Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Harold Budd tribute

Harold Budd tribute

December 10 2020, NPR Music

Some artists veer wildly between styles from record to record. And then there are those who discover their sonic identity and stick with it, hardly straying from the true path they’ve settled on. Their life’s work is the patient art of inflecting and perfecting.

Harold Budd belongs in this second category of artists, those for whom musical style isn’t something you can put on and take off like a costume, but a truth that comes from deep within the self that you discover and distill.  Over the course of his four-decade discography, Budd’s music floated between ambient, minimalist composition, and dreampop,  but ultimately evaded those categories to gently assert itself as a wholly individual voice. Cherished by a devoted group of fans and admired by his musical collaborators such as Brian Eno, Cocteau Twins and XTC’s Andy Partridge, Budd’s slow, tranquil compositions centered around his own piano playing. The Los Angeles-based musician died earlier this week from complications caused by covid-19, just a few days after testing positive. He was 84.  

Budd did not have many colors, but he was their master, as the saying goes. The primary hue in his palette was a snowy-white piano texture so smudged with soft pedal and sustain that it’s like hearing Erik Satie through a blizzard. When his melodies wander into the higher octaves, the twinkling tone is so pure and idyllic, it verges on translucent. Across the 30-plus records he made solo and in collaboration, he played other instruments – electric keyboards, synthesizers, early samplers like the Synclavier – but the acoustic piano remained at the heart of his sound. “The way I work is that I focus entirely on a small thing and try to milk that for all it’s worth, to find everything in it that makes musical sense,” Budd explained in a 1997 interview with Sound on Sound. The trouble with the modern recording studio with all its hi-tech options was that “ it gives you the freedom to do everything, and to me everything is a tyranny.”


Harold Budd started out as a drummer—which is funny, since his discography is marked by the absence of backbeat and rarely has any percussive element at all. Born in LA in 1936, then raised in the Mojave desert town of Victorville, he became bebop mad as a teenager and later rubbed shoulders with Albert Ayler when they were both in the army. Gradually Budd’s interest shifted towards the cooler kinds of West Coast jazz. Then, while studying music theory at college, his head was turned around by a lecture given by John Cage, there to talk up his 1961 book Silence.

Budd’s first forays into composition were Cage-damaged and modish in the Sixties style: scores that consisted of graphics or brief, open-ended instructions, a 24-hour long performance for gong. Using a Buchla synth, he recorded a droning Terry Riley-like piece called “The Oak of the Golden Dreams” that decades later appeared on – and provided the title of – a joint record with electronic composer Richard Maxfield.

Soon enough Budd turned away from both the post-John Cage American school of chance and reduction and from the stern, sombre atonality of Europeans like Boulez – the two dominant approaches in the post-war music academy.  Instead, he committed himself to what he would later describe as “an ethic of loveliness…  It was a political action. I was consciously dissociating myself, and becoming antagonistic toward the American avant garde.” 

That meant deliberately pursuing music that was “so sweet and pretty and decorative” that it would actively offend his erstwhile peers. The first fruit of Budd’s dissidence against dissonance was a 1972 piece influenced by Renaissance music entitled “Madrigals of the Rose Angel”. Somehow a tape of a live performance of a concert including that piece found its way to the ears of British composer Gavin Bryars, who played it to Brian Eno. He in turn phoned up Budd and invited him to come to the U.K. to make a record. “I owe him everything,” Budd once said of the surprise call from Eno.  “He changed my life in a way that was extraordinary.”

Budd’s debut album, The Pavilion of Dreams, came out in 1978 on Obscure, an imprint Eno set up through Island Records to direct attention onto left-field musicians he admired who were starving for an outlet, including then unknown composers like Bryars and Michael Nyman, and experimentalists like David Toop.  Pavilion was swiftly followed in 1980 by The Plateaux of Mirror, a full-blown collaboration with Eno recorded in a Hamilton, Ontario studio part-owned by a brilliant young sound engineer by name of Daniel Lanois.

The Plateaux of Mirror became the second release in the Eno-conceived Ambient series, after Music For Airports. Eno’s contribution was literally to create the ambience out of which the music emerged, using delays, reverbs, and other effects. “I would set up a sound,” Eno recalled, then Budd would improvise the melodies in response. As Budd put it, “I'm listening to the atmosphere at the same time that I'm playing so that the treatment influences what I play.” The result of the symbiosis between the two was an intensely visual soundscape that lived up to titles like “First Light”, “An Arc of Doves”, and “Among Fields of Crystal”. But the music’s effect isn’t just a synesthetic trigger to mind’s eye reveries. It’s physiological too: listening, you find yourself breathing deeper and slower. Time dilates – each moment glistens like a pearl catching the light as it revolves in front of your eyes.

Like many musicians, Budd disliked categories – “ambient” made him uncomfortable, and he was positively scathing about “New Age”, describing the concept as “distasteful,” a mere “marketing ploy” that smacked of kitschy “science fiction religion”. Still, the positioning of his work in those terms didn’t hurt when it came to reaching audiences. If the idea of music being healing or therapeutic didn’t appeal to Budd, his music’s meditational inwardness and the way that it activated visual imagery, through its sound but also titles like “Abandoned Cities” or “Ice Floes in Eden,” put it in proximity to the aims and effects of both ambient and the more interesting figures in New Age.   

Titles were something of a Budd forte. He wrote poetry and this facility with imagistic language led him to generate a large number of titles for music pieces long before he had composed them. "Very frequently, I carry them around like baggage,” Budd revealed in one interview. “I often can't wait to find a piece so I can get rid of a title because it's been haunting me for so long." In the liner notes for the reissue of his 1981 album The Serpent (In Quicksilver), he wrote of being inspired by “the image of a lethal viper gliding glacially in a pond of mercury… it’s what you see at the end of time.”

In 1984, Budd, Eno and Lanois reprised their Plateaux synergy with The Pearl, another peak in all three men’s careers.  If the Eno connection brought Budd an audience he’d never imagined reaching, a whole other swathe of listeners discovered him through his 1986 collaboration with Cocteau Twins, the Scottish trio whose intricately-textured rhapsodies floated somewhere between eerie Goth and enchanted shoegaze.  Released on the Cocteaus’ label, 4AD, clad in an exquisite sleeve by designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer Nigel Grierson, The Moon and the Melodies was credited to Harold Budd, Elisabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie, Simon Raymonde. Gorgeous tunes like “Eyes Are Mosaics” sung by Fraser in her liquid chirrup sat alongside diaphanous instrumentals such as “Memory Gongs,” as blurry as a watercolor with a little too much water in it. That tune reappeared very slightly altered and with a different title, “Flowered  Knife Shadows” on Budd’s solo album of 1986, Lovely Thunder. 

Budd collaborated frequently across his career, often finding the most sympatico partners in the U.K. and Europe. He made albums with Hector Zazou, XTC’s Andy Partridge, John Foxx, and Bill Nelson; he teamed up repeatedly with Cocteau guitarist Robin Guthrie (their last collaboration, Another Flower, came out this summer).  Japan’s David Sylvian and Steve Jansen coaxed him out of mid-2000s retirement,  putting out Budd’s albums Avalon Sutra and Perhaps on their label Samadhisound.  

Despite this proclivity for building artistic relationships based in mutual trust and warm friendship,  Budd primarily steered a lone course. Alongside the pair of Eno projects, the characteristic core of his work are the solo records, albums like Abandoned Cities, Lovely Thunder, The White Arcades, and Luxa. These are records that not only refute the idea that artists ought to develop, they in some profound way challenge the idea of progress itself, hinting that the true goal of art is to achieve suspension from time altogether. 


Pulling together a quick turnaround tribute puts you in a mind state that couldn’t be further from what Harold Budd’s music is all about. Every so often, amid the frenetic collating of information and quotation, the sifting and sequencing, I had to remind myself to take a deep breath and listen to the wordless wisdom contained in his sound. 

Although its aura is ethereal and unworldly, Budd’s music is actually an exemplary form of humanly useful music. When the mundane urgencies of life, or the shit and nonsense of our political culture, get you frazzled, which is pretty much every day these days, you can put on this music and imbibe its stillness and grace. His records are exactly the kind of music you’d play for calm and solace during a bereavement – or at a service sending someone to their final resting place. Harold Budd sounds like heaven on earth.


Facts I wish I had known so that I could have included in the piece

That he taught himself to play the piano in his late thirties, in order to be able the music he wished to compose. 

Things Harold said

"Being immediately pretty is the most important component."

"I really like to find as much life as possible in the smallest amount of material. A very simple scale, a relationship of note against note, especially a sustained note; I milk everything for all it's worth."

"One of the things was I got profoundly upset and bored to death with the avant-garde music that was being practiced around the world—the Western world—at that time. It seemed self-congratulatory, and for a small cadre of snobs, and I refused to go on with it."

"I really minimalised myself out of a career"

 I cannot play the piano. I can play what I play, I can play me, but I have a dyslexia when reading music. I’m not a professional musician. I hack away at it and the piano is convenient. By no means would a proper pianist consider me one.”

"I slipped back into discovering something that no-one else was doing, or was likely to do in the very near future. I divorced myself from modern music in a sense, and began to develop a language which I thought was honest to God me, and totally outside of competition with my fellow composers.”

"I admire painters very much and I secretly wish that I were doing that"

"“Brilliant blasts of colour that simply engulfed you” - on Mark Rothko, Ellesworth Kelly, and other painters he admired. 

"It's curious about The Plateaux of Mirror. It came so quickly and so easily that it was kind of a phantom"

"This whole 'new age' business is very distasteful to me. I don't like being even considered in that “category and I have almost no respect for it at all... It's very lightweight and very bothersome to me. .. I don't think it has anything to do with the actual truth about the meaning of the music”

"That one frosted my balls so much. I was just enraged every time I’d walk into a Tower Records or Virgin Megastore or something like that. There I was in the new age category and I just thought ‘Jesus Christ, how can I escape from these mindless bastards?"

"When I did the White Arcades album, I went to the studio with a list of titles and that's all."

 "I've never worked with musicians who know how to read music. So that's always swell for me,

"A mature artist ought to be able to make a good record from the contents of a cutlery drawer."

"The one collaboration that never occurred and never would occur would be David Sylvian, whose work I admire above all others. I just love everything he does. There is a really good reason, it’s because although one thing is good and another thing is good, putting them together doesn’t make it twice as good. In fact it could be a disaster, and I’ve never wanted that to happen."

Things people said about Harold 

"A great abstract painter trapped in the body of a musician" - Brian Eno.

"I would set up a sound, he would improvise to it, and occasionally I would add something: but it was mainly him performing in a sound-world I had created”  - Eno, on The Plateaux of Mirror.

“Harold Budd's intention was to make what he called "eternally pretty music", and his way of composing was to write a piece of music, then take out all the notes you didn't like! - Eno

"He was really down to earth, a ham 'n' eggs kind of guy" - Cocteau Twins, via David Toop.


Cheeky Harold put out the same piece twice under different names, in the same year. You can see why though, what a beauty. 

Another Moon + Melodies lovely.

Cocteau Twins "Eyes Are Mosaic ft. Harold Budd", as if this was a modern rap'n'B record! YouTube is pretty darn lax as an archive - of course it should be credited to Harold Budd. Elizabeth Fraser. Robin Guthrie. Simon Raymonde. 


His music lends itself to the infinitely extended remix 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Chant Down Babylon: The Disappearing and Reappearing Voice of Jamaican Roots Reggae


published as 'Chant Down Babylon', The Wire, 2000

by Simon Reynolds

Where better to open a meditation on the white romance with Jamaican music than with a record guaranteed to induce cringing from a higher percentage of reggae connoisseurs (and probably a hefty proportion of the Wire readership too) than any other? I'm talking about "White Man In Hammersmith Palais". Whatever you think of its rabble-rousing punky-reggae, The Clash's 1977 single is interesting because lyrically it's actually about the projections and misrecognitions that inevitably occur when white folks "engage" with black music (as opposed to simply consuming it). Joe Strummer attends an All Nighter featuring such "first time from Jamaica" stars as Dillinger and Delroy Wilson. But the performances--"showbizzy, very Vegas," Strummer recalled years later--frustrate his expectations: instead of "roots rock rebel" fighting talk, "it was Four Tops all night/with encores from stage right". The transracial identification felt by punk rockers towards roots rockers---captured earlier in "White Riot", with its admiration and envy towards the black rioters at 1976's over-policed Notting Hill Carnival--collides with a different reality of Jamaican pop culture, leaving Strummer demoralised and confused.

Roots reggae is now almost exclusively valued for dub's legacy of disorientating studio techniques. Which makes it disorientating in itself to go back to the mid-Seventies roots heyday and discover that reggae fans, black and white, actually looked to the music for "a solid foundation" (as The Congos sang it), for certainty and truth, for militancy and motivation. "Roots rock rebel" neatly condenses how Jamaican music was seen both by rock and by reggae itself. Reggae was anti-imperialist: Rasta's Pan-Africanism connected with the period's post-colonial struggles, from the communist MPLA in Angola resisting a South African invasion that was covertly backed by the USA, to the Patriotic Front liberation forces in white-controlled Rhodesia (Bob Marley later headlined Zimbabwe's 1980 Independence Celebrations). Reggae was anti-capitalist: Rasta's rhetoric of downpressed sufferers and judgement day for Babylon's plutocrats  was co-opted by Michael Manley's socialist government, whose warm relations with neighbouring Cuba led the USA to try to destabilize Jamaica via an IMF money-squeeze and other dirty tricks. And reggae was anti-fascist, providing the between-band soundtrack to Rock Against Racism concerts and bringing radical chic to a thousand student bedrooms with its poster iconography: Pete Tosh, a Che Guevera with natty dreads and black beret;  Medusa-headed spiritual warriors Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, and Culture; Steel Pulse preaching about "Handsworth Revolution".

Even before punk, rock culture had seized on reggae as the "rebel beat" of the Seventies, a much needed dose of authenticity at a time of post-countercultural burn-out: critics like Greil Marcus lionized Bob Marley  as a Caribbean Dylan and the Wailers as Jamaica's own Rolling Stones ("Street Fighting Men," but this time for real). Punk itself has been interpreted (by subcultural theorist Dick Hebdige) as partly based in the yearning for a "white ethnicity" equivalent to Rastafarianism: U.K. punks as exiles on every High Street, stranded in a Babylon burning with boredom. During the half-decade from 1977-81, reggae vied for supremacy with funk as the musical template for progressive post-punk groups. After the Pistols's break-up, Richard Branson wooed Lydon by flying him to Jamaica as A&R consultant for Virgin reggae imprint The Front Line, whose logo (black power fist clenched around barbed wire) conflated militancy and martyrdom; PiL's own dread vision rode the basslines of a blue-eyed Londoner who'd reinvented himself as Jah Wobble. In Scritti Politti's early Gramsci-influenced DIY phase, "Skank Bloc Bologna" linked the Notting Hill riots with Italy's 1977 anarcho-syndicalist uprisings; even after Green lost his Marxist faith and went post-structuralist, his deconstructions of the lover's discourse ("The 'Sweetest Girl'" et al) swayed to a lover's rock lilt. Pop Group and The Slits worked with UK dubmeister Dennis 'Blackbeard' Bovell; Ari Up eventually became a full-blown Rasta. The Specials fused social realism with the sulphate-twitchy rhythms of ska, and the mixed-race UB40 hymned the integrationist Martin Luther King (rather than separatist Marcus Garvey) over dole queue skank. And always, always, The Clash: getting Lee Perry to produce "Complete Control", covering "Armagideon Time" and "Police and Thieves," pulling off a convincing roots facsimile with "Bankrobber" (Mikey Dread at the controls). Former colony Jamaica responded to all this sincere flattery from the British Empire's bastard children with songs like Marley's "Punky Reggae Party": "The Wailers will be there/the Slits, the Feelgoods and the Clash." Not quite sure why pub rockers Lee Brilleaux and Wilko Johnson's were on Bob's guest list, but clearly it was a time of strange alliances.

The cultural studies/Rock Against Racism approach to reggae didn't ignore dub totally, but it was never really able to integrate dub's topsy-turvy sonic overturnings with its get-up-stand-up conception of reggae's political dissidence. In neo-Marxist academia and SWP activist circles alike, there's a certain uneasiness about drugs (ganja is barely mentioned in Hebdige's 1987 sound system culture book Cut 'N Mix), partly because of an anti-psychedelic premium on clear-minded rationality, and partly because linking black subcultures with drug use was felt to be dodgy, even crypto-racist. But the real stumbling block in the post-punk engagement with reggae was the religiosity of roots culture. It's possible to translate Rastafarian beliefs into Marxist terms, or treat them as allegory, mythic narratives of dispossession and deliverance. Just don't do it in front of a true Rasta believer--when ethnologist John W. Pulis attempted such a dialogue, his Western liberal relativism was swiftly dispatched: "Only one reality.... na views.... I-and-I no deal with kon-sciousness, I deal wit' truth."

Today, a totally different white hip discourse frames reggae, emphasising elements downplayed in the late Seventies but (inevitably) suppressing others. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to shorthand this cluster of ideas as the Afro-Futurist discourse, but it actually has multiple facets: dub as deconstruction (of the song, of the metaphysics of musical presence); the producer as mad scientist, dark magus, shaman, trickster; the Macro Dub Infection notions of dub as postgeographical virus and of dub's sonic instability as an education in "insecurity". The sonic praxis of these notions encompasses New York's illbient scene (We, Sub Dub, DJ Spooky) and Brooklyn's Wordsound massive, Bill Laswell's numerous dub initiatives, post rock outfits like Tortoise, Labradford, Rome, and Him, and quite a few others. Theoretically, the ideas have been largely developed by people associated with the Wire, from John Corbett's seminal essay on the "madness" of Lee Perry (and fellow Afro-Futurists Sun Ra and George Clinton) through David Toop's probing of the origins of modern remixology in reggae's versioning, to Ian Penman's classic meditation on Tricky and "the smoky logic of dub."

What all these strands of dub theory share is the exaltation of producers and engineers over singers and players, and the idea that studio effects and processing are more crucial than the original vocal or instrumental performances. Which is why thousands of words have been spilled on the wizardry of Perry or Tubby, but very little on reggae vocalisation or the role of drummers, bassists, rhythm guitarists et al in building kinaesthetic mood-scapes (a/k/a grooves). The mystery of "skank" has failed to provoke a downpour of eloquence--the way different ridims pull you into their flow, entrain your limbs in their gait, tune your cells into their vibration. This is understandable, given the difficulty of writing about rhythm with any specificity (mind you, it's just as tough to go beyond generalities and talk about a specific auteur-producer's signature, to isolate exactly what it is that gives one dub engineer, breakbeat scientist or 303-tweaker his singularity and superior rank).

The really distorting side effect of the Afro-Futurist privileging of the producer, though, is that the fact that reggae actually involved people saying stuff about stuff has almost totally been forgotten. Lyrically, most Seventies roots reggae is as plainspoken and bluntly demagogic as Tom Robinson Band. This is not to say that the shift in how reggae has been conceptualized---from "the sound of politics" in the Seventies to "the politics of sound" today--hasn't opened up exciting ways of thinking about the music; indeed, it was originally a necessary corrective to the exhausted post-punk over-emphasis on messages and meaning. But it has also de-politicized and de-spiritualized a music that was originally "part journalism, part prophecy" (James A. Winders).  At the extreme, Jamaica is effectively erased in all its materiality and knotty cultural contradictions. So Calvin Johnson, founder of Olympia, Washington's K Records and frontman of Dub Narcotic Sound System, can blithely declare: "I never saw dub as a type of music, but as a process. The fact that it originated in reggae is inconsequential."

The totem, touchstone, and discursive bulwark for the Afro-Futurist take on reggae is Lee 'Scratch' Perry. I'm going to take two tacks here: firstly, contesting the reduction of roots culture to this single smoke-wizened figure, and secondly , suggesting that the mad scientist version of Scratch is itself reductive. As the Afro-Futurist consensus about dub has solidified over the last decade, the apotheosis of Perry at the expense of his less flamboyant yet more consistent peers (Tubby, Keith Hudson, Augustus Pablo, Tommy Cowan, Joe Gibbs, Scientist, etc) has intensified.

In the Afro-Futurist discourse, Lee Perry and Bob Marley are conceptual twins, linked but opposed. Interestingly, two critics who've contrasted Marley-ism (reggae as text/truth/roots) with Perry-ology (dub as texture/play/deracination) also use the same metaphor to reject the former and big-up the later. Ian Penman, in his Tricky meditation (Wire 133, also in the essay collection Vital Signs) mocks Bob as "an olde worlde flat-earth icon".  Kodwo Eshun, in his brief Perry chapter in More Brilliant Than The Sun, praises Scratch's location "far from Rastafari's flat-earth metaphysics". Apart from the ethnocentrism of the Rasta as flat earth theory analogy (odd, given the Afro-Futurist tendency to valorize voodoo, alchemy, Gnosticism, and other superstitions), it's misleading to imply that dub and roots reggae can be understood separately from that strange Jamaican religion. For starters, Rasta's sacred burru drums--bass, funde, repeater--are embedded deep in reggae's rhythmic matrix. Perry himself is a devout Rasta. He produced and often had an instigating conceptual role in scores of songs with titles like "Psalms 20", "Zion's Blood", "Dread Lion", "Sodom and Gomorrow", "Feast of Passover", plus numerous topical social comment tunes like Max Romeo's "War In A Babylon". Even a seemingly whimsical Perry lyric like "Roast Fish and Cornbread" is actually about ital, the dietary guidelines that are crucial to righteous Rasta living.

Lee Perry's antic personality is enormously enjoyable (even if enjoyed, surprisingly, by people who usually profess contempt for pop's cult of personality), his sonic achievements mighty (if strewn amid much bad-TV-left-on-in-the-background flimsy fare, and tarnished by a post-peak trail of underachieving disgrace as long as George Clinton's. And that gig he did at Dingwalls in 1987 was fucking atrocious). Still, towering if erratic dub genius aside, I can't help suspecting some dubious ulterior factors behind the privileging of Perry. One is his fertility as a text for exegesis: Perry's syncretic cosmology of  superstitions, science fiction, and pulp movies, his is-it-schizophrenia-or-performance-art-that-never-stops eccentricity, his Sun Ra-like wordgames and encryptions, will support a micro-industry of dissertations and seminars for decades to come. The other reason for the Perry Cult is, I reckon, because the tomfoolery and quirked-out levity of  much of his output offers a blessed repreive from the sheer earnestness of roots reggae, which is often literally sermonising, all parables and chapter-and-verse.

Time to probe the peculiarities of Rastafarianism a little deeper. Dub's tricknology is sometimes linked to the trickster gods of West African animism (spirit-worship). But Rasta itself is not pagan. It has little in common with Haitian voodoo, Cuban santeria, or the other Africanized remixes of Catholicism. Instead of a panoply of spirits disguised as Catholic saints, Rasta has just the one God, the stern patriarch of the Old Testament---not someone with whom you can cut deals, as you can with voodoo's loa. If anything, Rasta is Afro-Protestant, sharing with mainland America's fundamentalists an emphasis on close reading of the Scriptures and a millenarian belief in an End of Time whereupon the righteous get transported to the promised land. Rasta resembles some of the revolutionary heresies of the Middle Ages documented in Norman Cohn's The Pursuit of the Millenium. The belief in Haile Selassie, His Imperial Majesty of Ethiopia, as the Messiah recalls those Medieval sects whose utopian hopes involved the resurrection of a king or Emperor who would be saviour of the poor and scourge of the corrupt (false kings, the clergy).  Historically, as much revolutionary energy has been mobilized by the idea of going back as going forward. Rastafarianism also owes a lot to Judaism---the kosher-like ital laws, the taboos about menstruation, and above all the Exodus saga of a people uprooted and enslaved (first by the Egyptians, then by the Babylonians) but struggling to return to their homeland. (Rasta's own version of racial envy goes: "Black Zion! We want a Zion of our own"). Transmitted via reggae, this mythic narrative resonates with dispossessed peoples across the world, from aboriginal Australians to Native Americans (roots reggae is hugely popular on the reservations, and rivaled only by death metal!).

Because of its anti-institutional bias and trust-in-Jah fatalism, Rasta has never had the will-to-power to actually create the theocratic society it basically proposes. To grasp how weird it is that such an anti-modern creed has been so influential over Western youth culture, imagine the following alternative history scenario:  the parallel universe where post-revolutionary Iran generated a form of popular music so globally inspirational it spawns its own Ayatollah-friendly Polices, UB40s, Ace of Bases. Both Rasta and Islamic fundamentalism are anti-imperalist, anti-America, and opposed to ungodly Western liberalism--from women's reproductive rights (Rasta decries birth control and abortion) to homosexuality.

Which brings me to what prompted this piece in the first place: the gap between my intense pleasure in and (for want of a better word) "identification" with roots reggae, and the glaring fact that my experiential framework and worldview are utterly remote from the Rastafarian's. For instance, one of my absolute favorite pieces of dubbed-out roots vocalisation is Linval Thompson on the King Tubby mixed "Straight To Babylon Boy's Head" (compiled on King Tubby's Special 1973-1976). Thompson sings: "From I was born in this world/My mama always tell me/That Babylon is a-wicked... Babylon drink rum/Babylon eat pork/Ride on dreadlocks... If you don't believe me, just look in the Bible... Babylon have to face/the Judgement Day." Now, I had a bit of bacon only the other day, and although I think "Babylon" is a handy nickname for the multi-tentacled malevolence of globalizing capital, the Good Book is just another book for me, not God's truth. Listening, rapt and swoony to roots songs like this one, I feel a bit like Morrissey: twisting the words of "Panic" slightly, "The music that I constantly play/Says nothing to me about my life"--yet I love it to death anyway. How can it happen, such violent cathexis, this flooding intimacy of pleasure, this beckoning? It's surely mediated by all the cross-cultural baggage of projections and preconceptions, but it doesn't feel like it --- it feels like an instantaneous spark of connection, almost pre-cognitive. It's tempting to woffle about inarticulate speech of the heart, about pure spirit cutting across all barriers. Morrissey, who once declared "all reggae is vile," actually provides my only clue. There's an uncanny vocal resemblance between Thompson and the Smiths frontman--the fey flutter and lambent grain, the mixture of rejoicing in the fallen-ness of the world and confidence in the singer's elect righteousness. Mozzer sang about his Mum a lot too.

I feel a similar inexplicable soul-bond with The Congos shimmering falsetto harmonies as they beseech "open up the Gates of Zion," plead "send us another Moses", and promise "repatriation is at hand." Probably the pinnacle of the roots era in terms of vocal groups, Heart of the Congos is prime evidence for the case that Lee Perry's best work was his productions of superlative singers rather than his own talkover dub. On the Congos's album, there's none of the mixing-board buffoonery that sometimes makes Perry resemble Jamaica's own Gong; even his favorite sonic effect, the moo-ing cow, can't deflate the devotional trance of "Children Crying." Instead, the famous Black Ark 4-track sound--a numinous haze of will-o'-the-wispy susurration that actually stems from the "degradation effect" (Steve Barrow) caused by Perry's having to dump multiple tracks onto one track to free them for further overdubbing----enshrouds the Congos's harmonies like the nimbus of light around God's head.

John Peel once described the sound of Misty In Roots, his favorite UK reggae group, as "Medieval". Rasta's liberation theology is a disconcerting weave of revolutionary and reactionary, and its paradoxes are intrinsic to dub's own double-feel of pre-modern and postmodern. Could it be that dub only works because it is simultaneously about "a solid foundation," absolute bedrock certainty, and yet offers an adventure playground for the perceptions?   It is Jamaican psychedelia, but it is also Jamaican gospel. Therein resides this music's abiding mystery: the intermingling, the warp'n'weft co-existence, of two different modes of consciousness. Because reggae has penetrated British culture so deeply and feels so familiar, it's easy to forget that Jamaica is still part of the undeveloped Third World. Reggae is a membrane between pre-industrial antiquity and hi-tech futurism. Hence Perry's own magick-meets-sci-fi imagery of "vampires" and "bionic rats."

There's another gap that inspired this piece--between the Afro-Futurist version of dub as headwrecking delirium and my personal pleasure in the music, which is less a sensation of being hurled into an alien, chaotic soundscape and more like coming home, being returned to my true element. The notion of dub as apocalypse, ambush, assault course, seems more like a response to a non-Jamaican lineage (a continuum that runs from On U Sound and Mark Stewart through Massive and Tricky, and many others) that sensed and amplified a potential for mindfuck in Seventies reggae.  Listening to the original roots era dubs, though, there seems be different stuff going on.  There's a kind of impressionistic pictorialism, like Ethiopianist program music--the golden horizons and mirage shimmer of an Abyssinia of the stoned mind's eye; patient processional rhythms suggesting freedom trains, the stoic trek of exodus and homecoming. The other aspect is an erotics of sound: dub's teasing drop-outs, its dapplings and tingles, flickers and fluctuations, correspond to Roland Barthes's notion of eroticism as "intermittance", as glimpses "where the garment gapes."  Dub's polymorphous perversity is why its techniques migrated so well into disco's endless foreplay, its caresses without climax.

The trajectory of dub & roots after its late Seventies peak corresponds to a familiar syndrome: the black popular music (social, designed for dancing) that gradually turns into highbrow art, its past cherished and conserved by white curators and archivists, its present sustained by a mostly white vanguard who rarify the music and place it firmly on the cerebral side of the mind/body dualism it once so successfully dissolved. You can see this syndrome recurring through the histories of jazz, soul, funk, old skool hip hop. Often running in parallel to the avant-garde abstraction option, there's a purely antiquarian approach--the pointless fidelity of trad jazz or digi-dub.

The first casualty of the bohemianisation of dub wasn't the usual one (danceablity), it was the voice. Dub and dub-influenced music in the Nineties almost always consists of instrumentals. At best, you got love songs to dub reggae, rather than love songs to Jah. At worst, you got a music that is all effects and no affect.  The symbiosis and synergy between roots and dub, it's a bit like Swiss Cheese. Without the holes, the cheese is less eye-grabbing but it still works on a basic nutritional and flava level. But the holes, on their own (i.e. tricknology abstracted and decontextualized) are nearly nothing. For sure, Tubby's dubs of singers like Linval Thompson are more thrilling than the originals: hole-some is better than wholesome. But Tubbs needed material to go dub crazy with in the first place. The same applies to more recent tricknologies like breakbeat science---the science needs something to manifest itself through, the flesh and sweat and "feel" of the "Amen" or "Think" break.

The present moment is an odd time to be re-thinking dub. Its profile on the Hipster Influences Shares Index peaked around 1995-96, when you could hear its spectral presence everywhere from Tricky to Chain Reaction to Tortoise to Spooky. But with the roots reissue programmes of labels like Blood & Fire increasingly scraping barrel-bottoms and left-field music culture's attention drifting to other exoticisms (like Tropicalia) there seems to be a certain exhaustion of interest in dub. Things like the Grand Royal issue devoted to Lee Perry's every last curry-goat fart seal the sense of overdocumentation, of terra cognita. 

It would be easy, and not especially illuminating, to trace the permeation of dub's techniques through UK dance culture in the last twelve years. Instead I'm going to sketch another path of diffusion, taken by what was originally the raw material that got dubbed up: the roots vocal. From the start, British rave culture has been defined by a compulsion to fuse house with reggae and hip hop: the bass pressure and Yard allusions of bleep outfits like Ital Rockers and Unique 3, Meat Beat Manifesto's "Radio Babylon," Moody Boys's Journey Into Dubland EP with its Hugh Mundell "just got to be free" clarion, the Ragga Twins's fusion of dancehall jabber and hardcore blare. Even the terms "raver" and "rave" were originally Jamaican slang. As breakbeat hardcore evolved into jungle, vocal samples from roots singers and dancehall chatters like Dr. Alimantado, Leroy Sibbles, Eek-A-Mouse, Snaggapuss, Barrington Levy, Cutty Ranks, Anthony Red Rose, Reggie Stepper, Topcat, and many more, became endemic. The Prodigy even got Max Romeo into the charts with their 1992 hit "Out of Space." Imported "yard tapes" of Kingston soundclashes provided a wealth of catchphrases from unidentified MCs--"get ready for dis, for dis, for dis", "special request", "come with it my man", "get mash up," "champion sound a-way"--which were endlessly re-sampled and still crop up in today's underground garage and 2-step, vibe power undiminished.

There's a vast volume of discourse on the role of DJs and producers in dance culture, but hardly any discussion of the MC's crucial role in the hardcore/jungle/garage continuum: the way the mic' controller operates as a kind of membrane or integument between the expressive and the rhythmatic, the social and the technological. The MC vocalizes the intensities of machine-rhythm by transforming himself into a supplement to the drum kit, while simultaneously relaying the massive's will back to the DJ (rewind selecta!). The MC is the most stubbornly ineradicable Jamaican trace persisting in UK rave, permeating the music both as samples from ragga records and as live partner to the DJ. And the MC reveals that the influence of contemporary Jamaican music, dancehall ragga, on UK dance culture is the untold counterpart to the over-told story of dub's  legacy.

Hipsters lost interest in Jamaica during the Eighties, partly because roots fell into a platitudinous rut, but mainly because of dancehall's replacement of Rasta spirituality with slack talk about sex/guns/money and a faithlessness verging on nihilism ("Africa nah go mek me bullet-proof", as one rude boy put it). The white reggae audience withered away, alienated by dancehall's hieroglyphic opacity (its harshly exaggerated patois and Jamaica-specific references) and its jarring machine beats (actually more African than reggae, a digitalized reversion to pre-ska rural folk rhythms like etu, pocomani, and kumina). With Reagan-stooge Edward Seaga ruling the country, Jamaican pop culture looked away from Africa to Black America (gangsta rap) and to Hollywood bad-boy mythologies (cowboy and Mafia movies). Cheap cocaine defined dancehall's brash and braggart vibe, rather than Rasta's meditational sacrament "herb". Even when dancehall underwent its own mid-Nineties "cultural" revival with Rasta singers like Sizzla, Luciano, Anthony B., and bad boys turned conscious like Buju Banton, white hipsters didn't recover their interest in Jamaica.

Meanwhile, though, dancehall was infiltrating UK pop culture via second-and-third generation Caribbean Britons and the white working class youth who'd grown up with them. Intriguingly, that influence is largely on the level of vocals and language rather than rhythm or production. Although jungle's MC element was gradually purged from drum 'n' bass as part of its realignment with techno, it resurfaced in UK underground garage, from the raucous patois boasts of speed garage anthems like Gant's "Sound Bwoy Burial" to the current wave of MC-driven 2-step tunes from artists like M-Dubs, Corrupted Crew, Master Stepz, and DJ Luck & MC Neat (who scored a Top Ten hit early in 2000 with "A Little Bit of A Luck"). From the gruff, burly-chested boom of chatters like Neat to the serpentile ladies man drawl of Richie Dan, garage MCs provide the yang to the 2step divas's yin. But the ghettocentric grain of the patois voice also works as a kind of ideological/textural counterweight to garage's aspirational VIP gloss. Sampled from dancehall tracks or live-and-direct on the mic', the MC voice is a residual trace of non-assimilated Jamaican otherness; it's some "this is where we came from" grit to offset garage's "this is where we're going" slickness. It's roots 'n future, to borrow the title of a '93 hardcore rave anthem by Phuture Assassins.

It's not just dancehall, though, that lives large in UK underground garage: dub and roots have a more vital presence here than almost anywhere else in contemporary music, bar the new Pole album. Dub ideas originally infiltrated Eighties postdisco music via the B-side remixes of tracks on New York labels like Prelude, West End, and Sleeping Bag, and then blossomed with the spatiality of Strictly Rhythm's early garage tracks and productions by Mood II Swing. Over the last few years UK garage outfit New Horizons have picked up on the latent Jamaican element in New York house imports with their B-side dubs, and developed a strange and wondrous micro-genre of reggaematic house---the churchical organ vamps and Gregory Isaacs-on-helium falsetto froth of "Find The Path", the bassbin-crushing low-end and "slam down ya body gal" slackness of their "Scrap Iron Dubs EP," the skanking dips and afterbeats woven into the four-to-the-floor pump of "Cool Tha Menta". Even stranger hybridity came with last year's spate of R&B bootlegs like Large Joints "Dubplate" and the perpetrator-unknown illegal remix of  smash ballad "Swing My Way"---both bootlegs set the diva's gaseously timestretched vocal adrift in a dubby echo-chamber, over a groove built from a rootical organ vamp and a chugging house beat. Abducting unsuspecting R&B goddesses into a Jamaican soundworld, these tracks offer typical only-in-London recontextualizations of  non-UK sources.

2-step garage is really a four-way collision between gay American house, homophobic Jamaican ragga, Hackney council estate junglism and uptown New York R&B. It's the sonic embodiment of a British identity in flux, under the  triple attrition of American pop culture, European unity, and colonial chickens coming home to roost. Hence the "reverse assimilation" effect caused by the Caribbean population in the UK; diasporic peoples unsettle wherever they settle. Fulfilling the promise of Smiley Culture's "Cockney Translation", reggae patois has other-ized the "true" Britons, seducing the young into speaking a creole tongue and making them unfamiliar and alarming to the parent generation. Hence such anxiety symptoms as Ali G.'s popularity and the articles last year in the quality newspapers arguing that rap radio DJ/bishop's son Tim Westwood deserved to get shot because he speaks with a Jamaican accent. (Which he doesn't--it's Bronx B-boys he strives to be down with, not yardies). The subtext is pernicious, though: not so much "to your own self be true" authenticity but "stick with your own kind" apartheid.

In this undeclared kulturkampf, UK garage fights back with ridim and song. Artful Dodger's "Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say 'Bo! Selector')" took dancehall slanguage to Number 2 in the Pop Charts. On the recent "Warm Up" EP, MCs Shy Cookie, Sweetie Irie and Spee reinvent the Englishness of canonical literature and period drama in the form of "Millenium Twist"---Dickensian dancehall starring an updated Fagin from the musical Oliver! instructing modern urchins how to duck 'n' dive Y2K stylee. The chorus goes "L.O.N.D.O.N, London Town/That's where we're coming from". The paradox of London dance culture is the way it combines a fierce sense of local identity with total open-ness to external influence: the one-way, amazingly still unreciprocated alliance with American R&B; the enduring ties with Jamaica; the import culture around US house 'n' garage. London's endless permutational flux also illustrates something that offers a partial solution to my quandary about how I could possibly love Rastafarian roots reggae so much. Somehow music, even when targeted at a very specific community and tailored to a precise and rather inflexible worldview, drifts out of the hands of those who "own" it and gets under the skin of those it was not intended for and whose world it does not "describe". It still may not "belong" to you, but strangely you can belong to it.

Monday, November 7, 2022

"version" and "versus" - dub and the science of remixology


Pulse, 1995

by Simon Reynolds

     Last year, two albums--"Muziq Vs The Auteurs" and
Massive Attack V Mad Professor's "No Protection"--won
critical plaudits with their two different takes on the same
concept: a reknowned remixer's drastic (per)versions of the
original artist's material.

     Massive Attack's languid trip hop is deeply informed by
reggae and sound-system culture, so it wasn't such a huge
leap for the band to invite one of its heroes, UK dub
producer Mad Professor, to rework the "Protection" album.
The Professor's treatments, while often extreme,
were sublimely sensitive to the spirit of Massive, and many
fans and critics reckon "No Protection" superior to the album
proper.  But tekno boffin Mike Paradinas of Muziq and wordy
songsmith Luke Haines of the Auteurs come from utterly
opposed aesthetic universes.  Haines' willingness to
subject his finely honed rock-lit to Muziq's merciless
mutilation seems masochistic (especially given
that Paradinas has never concealed his contempt for the
material he had to rework).

    In both cases, it's the "versus" in the title that's
significant. . In the early '80s, a remix meant an extended,
marginally more dance-friendly version of a pop
song.  But today, "remixing" usually means creating
an almost entirely new track which contains only tiny shards
and ghostly traces of the original. It's now the norm for
remixers to operate with an almost contemptous disregard for
the original work; in turn, their clients give the remixers
licence to deface and dismember. It's this adversarial
attitude on the part of remixer towards remixee that the word
"versus" evokes. Alluding to the reggae tradition of the 'soundclash'--
a contest between rival sound-systems--"versus' also chimes in with the
widely held belief that dub pioneers like King Tubby and
Lee Perry are the founding fathers of today's science of

    "Versus" is the subtext of so much of the most
challenging and vibrant musical activity of the mid-'90s.  In
the area of "post-rock" experimentalism, the last two years
have seen a spate of "remix" albums by bands like God, Scorn,
Main, Tortoise and Ui, each featuring a gaggle of guest
remixers.  Even Jon Spencer Blues' Explosion got in on the
action with its "Experimental Remixes" EP, wherein the
Explosion's live'n'smokin' R&B got seriously studio-warped by
Moby, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Wu Tang Clan's Genius,
U.N.K.L.E., and Beck & the Beasties' Mike D.

     You can also see the 'versus' concept lurking behind
 John Oswald's "Grayfolded" (where the plunderphonic
pioneer sampled improvisatory material from 100 live versions
of the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star", then wove it into a
seamless, ultra-kosmik uber-jam); behind Stereolab's "Crumb Duck" EP (in
which the band's playing was collaged and processed by
veteran avant-gardist Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound); and behind
Faust's comeback album "Rien", which was spliced together by experimentalist Jim O'Rourke out of live recordings of the group's reunion tour of America from
a few years earlier. O'Rourke is also working on a remix project for Mille Plateaux, where he's using the Frankfurt-based label's entire avant-techno roster as source material.

     And all the above is before you even begin taking into account
entire genres of contemporary dance music, like trip hop, house and
jungle, where the simultaneous release of  a bunch of  barely
recognisable remakes by several different remixers (four,
five, six, and more!) is a common occurrence, and the "re-remix"
can prolong a track's dancefloor currency to a year or longer.
Dance music has its own 'remix albums' featuring guest producers, like trip-hopper DJ Food's recent "Refried Food", or The Shamen's CD-worth of versions of the same song, "Move Any Mountain". (One version consisted of dissassembled components of the track, to enable the listener to construct their own remix). Dance also has the 'remix tribute' album, where instead of covering songs by the original artist (as in the rock tribute album), forgotten innovators like Chris & Cosey or Yellow Magic Orchestra are 'honored' by having their classics vandalised by their aesthetic progeny. 

     *         *         *         *         *

      Ironically, one of the few places this kind of remix-mania
isn't the rage is in Jamaica's dancehall reggae scene.
Ironically, because Jamaica was where "versus" began.   
 "King Tubby and Errol Thompson (Joe Gibbs' engineer) 
were the first remixers", claims Steve Barrow, A&R director 
of the reggae reissue label Blood & Fire and dub historian (he is
currently co-authoring "The Rough Guide to Reggae", set for
'97 publication by Penguin). "But dub didn't demolish the
original completely, whereas today the remix is a complete
remake--say, just a wisp of Mariah Carey's vocal over a
whole new rhythm track.  The ur-text of a dub is always the
original vocal version.

   "At first dubs were just called 'instrumentals', then they
started calling them 'versions'," Barrow continues.
"Gradually, more effects were added --echo, thunderclap, etc-
-and dubs got closer to what we now think of as a remix. By
1982 dub had run its course in Jamaica, it had become a
formula. But that was just at the point when dub techniques
were first being picked up by disco producers and used in

     According to Barrow, the "versus" in Massive Attack V
Mad Professor is a "take-off" of the "soundclash", an event 
where sound-systems competed to attract the majority of the audience to its end
of the hall or enclosure.  "In the early days of reggae, you
might have Kilimanjaro Vs Jah Love Music. Most Jamaican
dances featured just one sound, but in the ska days, you'd
get places where loads of sounds would meet and compete.
There's always been intense competition in Jamaica between
sound-systems--to get the best, most exclusive records (a.k.a
dubplates), to have the most powerful PA system, the best
sonic effects.  Cos that's the way to increase patrons and
gate-money, and to build up loyal followers".

     Later, "versus" became a sort of free-floating buzzword,
as with albums by Scientist (Overton Brown, a protege of King
Tubby). "With, say, 'Scientist Vs Prince Jammy', that's just a
concept, to recreate the old vibe. It's similar to the idea
of 'meets', as in 'King Tubby Meets The Aggrovators At the
Dub Station': that phrase describes the economic relationship
between the producer and the band, but in a more vibesy way.
It's just a more exciting way of describing the record than
'this is King Tubby working over a bunch of Bunny Lee

     The current revival of "versus" has taken the word from
its original context and used it to describe the modern ethos
of remixing, ie. the remixer is paid handsomely for
mutilating, maiming and mutating the client's original work
to the point of utter unrecognisability.  But dub still comes into
play, in so far as dub's bag of tricks -- dropping out the
voice and certain instruments, extreme use of echo, reverb
and delay in order to create an illusory spatiality, signal
processing, the addition of sound-effects--have
been dramatically expanded thanks to digital
recording and mixing techniques.

     The idea that early '70s dub is the origin of
remixology's science of sound-mutation is fervently embraced
by Kevin Martin, who put together the celebrated compilation
"Macro Dub Infection" ("Compilation of the Year" in the Village
Voice's 1995 critics' poll). Drawing on artists as diverse as
New Kingdom, 4 Hero,  Tricky, Tortoise and Laika, "Macro Dub Infection"
tracks the virus-like spread of dub ideas throughout '90s music culture,
contaminating everything from hip hop and jungle to avant-techno
and post-rock.

      Kevin Martin also leads not one but three experimental
bands, God, Ice and Techno-Animal. God is one of a number of
English post-rock outfits who've released "remix" albums.  On
"Appeal To Human Greed", God's jazz-core tumult is vivisected
and reassembled by avant-garde kinsmen such as Bill Laswell
and My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields. Drone-rockers Main
and hip hop noir unit Scorn put out "Ligature" and "Ellipsis"
respectively, long-players based on the same premise.
American avant-rockers have followed suite: Tortoise with the
"Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters" mini-LP, while Tortoise's
ubiquitous drummer/producer John McEntire is one of the guest
remixologists featured on Ui's "Unlike" CD  Why is there so
much interest in remixing? Is it just a knock-on effect of
rising interest in club-based and post-rave musics, itself a
bored response to the tired traditionalism of grunge'n'lo-fi
in America, and Britpop in the UK?  Or does it run a little

    "People have lost respect for the heart of the song,"
argues Martin.  "The song is no longer considered sacrosanct,
it's seen not as a finite entity, but a set of resources that can be
endlessly adapted and extended." Martin thinks this state of
affairs is way cool.  In fact, when he got Kevin Shields to
rework a God track, and hired jungle producers Spring Heel
Jack to remix "Heavy Water" for Techno-Animal's "Babylon
Seeker" EP, he "told them they could leave nothing of
the original if they wanted. They were astounded!"

     The subtext of "Macro Dub Infection", says Martin, is to
show "just how important the processing and treatments have become in modern
music. It's almost like musicians are accessories to the
process now.  You've got people doing great work who lack any
traditional instrumental skills"--Martin means sampler-
wizards and engineer/poets such as Tricky, Howie B,
jungle producers like Dillinja--"because the sampling and sequencing
programmes available enable them to rampage through the back
catalogue, the canon of past music, and create great things."

    Then there's relatively new technology like "hard disk
editing", of which Martin is a big fan: digital software
whereby musical information is chopped up, layered,
rearranged, processed through effects, all within the
"virtual space" of the computer, and to infinitesmal degrees
of intricacy.  What "hard disk editing" and
sampling/sequencing programmes like Cubase demonstrate is the
extent to which the techniques of remixology have ceased to
be a supplement to the original act of creativity. For better
or worse, remixology has infected the process of music-making
itself, with the result that there's no longer such a thing
as an 'definitive version' or a primal moment of creation.
It also means that "music has become a science, it's less
instinctive," admits Martin.  (The invention of
wordprocessing programs and the PC has had a similar effect on
creative writing).

     Ironically, Martin is only just embarking on his first
remix of someone's else music (he's reworked God tracks in
the past).  He's doing an Ice remix and Techno-Animal remix
of the Palace single "More Brother Rides", at the invitation
of the band's UK label Domino.

      "I'm toying with keeping some elements of the track,
'cos I like it, but it is tempting to obliterate it totally.
I think the Techno-Animal version is going to be more
devastating: I want to make it robotic-sounding, so I'll
probably just keep the vocal and highly process it. With the
Ice remix, I mislaid the instrumental contributions by the
other members of Ice, so--after panicking!-- I pitched down the vocal,
reversed the bass-line and accentuated the rhythm by looping
certain drum-fills. The idea is to turn a very cerebral song
into something more physical and hypnotic.  What interests me
about this Palace project is that it's the collision of state-of-art
studio techniques with a simple, heartfelt song grounded in a
rootsy, traditional genre.There's something about Will Oldham's
voice that made me think of roots reggae singer Horace Andy,
and I'm into the idea of playing on that, putting his nasal,
country voice into a post-dub context, framing it with music
that's like a hybrid of Mo' Wax-style  trip hop and PiL's "Metal

    Despite "Macro Dub Infection", Martin doesn't necessarily
agree with Steve Barrow that Jamaica is the absolute and
undisputed origin of remixology. Echo effects were being
explored up by all kinds of artists in the psychedelic era,
from Miles Davis to Yoko Ono and Can.  Even before that,
Martin says, the early '60s "English Phil Spector", Joe Meek, "was
doing weird mixes of songs, while Brian Wilson was recording
peculiar alternate takes. It's just that the record companies
wouldn't put them out".

       Dub's concept of the "soundclash" does, however,
inform Martin's latest project "Techno-Animal Vs Reality",
which is soon to be recorded for the Mille Plateaux label.
 Five guest artists--ambient noir-ist Thomas Koner,
trip-hopper DJ Vadim, Sonic Boom (ex-Spacemen 3, currently of
E.A.R), New York dub collective Word Sound, and ambient-
jungle producers 4 Hero--will supply Martin and his partner
Justin Broadrick with  "minimal material". Techno-
Animal will then add rhythm tracks.  The results will be
handed back to the guest artist, who will do a final version;
Techno-Animal will also do its own version of each track.
As such, "Techno-Animal Vs Reality" will combine the
antagonistic aspect of "versus" and the collaborative
implications of "meets".

     *         *         *         *         *         *

If remixology and dub-derived studio-as-instrument sorcery
have rejuvenated left-field rock, there are times when you
have to wonder if remix-mania hasn't gone too far. Is there perhaps a
case for a neo-conservative stance on remixing: ie. that it's
time to bring back remixes that enhance the original or bring out
hidden possibilities, rather than dispense with the
blueprint altogether?

     As well as being a fad, you also have to wonder if
remixology isn't just a giant scam some of the time. There's
a story, which may or may not be apocryphal, concerning
Richard "Aphex Twin" James--a highly sought-after remixer,
even though he's infamous for obliterative revamps that bear
scant resemblance to the original. Hired by a famous band's
record company to do an overhaul, James
agreed, then promptly forget all about the assignment. On the
appointed day, a courier arrived chez Aphex to pick up the
DAT of the remix.  Initially taken aback, James quickly
recovered his composure and scuttled upstairs, rifled through
his massive collection of demos and unfinished tracks, picked
one at random and handed it to the messenger.  Band and
record label both professed themselves highly pleased with
his reinterpretation!

     True or not, many of Aphex's remixes might as well be
all-new compositions. The scale of devastation is in ratio
to his estimation of the band: Curve and Jesus Jones got
absolutely decimated, Saint Etienne (of whom he said "I
think they're a good pop group but I don't actually like
them, if you know what I mean") got severely mutated, but
Seefeel got loving, respectful treatment. For his gorgeous
remixes on that band's "Time to Find Me", James retained most
of Seefeel's original track, albeit considerably rearranged.

     Recently, Aphex Twin has largely dropped out of the
remixing game (although he did rework Gavin Bryars' "The
Sinking of the Titanic", with mixed results).  But James'
buddy Luke Vibert, a.k.a. Wagon Christ, has stepped
into the breech, becoming one of the busiest, most in-demand
remixologists of last year. Not only can he dish it out, he can take it too: 
witness the brilliant Wagon Christ EP "Redone", which features an extremist jungle
version of one Vibert track by none other than Richard James.

     Of all the genres of modern dance, jungle has taken remix-
mania the furthest. As a result, jungle has a fluid, hazy-
round-the-edges notion of authorship. Often, a track will be
popularly attributed to its remixer; generally, remixes are
so dramatically different from the originals that this seems
only just. One example is Omni Trio's "Renegade Snares",
often regarded as a Foul Play track, owing to their remix and
subsequent "VIP" re-remix. Ironically, both versions are
examples of sympathetic remixing at its best: each
dramatically intensifies the thunder'n'joy of the original,
turbo-charging the breakbeats while retaining the tracks'
hooks and melodic refrains, albeit in shuffled order.  Appearing live,
Foul Play have also been known to "play" their masterly
remix of Hyper-On Experience's "Lords of the Null Lines" as
if it were their own track (which in a sense, it is).

     Jungle has introduced some new twists to remixology.
There's the "VIP Remix" (basically a marketing buzzword), and
there's the sequel, on which the original artist re-
interprets his own work.  Metalheads (the name Goldie used to
operate under) put out the "dark-side" classic "Terminator"
in late 1992, then followed it up half-a-year later with
"Terminator II".  Such is the track's repute, a full three
years on, that "Terminator 3" is due out any week now,
confusingly released via another alter-ego, Rufige Cru.
Goldie's ally Doc Scott has just done the same thing to his
'92 classic "Here Come The Drumz", which  has just been 'resurrected' in the
form of "Drumz '95".  Here, the only remnant of the original,
barely recognisable because of the extreme digital processing
bought to bear, is a tiny fragment of Chuck D's vocal:

     *         *         *         *         *         *

Posing questions about authorship and attribution, remixing
also problematises the notion of copyright. If, in the age of
"versus", the remix is tantamount to an all-new track,
why should the original artist get all the royalties? At the
moment, copyright remains with the original artist, and the
remixer gets a flat fee. (Sometimes artists will "swap"
remixes of each others' work). But Kevin Martin says he can
"see it getting to the point where percentage points are
added to the contract, so that the remixer gets royalties.
Then again, in jungle particularly, so much of the 'original'
music is sample-based, that you could argue that neither the
artist nor the remixer are 'creators' in the traditional
sense. It's more the case that both the artist and the
remixer act as 'filters' for a sort of cultural flow".

     In this vision, beats and riffs, textures and
atmospherics, circulate in the sort of "data ocean" described
by David Toop in his book "Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient
Sound and Imaginary Worlds".  Creativity operates on the
macro-level of the entire genre, not the individual artist, a
phenomenon Brian Eno calls "scenius", as opposed to "genius".
The deejay's role in all this is acting as yet another filter
for the information-flow (of course, in jungle and techno, most
"artists" are also professional deejays). The turntable "selector"
constructs the raw material of tracks into a meta-track, a
"journey" for the listener, or, with less propulsive genres
like ambient, an "environment". 

     "Some deejaying is already live remixing," says Kevin Martin. "Not just in the linking and layering together of different records, but in the use of
effects: deejays have 'kill switches' that can drop out
entire frequencies for periods, and some advanced decks have
sampling equipment with two-second memory and an array of
sonic processes."

     In dance cultures like jungle, house and techno, the
"versus" concept is not so important as another dub reggae
term, "version". This was the idea of endlessly re-using the
same drum & bass grooves as the basis for different songs,
so that you'd get entire albums based around a particular
"riddim". In the jungle scene, "version" has gone
haywire, fractal. One particular breakbeat, called "Amen"
because it's taken from a funk track by The Amen Brothers,
has featured in over 2000 tracks and is still being chopped
up and processed.  Hundreds of tracks feature an instantly
recognisable hiccup --a sped-up snatch of James Brown yelling
"you're bad, sister!"--as a convulsive percussive tic. A 21st
Century blend of cyber-dub and digi-funk, jungle has set up
an anarcho-communistic free-for-all in which (musical)
property is theft. In this new world order, everybody is
"versioning" everybody else, and music is about the
undeclared war of all "versus" all.

'Muziq Vs The Auteurs' (Astralwerks)
Massive Attack V Mad Professor -- 'No Protection' (Circa, UK
King Tubby, The Observer Allstars & The Aggrovators ---'King
Tubby's Special, 1973-1976' (Trojan)
Faust -- 'Rien' (Table of the Elements)
John Oswald -- 'Grayfolded' (Swell/Artifact)
Stereolab/Nurse With Wound -- 'Crumb EP' (Duophonic). One
track appears on the Stereolab compilation "Refried
'Macro Dub Infection, Volume One' (Caroline)
God-- 'Appeal To Human Greed' (Big Cat)
Techno-Animal --'Babylon Seeker' EP (Blue Angel Records)
Main --- 'Ligature' (Beggars Banquet)
Scorn -- 'Ellipsis' (Scorn)
Tortoise --'Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters' (Thrill Jockey)
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion ---'Experimental Remixes'
Ui-- 'Unlike: Remixes Vol 1' (Lunamoth)
Aphex Twin Remixes:
   --Seefeel's "pure, impure", released in America as part of
'Polyfusia' (Too Pure/Astralwerks)
   --Saint Etienne's "Who Do You Think Youre Are", on "Hobart
Paving" EP (Heavenly)
   --Gavin Bryars' "Raising the Titanic: The Aphex Twin
Mixes" (Point)
Wagon Christ Remixes:
   --remixes of RHC, Ruby and Project One on "The Real Trip:
Further Self Evident Truths" (Rising High USA)
   --"Redone EP" (Rising High USA)
Jungle, trip-hop and house remixology:
---"Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Re-Remix)", on Omni Trio's
"Music For The Next Millenium" (Sm:)e Communications)
---"I Seen A Man Die (4 Hero NW2 Gangsta Move)" and "4 Hero
Reinforced", on Scarface's "I Seen A Man Die" EP (Virgin,
---Remixes by Wagon Christ, Autechre, Dr Rockit, Fila
Brazilia and others on DJ Food's "Refried Food" (Ninja Tune)

---Green Velvet "Flash Remixes" (Relief) --- 7 versions total on one double 12 inch pack, and another three versions out in the UK too! Is this a record?