Time Stretching: Fresh Twist on the Remix

Generic image (Thinkstock Images)
Generic image (Thinkstock Images)

(The Root) — Remix culture is thriving on YouTube, and a curious form of music manipulation is growing in popularity thanks to the site. There is a current interest in showing off the studio technique of time stretching, or lengthening a song — think of it as a kind of reverse chopped and screwed, though the pitch is maintained. The movement is international and interracial, with some very surprising works cited as influential.


Though its roots are much earlier, time stretching was popularized in the modern era by predominantly black producers of jungle and hardcore breakbeat in the United Kingdom, such as Goldie and Roni Size, who made liberal use of both pitch shifting and time stretching, the latter often employed as an accompaniment to the breakdown of a beat.

Goldie gets credit for kicking this off in the jungle scene that later came to be known as "drum and bass" with his 1992 song "Terminator," which stretches vocal samples from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film. With a few notable exceptions, though, drum-and-bass producers still largely adhered to pop music's convention of keeping their songs short and sweet.

Though time stretching was well-established in this genre, the current trend takes the technique and pushes it to the limit, making impossibly long songs out of short ones. One highly influential work came in 2002, when Norwegian producer Leif Inge unleashed "9 Beet Stretch," a 24-hour version of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, which may be heard via a 24-hour streaming station.

Inge told the New York Times that his inspiration for the work was 24 Hour Psycho, a 1993 art installation by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, who had stretched the frames per second of the classic film Psycho — and therefore the accompanying sound. (The project also spawned a parody film experiment in 2006, Paul Collins' 24 Hour 3 Stooges.)

"9 Beet Stretch" inspired Paul Nasca, an audio-software developer in Romania, to create a time-stretching software program called PaulStretch in 2010.

"A few years ago I heard about '9 Beet Stretch,' and I thought that it would be nice if I made myself some stretches," Nasca told the Microscopics Blog. "I searched for a program to do it, or at least for an algorithm. I couldn't find anything useful, so I decided to think how I could make it by myself. After a few days I had the idea of PaulStretch, and after another few weeks I made an improved version of this new algorithm."


That same year, a Florida-based deejay named Nick Pittsinger (also known as Shamantis) used PaulStretch to create "U Smile 800% Slower," a 35-minute version of Justin Bieber's pop hit "U Smile," which spawned countless copycat time-stretched tracks on YouTube. By 2011 an experimental rock group in New York called Bear in Heaven had turned a 44-minute track into a four-month ditty.

In 2013 the time-stretching torch has been picked up by British producer Telegenic X, whose YouTube channel, Slow Motion TV, features several popular songs of yesteryear stretched to between 30 and 45 minutes. It's here where listeners can experience a shattering of color lines and genres as songs start to take on a similar ambient-music feel regardless of the cultural context of the lyrics and melodies. Listen, for example, to the similarities between Telegenic X's stretched versions of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass."


Taking a cue from electronic dance music, R&B and hip-hop producers have embraced more digital-production techniques in recent years, so it wouldn't be a, um, stretch to imagine what this idea would sound like applied to an animated rapper like Lil Wayne or to the beautiful vocal tones of a singer such as Erykah Badu. Time stretching, if put in the hands of a super producer like Kanye West or Just Blaze, could have a whole new life.

For real, though, let's embrace anything with the potential to replace Auto-Tune.


Tamara Palmer is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and the author of Country Fried Soul: Adventures in Dirty South Hip-Hop. Follow her on Twitter.