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.
Thanks for the review.
Sorry it wasn’t a more positive review. I actually do like some of your other work.
Hello SndChaser. I found your review quite accurate, though the best of the songs without a doubt is the first one: magic. Two things that caught my ear that were not in your review however and that I am a little hesitant to bring up because I do not like contributing negative feedback are: Firstly, the quality of the samples and the mastering (in my opinion) are not good. Arguably some people may like this style but I find it hard on the ears and this takes away from enjoying the flow and the groove of the music. Secondly and I may be mistaken on this but I am operating under the assumption that Varia did NOT acquire the legal release for every sample that was used, that it was illegal even under Creative Commons Law to sample from their works. If I am wrong about this please feel free to correct me.
First, thanks for the thoughtful feedback.
I didn’t comment on the quality of the original sources used because it can be a stylistic choice. Take, for example, Moby’s Play release. All of the old blues recordings used in that weren’t cleaned up for the cleanest sound, and Moby has stated that it was intentional to keep the sound of the lacquer the recordings were transferred from.
The question of the samples themselves turns into a much more complicated question.
Based on U.S. Copyright law, their use of samples would likely fall outside of the “fair use” clause. However, it might be considered to be transformed enough to make it acceptable. (Although the media companies have, and continue to do everything in their power to narrow the interpretations of most clauses of the copyright to make it more difficult for this kind of work to exist without paying homage to them.)
But, there is another, very big complicating point to the copyright / intellectual property side of the issue: what body or bodies of copyright law apply in this case? Juho lives in the Netherlands, and Jari is from Finland. And where did they source these recordings? U.S. copies, Finnish copies, the Netherlands? Despite what the media conglomerates would like us to believe, there isn’t a single body of international Copyright law… So, without a deeper knowledge and understanding of the laws in all the involved countries, I would be hard pressed to discuss this issue beyond a cursory glance. Which I felt was something that I needn’t go into for the same reason you hesitated to bring it up: I was already stating I didn’t care for the release.
Thanks again for bringing up some excellent points on this release, Jason.
The general public now makes the decisioneverything that it would like for entertainment, not the main studios and distributors. At the time you add to that distribution on the web and news websites online, from rumor to whole videos. It’s a really brand new world. A lot of it really good, some not.
To the contrary, this is my favourite track of the release. Over 30 minutes of beats, synth pads, clicks, disco influences, mashed up with recent styles – I just cannot not like it.
Yeah, I think for me it’s more the source material the release is based on, as opposed to the additional elements. Since I lived with (suffered through) a lot of this music when it first came out, any attempt to transform it into something new has to reduce the original to the point where I almost don’t recognize it. 🙂 Definitely not what Varia was going for in this case.
I didn’t state a counter-example in my review, and I did have one that readily came to mind Universal Materials – This is the Macrophage is based on a sample from a Yes track (South Side of the Sky, I believe, but it might be another track from the Fragile album). With the layering / mashup / transformation it’s almost as if the base loop didn’t exist in it’s original context for me anymore. In fact, I tried to nail down exactly which few seconds it was without success.
So, yeah, there is something of a bias. But I also just don’t quite see a lot of direction in the tracks on this release… But, I did understand the concepts in other contexts – like the video.
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