Artist: Cousin Silas
Release Date: 2017 Jan 2
License: CC BY-NC-ND
Label: We Are All Ghosts
Cousin Silas: Recrudescence is possibly the most curiously titled work that I’ve ever come across. However, as is usual with all Cousin Silas releases, there is a method to the madness, and this one is no different.
Cousin Silas: Recrudescence
Recrudescence is defined as: “a new outbreak after a period of abatement or inactivity” by Merriam-Webster. The dictionary goes further to explain:
Recrudescence derives from the Latin verb recrudescere, meaning “to become raw again” (used, for example, of wounds). Ultimately, it can be traced back to the Latin word for raw,” which is “crudus.” (If you suspect that “crude” is also derived from “crudus,” you are correct; another well-known descendant is “cruel.”) In its literal sense, “recrudescence” is a medical word denoting a renewed outbreak of a disease. In extended use, it most often describes the return of an undesirable condition, such as a war or a plague, or the return of an undesirable idea.
Of course, I cannot think of a reason that one should think of a Cousin Silas work as “…the return of an undesirable condition…” It would seem that Cousin Silas is playing a bit of a self-deprecating joke on his many fans. So Just what is recrudescence in the Cousin Silas world?
Randomized, Re-mixed, Re-invented
In fact, this is a series of “remixes” by Cousin Silas, done in his own, unique way.
There are many artists that struggle with the concept of remixing. In some cases, remixer’s take an easy approach: throw a few effects on a track, put a beat in a few places, chop up some parts, etc. and treat the track like a new song, even if the level of transformation is questionable. That kind of work has gien a negative impression to many artists, especially in the ambient field. On the other hand, there are times when someone will remix a work and transform it in such a way as to lend a different perspective to the artists original intention.
Cousin Silas is a sonic explorer. He’s decided to take remixing in a different direction. Instead of taking the tracks as he had originally released them and manipulating them, he took the individual tracks from the multi-track masters and re-assembled them using a process that obscured their origins. Simply explained: he put backing tracks into one folder, and lead tracks into another folder. The file names were numbered to obscure their origin.
It was a semi-random process by which he re-assembled the pieces. Selecting backing tracks and lead tracks and pulling them into his audio editor. Picking pieces until he had tracks that worked together, and sequenced in a manner that was pleasing to listen to. Further mixing and audio effects were added to make the results more interesting and appealing.
The process of using his individual tracks like Lego building blocks has it’s advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, the eight pieces on Recrudescence have the feeling of being totally new Cousin Silas works, despite their origin. The depth of Cousin Silas’s catalog has much to do with this: it would be a herculean task to know all the parts of every album released by Cousin Silas. And, it is more complicated by these original tracks are in a different context, mixed in a different manner.
But, the essence of this release is Cousin Silas producing Cousin Silas works. All the detail that Cousin Silas puts into his work: the balanced instruments, the swooping guitar lines, the gorgeously simple piano lines, the balanced drones that invite the listener to a new place. It’s all there, and it all feels extremely familiar. But it’s also unfamiliar and new. Even if you think you’ve identified where a line or a part comes from, it’s likely to not turn out the way you expect.
This is how Cousin Silas has envisioned renewing these pieces, and it works exceptionally well.
Despite the fact that this recording works so well as a Cousin Silas release, there are a few points that weigh against it. First is the feeling I get of a missed opportunity. Part of the idea of remixing a piece of music is to gain a different perspective, a different interpretation. That happens when artists engage in a dialog through their art. It is something that has been going on for centuries. By not works with other artists on a project like this, the possibility of an extra dimension is lost.
The other part is the feeling that there was a lack of vision in this work. An artist re-interpreting his own work often has a reason, a vision for doing so. I didn’t feel that with this work. The pieces are simply titled Part 1 through Part 8. There is no additional context, there doesn’t appear to be any vision that went into these works. It was more like an academic exercise.
It’s a bit ironic, when I first heard this work, it seemed to be a neat concept. Getting to play Legos with your own work is something that many artists can only wish to do. But as I thought about it, it became a bit less appealing. Oh sure, there are games to play with this work, like figuring out where different parts came from (I think I can identify a few — but searching for them in my collection of twenty five Silas albums has proven frustrating). But this work lacks a vision. It is remixing for the sake of remixing. There isn’t a context, purpose or vision. I still feel this is a missed opportunity: working with other artists to produce a series of remixes with a unifying theme would have been more interesting.
Still, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from listening to it, Cousin Silas fan or not. It’s an interesting examination of what is possible with modern technology. And the pieces are a nice listen and work well on repeated play.