Ricardo Villalobos/Max Loderbauer – Re: ECM

re-ecm

This review was based on a brief press release and pre-release CDs without a cover. Since the publication on The Liminal ECM kindly sent me the finished set which includes interesting notes by Villalobos/Loderbauer which I wish I’d been able to read before writing this. I’m tempted to rewrite, but am not sure I’ve got the time.

The title sounds like the subject line of an office memo. Those three letters, ECM, and their referent, Edition of Contemporary Music, signify a distinct musical universe, though one that has changed and developed over its four decade existence. The title’s very brevity implies a certain playfulness. Indeed, a sense of serious play is what these 17 tracks may ultimately represent. The outcome of Villalobos and Loderbauer’s attentions suggests a number of different descriptions. Remix is an obvious and inadequate classification, closely related to the narratives of dance music, an area which ECM has mostly chosen not to explore (though there are exceptions, more of which in a moment). Assault, transgression or collision are more bracing descriptions (some of which might originate from the direction of the outraged ECM purist). Let’s settle, for the time being, on interpretations and try to ignore the preciousness of the term – though it’s a characteristic that the label is sometimes accused of by its detractors.

That perception may be one of the reasons for label founder Manfred Eicher’s approval and release of this project or much more likely he was curious to see what would happen – after all, ECM has always an experimental label. Though its focus has been on acoustic music, with an album usually taking at most three days to record, there are examples of artists exploring electronica, dance and associated production values: Jon Hassell’s Power Spot (1986) was co-produced by Brian Eno, Nils Petter Molvaer explored the interstices of electric period Miles Davis and dance music with Khmer (1997), and John Surman’s solo albums are duets between saxophones and synthesizers.

It’s notable that Villalobos/Loderbauer have chosen to focus on only a small number of ECM artists and that most of their choices are fairly obscure: Wolfert Brederode, Alexander Knaifel and Paul Giger will be unfamiliar names to most. Otherwise the pair have chosen five Christian Wallumrød compositions as well as single pieces by Miroslav Vitous, Paul Motian and Louis Sclavis. Perhaps the very unfamiliarity of most of the source material makes it easier to experience as fresh and distinct work.

Some of the techniques on Re: ECM appear comparable to the Duchampian readymade L.H.O.O.Q. For example, there’s a gestural approach in evidence on their version of Bennie Maupin’s ‘Ensenada’ (The Jewel In The Lotus, 1974). The original is a contemplative, sun-dappled tone poem which almost obliterates its source under a continous spray of sonic slurry. It’s an odd, unsettling, but ultimately intriguing treatment. Similarly ‘Reemergence’ sounds uncomfortably like a drumkit alone in a room tortured by unwanted physical vibrations.

Where Villalobos’s take on minimal techno was very much concerned with rhythm, the duo’s engagement with ECM frequently places meter further back in the mix, often using percussion to create mood and a sense of stasis as much as forward momentum. The almost 12 minute long ‘Resvete’ is a case in point: it’s an extended lacuna haunted by distant cymbals, marshland glitch and otherworldly vocals. Exceptions include ‘Retimeless’ which applies a plodding beat to John Abercrombie that recalls the stumbling gait of an exhausted man, ‘Recat’ which recasts Christan Wallumrød as a light-hearted brushed-snare shuffle and ‘Reannounce’ which sees a blurred, gargling tribesman endlessly tracing the same circular path. Indeed, the tempos are generally funereal and the atmospheres lugubrious.

So, two antithetical approaches to music in collision. Is there any sex in this potentially Ballardian car crash? No sweaty funk for sure, but there’s a certain, determined sexiness to the evident and ongoing will to experiment. On paper the result could have been an explosion of anti-matter or a damp squib. In reality, it’s an intriguing affair that’s clearly the outcome of a variety of different techniques. Whether it’s better appreciated by those already acquainted with the original material, or the exact opposite, will be up to each listener to decide. The very idea of an ECM remix double album may be enough to both intrigue and repel in equal measure, but anyone wondering where Villalobos’s head is at currently should certainly investigate: the source material here provides a significantly greater degree of depth, variety and, ultimately, mystery when compared to Villalobos’s own albums. That these are treatments rather than originals may essentially only add to the seductiveness of the work.


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