REWORK_Philip Glass Remixed

    Philip Glass has spent the past 50 years writing symphonies, operas, musical theater, chamber music and film scores. His stark minimalism and general avant-garde tendencies — a mixture of electronic, classical, and rock  — has been called controversial and oblique. But despite his antagonistic relationship with the casual listener, Glass is the preeminent composer of the last century.

    Which is all a long way of saying that altering Glass’s work must be intimidating and that trying to improve on the work of the premier composer of the last century would take serious cajones. Beck, it seems, has very serious cajones. The singer/songwriter/Glass-superfan spearheaded REWORK_Philip Glass Remixed, a tribute album consisting solely of contemporary producers’ reimaginations of Glass’s work. With Glass’s explicit approval, Beck coopted 11 other producers to make remixes of Glass songs. Of course, “remix” has a loose interpretation, so there’s a variety of different kinds of reimagination happening here. Memory Tapes, for example, completely reinvents “Floe 87” — only occasionally returning to Glass’ original melody and making the whole thing sound essentially like a Justice song. Then there’s Cornelius, who takes the piano track “Openings” and simply plays it an octave lower.

    Nosaj Thing gave himself perhaps the biggest challenge, attacking “Knee 1,” originally made up solely of vocal tracks of repeating numbers. On the remix, however, Nosaj adds a kick drum, a synth  and a barrage of other new instruments, relegating the numbers to the track’s periphery. And of course there’s Beck’s contribution, “NYC: 73-78,” a 20-minute odyssey made of minute-long snippets of different Glass songs woven into a cohesive whole.

    The remixes on REWORK, though full of fingerprints from their respective producers, maintain a reverence for Glass without slipping into obsequious prostration. More importantly, most of these tracks (with the exception of Memory Tapes’ disappointing effort) are Glassian — the sounds producing synesthetic visions of colors or shapes to create an experience very much akin to watching a film. “Etoile Polaire” suddenly shifts from ambient electronic wails to a scene from a delightful 80s cop show, so vivid you can basically smell the mustache wax. On the first track, “12 Parts-Part 1,” the steady bass, choppy vocal sample and plunky, frantic keyboard soundtrack some familiar solo night drive — streetlights blurring in the rain-drenched rearview. This one takes you places. (9/10)

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