Roots of Sound w/ Raz Mesinai Pt 1: Observation, Experimentation, Imitation and the Repetition of Experience

Dubspot’s Raz Mesinai (Badawi) is a composer, sound designer, instructor, film maker, prolific producer, and dub visionary. In this new series Raz takes us deeper into the roots of sound.  In part one: Observation, Experimentation, Imitation and the Repetition of Experience.


Imagine you’re a child about to say your first word.

Nobody jumps into the world, already armed with a full vocabulary. You start off by blurting out incoherent garble, not complete sentences. You learn by observing and imitating adults, watching how the shapes they make with their mouths create different sounds that sum up the word.

To prepare for your first word, you work on figuring out the root sounds that make up the word that you want to speak. Once you do, you also discover that by reshaping your mouth, throat, and tongue, you are able to manipulate those root sounds, creating several other sounds during the process.

This is what ‘synthesis’ is. The shapes are waveforms, a sine wave as the root, square, triangular, noise etc, as the result of manipulating the root. 

Once you have gained control over these individual sounds, you begin to log them into your brain, knowing that, when chained together, reorganized and controlled, they make up the phonemes you need in order to say your first word. Songs are created the same way words are created. You need to develop a vocabulary first, a library of noises to call upon whenever it is time to form a word. In order to do this, you must spend time on the sounds themselves, isolated from the word.

In terms of music, this process may seem disconnected from the goal (the song). But, just like the word, the parts that make up the song must be constructed first. The process and the elements needed are the first steps, not the goal. The song is something that will happen naturally once the elements are found and fixed to memory. Fortunately, we have great capability to fix sounds into memory when we work on music. We can save our own presets into a library, and put them on a hard drive to come back to later.

Words are not preprogrammed into our brains from the get-go. They are not prerecorded. If they were, our voices would have no characteristics of their own. When you hear Morgan Freeman talk, you know it’s Morgan Freeman. There are many parts of the man’s voice that make up the man. Tone. Choices in attack, sustain and decay. These are a combination of choices he makes with frequencies, combined with accents, dialect, mannerisms picked up from experiences. A collage of experiences are represented in every word and nuance. Depending on where you grow up, how your parents speak and what imaginary type of person you consider yourself to be, you derive an accent.

Genres are to music what accents are to language.

They represent the community, not the individual. I grew up in New York City and spent most of my time in the streets. I gained an accent from imitating those around me, just as they did. I continued on with this accent until I began traveling, then began picking up other accents. I started performing in clubs, picking up some accents there. I started being invited to institutions, gaining a few more accents from there as well. I found myself involved in many communities, and picked up a little accent from each. Now that I am aware of this, I try not to abuse it. I have two accents now–the raw one from New York, which comes out when I’m pissed, and the other, that I picked up later in more “astute” climates, where my accent was considered “crude.”

Raz_Transcibe Rough sketch of a graphic score for “Rooms” 2003 by Raz Mesinai

Once your skills at recalling and reciting words has been developed, it is time to learn how to read and write. Writing with words is what composition is with sounds.

You cannot learn to write without learning to read. In terms of music, reading is listening and writing is composing. When composing, just like writing, the sounds themselves have visual representations, notes, lines, circles, and squares. Although writing appears to be a fixed medium, we have learned that writing changes according to the technology we use. Writing with a typewriter causes different results than writing with a laptop, texting on a cellphone, or writing with a pen and paper. This is what a DAW can offer. A different workflow, feel and sound.

To end with, we should remember that, although learning to speak must have been hard, we don’t actually remember the hardship it took to learn it. Eventually it becomes instinctual. It seems like we always knew it, but we didn’t. We rarely give ourselves credit for learning how to speak as a child, but it’s a real accomplishment. There is no reason to be afraid of the learning process. We cannot write a novel until we’ve learned words, and the same goes for music. We should remember the fact that we learned to speak from observation, experimentation, imitation and the repetition of experience.

Composer, producer, filmmaker and dub visionary, Raz Mesinai has has been a cult figure in the underground New York City music scene for over 20 years. His work under the monikers Badawi, Sub Dub, Lady Man & The Heretic Of Ether, have caught the attention of a wide range of artists, from filmmakers Ridley Scott, Darren Aronofsky & Jonathan Demme, to such diverse musicians and producers as John Zorn, Meat Beat Manifesto, The Kronos Quartet, Kode9 and Shackleton among others.

With over a dozen albums and numerous remixes and 12″s on such iconic dub, punk, avant-garde and electronic music labels as ROIR, Tzadik, Asphodel, Island Records, Skull Disco and Instinct, Mesinai’s music remains impossible to classify, yet easily recognizable, combining aspects of traditional dub techniques, sound design, psycho-acoustic phenomenon and poly-rhythmic, trance inducing rhythms, all summed up into, what Mesinai refers to as, “Dub Fiction”.

Raz Mesinai’s latest project, a film titled Tunnel Vision is currently available on Netflix and Amazon for streaming and has been released on DVD via the avant-garde and experimental imprint Tzadik. You can check out the trailer for Tunnel Vision below, along with one of Raz’s Sound Alchemy video tutorials, which was inspired by the ‘Singing Dunes’. Keep up with Raz Mesinai on Twitter and Tumblr. Vision trailer

Sound Alchemy w/ Ableton Live: ‘The Singing Dunes’ – Advanced Instrument Racks


The best producers, DJs, and musicians in the world strive to be well-rounded. So should you. In Dubspot’s Music Foundations Program, you’ll explore three major aspects of music: rhythmic theory, melodic theory, and critical listening.

Unravel electronic music’s origins, build your chops, learn musical language and theory, and make and play music the way you want.

What’s Included:

  • Music Foundations Level 1: Pads & Rhythmic Theory
  • Music Foundations Level 2: Keys & Melodic Theory
  • Music Foundations Level 3: Electronic Music Appreciation

This course exceeded my expectations. I went through everything I needed to have a solid knowledge of basic music theory.
- Jonathan Crespo, Miami

MF has been an amazing experience! I didn’t realize I was going to learn so much about electronic music history, something my generation missed.
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Morning Class: Starts June 18, 2013. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:15 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
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ONLINE COURSES in session with seats still available. Register today!

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