Posts Tagged ‘Arrangements’

Run United Music – RU18 – 3rd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Gudrun Gut’s Vogelmixe is, as you may gather, a remix album. An album of traditional folk songs, recorded by contemporary artists and remixed by Gudrun Gut. Helpfully, there are two discs, the second containing unmixed versions with the traditional arrangements preserved, previously featured on the album Heimatleider aus Deutschland Berlin/Augsburg in 2015.

‘From the Top 100 to “Alternative”, most of today’s music has the emotional depth of your regular smartphone’, write Mark Terkessidis and Jochen Kühling in the liner notes. And so the inspiration behind the Heimatleider aus Deutschland was a longing for music with emotional impact and a sense of commonality, prompting a return to what they refer to as ‘“primordial” forms of singing, to folklore as an oral tradition.’ There’s a distinct logic in that. New music, however sincere, genuine or authentic is by its nature a product and is imbued with an inescapable sense of artifice. It’s always made with an eye – and ear – for public consumption, for distribution, regardless of mattes of commerciality. Traditional folk music is by its nature the music of the people. It was never borne out of a sense of commercial appeal, or even with a view to its own propagation. It has a life of its own, and that life is real life. These are songs of people, songs of the earth. There’s no way to plan or market this.

Many of the songs sound remarkably contemporary even in their original form, particularly the thrumming bass groove of ‘Marhba’, as performed by La Caravana du Maghrab. The range of styles represented provides a rare insight into German folk music unlikely to be known by non-natives. One element common to the majority of the songs is the emphasis on rhythm. Repetition and strong melodies are also a defining characteristic, with the bold harmony-led melody of bolero ‘La somber del ayer’ demonstrating a remarkable level of complexity which contradicts popular notions of folk songs being somehow primitive or simple.

On the one hand, Gudrun Gut’s remixes are pretty brutal in their treatment of the source material. Her approach is largely centred around heavy-duty electronic sounds which take the songs a long way from their original, traditional forms. You couldn’t exactly call them sensitive or subtle. In fact, the majority of the songs are unrecognisable on every level. Yet for all the superficial violence Gut commits to the songs, she does demonstrate a real connection with them, and conveys the passion and spirit which lies at their heart. Her dubby take on ‘ZaNeYen’ works well, the weirdy electronic bleeps sounding not out of place against the pulsating bass buzz and cavernously reverbed percussion. She really goes to town on ‘Marhba’, in places reducing the track to short, intense loops against an insistent, thumping dancefloor beat, while in contrast, ‘Toma de la ca’ emerges as a more sultry, sedate groove. She does treat Heide’s ‘Ein klienes Waldvögelein’ with a remarkably light touch, leaving the acoustic guitar and vocal performance fundamentally intact and augmenting them with subtle, glitchy beats kept low in the mix, soft synth washes and small sleepy incidentals, none of which is overdone.

Ultimately, it’s Gudrun Gut’s varied approach to the already diverse range of material which proves to be the strength of Vogelmixe. Moreover, the centrality of rhythm in the originals is retained and even emphasised in the mixes, and while the nature of those rhythms is much more contemporary, it again serves to convey the essence of the music, and the way in which the original artists rendered the songs with such life for which credit is very much due. And herein lies the difference between those traditional songs and the manufactured sounds which Terkessidis and Kühling find so objectionable: the latter are the sounds of the human spirit and soul, and have endured because of this. Moreover, however you tweak them, mash them and grind them up, mix and remix them, they will always contain these immutable constants which resonate through all time.

Gudrun Gut

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MIE (Vinyl) / Clang (CD) – 5th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Classics, standards, call them what you will. There are so many songs that have been performed and recorded and everyone, songs that have become in some sense the canon of American musical history. The majority of the tracks featured on Knock on Life’s Door will be familiar, and if not immediately so, then they will be subliminally engrained.

The songs are all woven into the heritage of American music. These are not traditional folk songs, but examples of ‘modern’ American songwriting (context is important here: modern does not mean contemporary or recent in generational terms, but in the longer view of history (even America’s comparatively short history), the twentieth century is modern. These are songs the origins of which have been largely forgotten, the songs themselves having taken on a life of their own and become a part of the collective (sub)conscious or the canon.

The press release comments that ‘Cara and Mike Gangloff don’t so much reimagine old American music as infuse it with the life it’s always had. A life always just below the surface and a life far beyond the stars.’ It’s perhaps fair to say that as a European – at least geographically and spiritually – my comprehension and cognisance of ‘America’ is somewhat simplistic. However deeply I immerse myself in American music and American literature created in the twentieth century, I remain completely distanced, unable to truly grasp the disparity between the America of TV and film, even the America of art and literature and news reportage and documentaries, and the ‘real’ America, the experience of the American everyday and the true core of American culture And so the life below the surface, the life of these songs and the significance they hold is something I have to ultimately accept is something which will forever elude me. But this does not preclude me from enjoying and appreciating not only the spirit of the album, but also the intent behind these radical reinterpretations of what might reasonably considered ‘important’ songs.

So, as I said, the songs on Knock On Life’s Door will likely all be familiar, at least through the medium of one or another previous version. That’s the nature of classics and standards: so often their origins are lost, the original creator’s input usurped by another or numerous others. The artist – or at least the writer and original artist – is eclipsed by the song. But of course, herein lies the road to immortality as the art takes on a life of its own. Nevertheless, that familiarity will probably be strained on hearing their interpretations, and I do mean this as an unequivocally positive thing. Cara & Mike Gangloff have paid a heartfelt homage to each of the songs, and by no means set out to do them damage or disservice. And yet it’s safe to say no-one will have heard any of the songs played in the way they are here.

The nine-minute rendition of ‘Moon River’ finds Cara weaving around the tune, slowed to an opiate crawl of woozy, undulating drone. The meditative Eastern-tinged blues of ‘Misty’ is a long way from both Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis, the scratchy strings scraping out a hypnotic sway that transforms the jazz standard into something completely non-standard from whichever perspective one views it. Calamitously crashing percussion and shrieks of feedback punctuate a manic freeform arrangement of ‘All of Me’, which features a vocal performance that’s little short of terrifying in its intensity, sounding more like a challenge than an invitation. The strolling stop/start bassline of ‘Cry Me a River’ hints at something approaching conventional, until the tortured strings and rattling percussion threaten to derail the dual – or should that be duelling? – vocals. ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ concludes the album in a more upbeat, melodic fashion, but the song’s jaunty folk skeleton is crooked and bent out of shape.

Knock On Life’s Door is an album which will perplex a lot of people, and many purists and fans of well-known versions of the songs presented here will likely be affronted by such unconventional interpretations, not only because of what may be construed as Cara & Mike Gangloff’s anarchic irreverence but also the alternative musicality of their arrangements. These are precisely the reasons Knock On Life’s Door is a good album: it’s bold, it’s challenging, and above all, it’s very, very different.

Cara & Mike Gangloff & the Great American Drone Orchestra cover