Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble’s “In C Remixed”

During my computer hiatus, I decided to listen to other versions of “In C.” My search lead me to this marvelous 2 CD set from Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble et al released in 2009. Major newspapers in New York, Washington and Chicago named “In C Remixed” as a top ten classical music CD for 2009. The CD includes 18 remixes by David Lang, Zoe Keating, Todd Reynolds and others plus the original recording. First off, although last on the CD set, GVSU New Music Ensemble performs a highly satisfying 20 minute rendition of “In C.” Listen to this version before listening to the remixes. I just started in on the first few tracks, which were remixes. Then I listened to the GVSU ensemble’s version. The remixes resonate wonderfully against the original.

Over multiple listenings to the Ensemble’s version, I heard some interesting orchestral ideas that I just love. The choice of instruments was fantastic with strings, woodwinds, brass, mallets, piano, occasional well-placed percussion. The musicians demonstrated a powerful mastery of their instruments. There were numerous places where groups of three patterns were held for a time before moving on. Some wonderful layering of the long tones in pattern 6 and 8 with the stabs and space in Patterns 7,9 and 10. When the flute came in on the single note Pattern 15, the entire ensemble decrescendoed together. Wonderful idea to have a higher pitched or louder instrument use one of the single note pattern to signal a change. Dynamics, in general, were spectacular throughout the piece.

The GVSU New Music Ensemble made excellent use of the sustained single notes of Patterns 19 and 21. These two notes are on either side of the long tone pattern that introduces the modal shift with the F#. One of the notes is an F# and the other is a high G. These two notes are played on a low bass and a high piccolo sounding instrument. The contrast in this half step interval over an octave apart played on such contrasting timbres was a highlight moment in the recording.

The choice to play eighth notes instead of dotted quarters on Patterns 22 through 26 gave a whole different feel to a section that I think of as lulling and as a respite from the 16th note patterns that precede and follow. While the waltzy feel remained it was rather like being cocooned in a sound vortex as the group moved through these five patterns. It would be interesting to know the reason for this choice. It created some cognitive dissonance for me as I like the more gentle float of the dotted quarters. And the choice did create a powerful spinning that launched into the patterns preceding Pattern 35.

Pattern 35 was handled jauntily at first on wah-wah brass that sounded like drunks singing a line real loud over their companion’s chorus. It felt tossed out into the ring. I really loved the sound of that moment. In general, the patterns were introduced vividly and then blended into the whole with occasional echoes later. Each pattern was honored and interwoven. The pacing and energy of this version of “In C” is extraordinary.

Then there are the remixes!

Each and every one of the remixes is a gem in itself. My intention was to pick two to tell you about and that was hard to do. As a matter of a fact, I couldn’t do it. So I will tell you quickly about three of them.

Zoe Keating is the lone female remixer. And this is a comment on the genre itself as it is dominated by men. The first thing to notice in her “Zinc (after T. Riley’s ‘In C’)” is how she grabs the listener with space – wide, open space tinged with high metallic tones. Then long tones fill in and an eighth note ostinata swoops in. This grows into an “In C” style tapestry of eighth notes set against long tones. Instrumentation is various strings, mallets and piano. My favorite part is where she brings in the eighth note pulse close the end of the piece. We are so used to hearing that pulse at the beginning of “In C” that it tickled me to hear it announced later in the piece.

Todd Reynold’s remix reminds me to tell you to listen to this CD through good headphones to reap the neural benefits. WOW! I love to listen to Todd’s version. It starts off with a wonderful aural orientation to the sonic space in your head with contrasting high, roving clackity-clacks and deep booms. This bed of sound moves to the outer regions of the space and there is this large openness in the middle, then he starts parading the patterns up the middle of the space and playing with them. Finally, there is a swirl up the middle. I loved the moment of silence before the final minute of swirling voices. You will feel like your brain has been massaged if you deeply listen to this remix through good headphones.

And then there is “Counting In C” a remix by Jad Abumrad of RadioLab fame. The baby breath coos in the beginning were a little disconcerting until the gentle shush of the adult reassured me. The use of what I am calling the “this old man” pattern, fits nicely with the nursery rhyme story that evolves as the child and mother count together and separately. The remix is sweet and cool at the same time. Then the piece grows ominous in tone with counting over marching boots. I am still uncovering all the layers in this one. This is the type of story-telling soundscape I aspire to create. And I want to listen to RadioLab.

Where have I been?

Oh, yeah…In C.

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