“Music is so tied up in ideas, concepts, and the sonic properties of equipment, that it might often be more correct to talk about something’s continuing life cycle than it is to call it X’s remix of Y by Z.”
– Jennifer Lucy Allan, Wire (2012)
“Basically, a remixer/producer is taking your ideas and glorifying them, or expanding them, or slightly changing them, or adding things to what you’ve done. I maintain that a remix is a compliment.”
– Paul Dakeyne, Music Technology (1987)
Over the past few years I’ve noticed numerous alternate terms for remix attached to tracks I featured on my Brett’s Sound Picks playlists. These terms include rework, remodel, reimaginings, recomposed, after, and alternative version. As far as I know, all of the terms are synonyms for, or variants of, a remix, which is a piece of media that has been altered from its original state by adding, removing, or altering its component pieces. It’s easy to dismiss blatantly commercial remixes that traffic in dance music clichés, such as the let’s speed up the tempo and add a four on the floor kick technique. But with today’s digital tools a producer has no excuse not explore the endless, subtle ways to remix a music to make it other–and sometimes more interesting–than what it was.
As for what we call such derivative works, there are perhaps subtle differences of meaning from one remix term to another, although I’m not sure what these differences are. The interesting learning for the listener is recognizing how far a remix deviates from the music’s original state by comparing versions. Here, then, are a few examples from my playlists.
Autechre’s remix of Seefeel’s “Spangle” (1994). Seefeel are a British electronic and post-rock band formed in the 1990s whose music is difficult to pigeonhole. On their remix, Autechre—a sui generis outfit in their own right whose music often defies categorization—isolate a plaintive melody (which enters in the original track at 1:45) and build a new immersive context for it that has a darker emotional hue. This remix is so seamless you forget it there ever was an original and a copy. Auctechre’s choice of track also tells you something about their good taste: Seefeel’s original is really good too.
Benoit Pioulard’s reimagining of Henrik Lindstrand’s “Loranga” (2020). Lindstrand’s original is a fairly conventional piano piece, so here it’s easy to discern how Pioulard has treated this material (or a section thereof) to generate his trademark wobbly and distressed ambient textures. What’s not easy to understand from listening alone is how this reimagining was done. Pioulard once explained his process to headphonecommute.com:
“Much of the overall sound comes from the use of microcassette tapes and reel-to-reel tape, that round-edged warmth and softness… But I try not to rely on that completely, so when arranging things on the computer through GarageBand I try to incorporate as many complementary textures as possible, creating a kind of weaving of hi- and lo-fi that makes sense to me, since the world around us exists in both of those modes concurrently anyway.”
Olivia Belli’s after of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata 14 (Moonlight Sonata), “lullaby for a distant angel (after Beethoven)” (2020). On this track pianist Olivia Belli plays in the spirit of what sounds like Beethoven’s most famous piano work, the main giveaway being the opening chord progression and moments of stepwise descending bass lines. Whatever the exact compositional model she worked from, Belli slows down her chords so they mostly change once every four beats. This gives the music an accessible, almost pop-like quality.
Max Richter’s recomposing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, “Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons.” Richter is a composer of great range whose classical-esque music has always incorporated electronic sounds and production techniques. In 2012 Richter recomposed Vivaldi’s famous 1723 work. As I discussed in another blog post Richter explains why he worked with Vivaldi’s music:
“The Vivaldi is a kind of pattern-based music. And it almost reminds me a little bit of systems music–kind of minimal music from the 60s and 70s. And that kind of locks into the kind of thing I do anyway (…) I’ve looked at [The Four Seasons] from my perspective–which is the perspective of someone who’s heard minimal music, electronics, who’s heard post-rock. So I brought me in 2012 to that piece.”
If you listen to the sequence at 7:36, you hear how Richter, like Belli, tends to stretch out harmonies to last four beats , making the music a little more song-like. And if you listen at 34:08 (Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “L’inverno”, Winter) you hear the theme music Netflix used for Chef’s Table.
Alva Noto’s remodel of Craig Armstrong’s “Nocturne 4” (2021). Alva Noto makes a very restrained and minimalist kind of electronic music. His famous collaborations with pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto feature piano chords floating above sustained drone tones, sub bass, piercing high sine tones, and subtle glitch rhythms. Noto’s remodel of a piano nocturne by composer Craig Armstrong locates the most expressive four chords of a piece, repeats them, and folds in just a few additional sounds, among them: a sub bass, a bell, and a DX-7 style keyboard. Are all Noto’s sounds derived from Armstrong’s piano? Maybe, maybe not. But this remodel is a masterclass in finding the best parts and doing the minimum to achieve the maximum affective result.
Biosphere’s alternate version of “Poa Alpina” (2022). Norwegian musician Geir Jenssen, aka Biosphere, is a legendary ambient artist. His album Substrata, released in 2001, is a heavyweight release, and its star track, “Poa Alpina” a perfect example of music that tells you enough, but not everything. I love this music. In 2022, Jenssen released alternative versions of Substrata‘s tracks. Comparing the original and alternate versions of “Poa Alpina” gives us insight as to the parts Jenssen used before settling on his final version. It’s interesting to note which sounds made both versions, and which ones didn’t. It’s also interesting how, now that the alternative versions have been released, there may be no definitive/final versions of the album’s tracks. Is this what Jenssen is trying to tell us?