The Anatomy of a Classical Remix Album

04/13/2012 2:05 PM |


Last week, when an unused Oneohtrix Point Never track surfaced we were reminded that Orange Mountain Music would be releasing a collection of remixes of Philip Glass’s work later this year. It’s not surprising to learn of this, the second collection of remixes of Glass’s work released on Orange Mountain following 2005’s dance-oriented Glass Cuts. The minimalist qualities inherent in Glass’s work would seem to be ideal material for someone to resculpt, and given Glass’s occasional forays into reworking existing music (his reworkings of David Bowie’s Low and “Heroes,” for instance), there’s certainly precedent for it—for Glass, his contemporaries, and their predecessors.

In 1999, Nonesuch Records released Reich Remixed, a series of ten remixed Steve Reich compositions. DJ Spooky is probably the biggest name on here, as well as the one whose name is still as likely to show up on a high-profile remix effort. The compilation as a whole is a restrained effort, tasteful and precise. At the same time, listening to it a decade after its release finds it sounding very much of its time: i.e. a remix album featuring a cross-section of the circa-1999 electronica scene. And arguably, there’s a sense of Reich looming large here, his work eluding significant reworking.

Other classical remix projects have looked further back in terms of musical history. In 2004, Cantaloupe Records released Messiah: Remix, in which eleven artists ranging from Japanese DJ Nobukazu Takemura to the avant-hip-hop group dälek reworked a very familiar piece of music from George Frideric Handel. As such, it’s a much more fragmented affair, at times embracing the original piece’s sublime qualities and at others, seeking to dynamite them. Certain sections of the compilation veer into digital stop-and-start manipulation; others zero in on specific elements of Handel’s composition and magnify the textures into something suitable for a newfound sonic focus.

The most successful of these projects seem to be those that feel most free to rework their artistic parent. One could cite as precedents the “Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel,” turning the familiar into the delirious, that shows up on Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. And Janet Cardiff’s installation The Forty Part Motet—recently on view at PS1—turned an existing recording of Thomas Tallis’s 1575 “Spem in Alium Nunquam habui” into something that expands the source’s reach while retaining its tremendously moving center.

The Oneohtrix Point Never reworking of Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi score is dreamlike; scaling down the majestic scale of Glass’s composition to something more ethereal. If this is an indication of the approach the rest of the artists on the compilation will take, it’s heartening, as is the presence of the Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson on the compilation’s roster. The more willing the artists participating in this project are to seek new sonic ground, the more likely it will be that the work that emerges will stand on its own.