Remix albums are nearly always hit and miss affairs. They are too often inconsistent in mood and quality while at the same time being naggingly repetitive. Having eighteen mixes spread over two CDs with a running time of two hours AND all of the same piece of music seems like total overkill. However, Innova’s double album’s worth of remixes and reimaginings of Terry Riley’s “In C” works largely because the approaches of the (very) mixed bunch enlisted to give it a go vary enormously.
The original played by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble of Michigan closes disc two, and it’s this that provides the clay to be worked by the remixers. “In C” was an unusual composition when it was published in 1964 and is often cited as the first truly minimalist piece. It has no set duration and the score allows a certain amount of improvisation within strictly defined limits. Similarly the instrumentation and number of players is left to the performers to decide. The only fixed constant is the repetition of a C note at eighth intervals throughout the length of the piece, usually played on a piano, giving a metronomic rhythm to proceedings. This is the work’s instantly recognisable motif, and unsurprisingly provides the backbone to most of the remixes.
Some use it more than others. Many twist it, mangle it, slow it down or even turn it into a sequence of notes. Masonic’s “Terrycloth Troposphere” is one of the few reworkings that strips it out altogether, concentrating on the violins. Others do the opposite, and the piano figure is the only recognisable remnant of the GVSU reading left intact.
In the end, In C Remixed works so well because the piece gives such free reign to the remodellers that they can, and do, bring almost anything to the party. Nico Muhly strips away the strings, working with just piano, percussion, bass and clarinet while DJ Spooky adds a tonne of new stuff to create a surprisingly mainstream rock sounding track that has echoes of the Lightning Seeds’ “Pure”. In between, there are abstract versions (Michael Karlsson and Rob Stephenson), glacial electronica versions (Michael Lowenstern), breakbeat versions (Lowenstern again), neo-classical versions (Phil Kline), electro-funk versions (Dennis DeSantis) and even infant samples (Jad Abumrad). My favourite is the dark funk of Jack Dangers’ “In C – Extension” that harks back to the mid nineties golden era of Mo’ Wax. But all the takes are worth hearing, and importantly, the album works as an album rather than an aural equivalent of Groundhog Day.
1-1 In C: Semi-Detached – Jack Dangers
1-2 Terrycloth Troposphere – Masonic
1-3 Smooth – Glenn Kotche
1-4 Bints Mix – Michael Lowenstern
1-5 Zinc – Zoe Keating
1-6 Counting In C – Jad Abumrad
1-7 In C with Canonms and Bass – Nico Muhly
1-8 In Sea of C – DJ Spooky
1-9 In Cognito – Phil Kline
1-10 In C – Dennis DeSantis
1-11 Zachary’s Dream – DBR
2-1 In C: Extension – Jack Dangers
2-2 Xenoglossia – Mikael Karlsson & Rob Stephenson
2-3 Foster Grant Mix – Michael Lowenstern
2-4 Is In C In F? – Luke DuBois
2-5 In C – Todd Reynolds
2-6 In C Remix – Kleerup
2-7 Simple Mix – David Lang
2-8 In C – Terry Riley / GVSU New Music Ensemble