Title: Magic + Omega
Release Date: 04/23/2011
Label: Enough Records
License: CC BY-NC-SA
I’m something of a fan of the cultural that has grown up around sampling and remixing. I go back to the dance mixes and remixes that started coming out in the 1980’s, all the way to the current use of sampling as a means towards transformation and expression.
The fact is, the concept of remixing and transformation actually has a long-standing precedent in other artist forms, especially writing. It’s not uncommon for a poet or a writer to borrow the words of another poet or writer and use them in a completely different context. Or, sometimes, even take a substantial portion of a piece of a work, make enough changes to it to render the work with a new different meaning.
There is also a precedent for this in Japanese Anime. It’s common (or at least it used to be common) for a work to pass through several artists hands, and have the drawings modified, or the text changed. Often the end work bears only a superficial resemblance to the original.
I’m even something of a fan of the mashup style that a number of DJ’s and producers have released over the past decade or so (I think it’s a bit longer than a decade now). And then there is also the Anime Music Videos, that when done well, definitely constitute an art form in and of themselves.
So, it should be something of a surprise that I don’t quite know what to make of Varia‘s Magic + Omega. The description of the release is “…mashing sampled quotes with electro, hiphop, disco, rock and 80s hits into regurgitated electro disco idm or ambient tracks…”
And while the release definitely succeeds at being accurate to the description, I can find nothing to really recommend it. The opening 35 minute long Magic is just a series of mashups, and mostly of music that I don’t have any desire to hear a second time having managed to escape the 80’s mostly unscathed the first time.
And the second part of the release, Omega doesn’t get any better. The only saving grace is that it is at least broken up into 3-6 minute long pieces, so when I found part that I just couldn’t take any more, I could skip to the next track.
I think the problem here is that Jari Pitkanen and Juho Hietala (both demoscene veterans with long track records documenting their talents) are actually working towards a goal that doesn’t work well in an audio only format. The Varia website prominently features a video that is a mashup of scenes from 1990 The Bronx Warriors with a soundtrack of one of their mashups. I’ve watched that video three or four times already, each time watching details of the music being sequenced to the video footage a little more carefully, catching different details.
So, I think that’s the deeper problem, and possibly solution, for Varia’s work. Listening to the music alone is like listening to a bunch of musical cues for a movie or TV show all mashed up, trying to make them cohesive by putting a layer of a beat to it. The music cues though are small and insubstantial, so they can’t hold the whole of a larger piece. Most of the time when a soundtrack is produced for a movie or TV show, the cues are taken and re-worked, fleshed out into compositions in such a manner that you hear the cues you are familiar with, but they have a larger context that works just for listening, and is even better when you know how they are used in the movie or TV show.
As I said above, I watched the video on their website several times. It really is excellent. And I feel that is where Varia should be going: producing combined video and audio mashups. That seems to be a much more natural form for this style of work, it feels more complete.