstacles into the game, at the end of the day. I don’t think anyone sits down with a pen and paper and plans their style; it just kind of comes about. It’s an amalgamation of things you’ve heard in the past that resonate with you.
If it’s something I keep coming back to, to listen to on a recreational basis, that’s something I’m proud of and I want to release it. If you start out charging money for your stuff from day one, with 20 views a month on your video, you should probably reconsider your gameplan. If you come from a good place and you’re doing it for the music, people will identify with that. That plays a big role in developing a following. You’re coming from an honest place, you see. When people can see you’re doing that, it only adds to your audience.
How do you maintain this thing you’re passionate about, but expand it and still be passionate about it? Really all I can recommend to people is that you keep investing that passion and that enthusiasm into your work. You try new things and push yourself a bit harder than you usually do to make sure you don’t fall back into the same trend every time. I’m still not really where I want to be entirely, in terms of remixing. I never feel like I’ve really hit the pinnacle of what remixing can be; there’s always more space and greater lengths you can take it. I want to make a remix which is like watching the film itself, where you’re watching a narrative unfold. I took a bit of a stab at that with "Skynet Symphonic," but I still don’t think it’s quite there. I’d actually love to have a remix which is true to the actual timeframe of the film—a two-hour long remix, where each section is a remix of a scene.
There’s no solution to making a video go viral. There’s no rulebook. There’s always work involved. I don’t think passion and self-indulgence are the only keys to success. Put yourself out there as much as you can. Put yourself on any website that gives you free access to promoting your work. As long as you keep it real and stay true to your music, and wanting to make good music, I think people will see you as a person and not just this image on the Internet, this ego that makes music and tries to get all these views. When I first made "Alice," I never promoted it at all; I literally just put it on YouTube. I remember flipping out just when I got 1,000 views.
The moment you start industrializing anything and profit becomes a priority, now you have to start thinking. That’s why all mainstream music sounds the same at the end of the day, because it’s all about meeting a formula, it’s not about being creative or artistic or soulful. I think as you climb up that ladder of industrialism and commercialization and trying to please people, that’s when the brain starts to want to take over. I’ve always come into brick walls when I’ve gone down that avenue. If I kind of step backwards and just concentrate on feeling it out, instead of thinking it out, I’ve ended up making things like "Alice" and "White Magic" and "Expialidocious" and all of these things.