One of the most enduring and chilling images from the successful 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou, was the Klan rally scene that featured the Grand Kleagle singing an a cappella version of O Death in the voice of Ralph Stanley.
It was a central plot point in the movie, and the song’s inclusion in the soundtrack brought a new level of intensity to Stanley’s renown as a vocal artist.
I say that to bring up this. What do bluegrass artists with time on their hands and a facility with audio and video software do when they’re just sitting around?
If you’re Nashville grasser Brad Benge, you might create a dance remix of O Death just to see what happens. A bit of auto-tune here, a synth beat there… add some clever topical images and this is what you get.
Brad, who is a musician, audio engineer and producer, tells us that it was all done in good fun.
“Obviously this is a tongue in cheek remix, not meant to be taken seriously, and in no way meant as disrespectful to the genre or artist. As a working bluegrass musician, engineer, and producer, it was strictly ‘for fun’ – a labor of love.
Traditional bluegrass and country is very much where my heart is. However, I can see how people might find the remixed track interesting and musical, not only as a joke.
It started out as a simple experiment, running the a cappella vocal through an auto-tune plugin, just to see what would happen. Since there isn’t any accompaniment, it was an easy thing to do. That worked so surprisingly well, that it led me to add the EDM (dance) music, edit the vocal for timing, use an effect called “compression” to make the vocal blend with the music, and create the final mix.
The photo montage was merely an afterthought to get it on YouTube. But as usual, I spent too much time on that, and took it too far.
An interesting side note is that Dr. Stanley sings consistently and hauntingly just under A440, with virtually no drift in pitch. In other words, a perfect vocal! That’s why he’s Ralph Stanley, and we’re not.”
But it’s not all fun and games for Benge. He has a solo album of serious music, mixing bluegrass and country, called Nashville. Released in 2012, the project finds Brad on bass and vocals, with assistance from Ron Block on banjo, Kym Warner on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Paul Franklin on pedal steel, and Tommy Emmanuel on guitar.
Before moving to Nashville, he had worked on the road for three years with Byron Berline, and four running sound for Emmanuel.
You can follow Brad on Facebook.