When you approach a remix album, you really shouldn’t be on the lookout for cohesion. Philip Glass’s compositions go way back to the ’60s and were recorded by a variety of ensembles, so that’s a lot of ground to cover. When you take the roster of remixers into account, that will throw things for an even bigger loop. The common threads between the works of a minimalist composer like Glass can assure us that a sense of unity probably won’t be by accident, but the who’s who of this double album is a noodle scratcher. The idea for REWORK_Philip Glass remixed came from a conversation Glass had with, of all people, Beck. Yep, the loser with two turntables and a microphone. Together with producer Hector Castillo, Glass and Beck hatched a plan to assemble various remixes of Glass’s work to celebrate his 75th birthday. It doesn’t seem to be an appropriate way to mark a milestone in one’s life, but it is reverent. Here is a chance for all of these DJs and musicians to grab an iconic work from the minimalism cannon and tweak it just so.
The word “remix” will inevitably be linked to the word “techno” in some minds, and that’s not a perception to let go of just yet. Some of REWORK_Philip Glass remixed plays like late night dance clubs, but not all of it. Other tracks are eerie and nebulous, sometimes riding on the faintest pulse. One track has all of these moods rubbing against each other. Taken on a track-by-track basis, it’s all pretty engaging. Taken as an overall package, it holds up surprisingly well. There’s no flawless sense of cohesion, but do you really need one? It’s a double album, live a little.
As far as double albums go, REWORK_Philip Glass remixed isn’t very long. If it were sixty seconds shorter, it would have no problem fitting on one compact disc. But the list of names is a full one, featuring Amon Tobin, Tyondai Braxton, Cornelius, Dan Deacon, Johann Johannsson, Nosaj Thing, Memory Tapes, Silver Alert, Pantha du Prince, My Great Ghost, Peter Broderick, and the previously mentioned Beck. Looking through all these names, you may wonder if you can hear Philip Glass himself shine through on any of these. That’s a quality that depends on the track-by-track approach. Some numbers sound like lightly manipulated Philip Glass while others have more in common with the musical identity of the remixer. The former is not as conservative as you might dread and the latter is not as liberal as you might fear.
Amon Tobin’s industrious drum and bass twisting of “Warda’s Whorehouse Inside Out” sounds more like something from one of his albums than the Glass original, and this is not a bad thing. It’s a form of resurrection, I’d say. Giving new life to something that might not have needed it, but it sure is neat to see it happen. Tyondai Braxton has a decent 50-50 thing going on “Rubric”, sounding like Battles commissioning a piece from Glass. The endless arpeggios that drove my music theory class crazy have become protracted pieces of a puzzle that relies on the melodic gifts of steel drums. My Great Ghost drop a pinch of disco into “Music for Twelve Parts, Part 1” as does Memory Tapes to “Floe ’87” and Pantha du Prince to “Mad Rush Organ”. Nosaj Thing spins “Knee 1” into none-too-subtle trip-hop while Cornelius barely touches the opening theme to “Glassworks”. And anyone with a taste for electronic or minimalist music already understands the big difference between laziness and restraint.
Roughly 25% of the album is in the hands of Beck. So if any listeners are unfamiliar with his remixing abilities, and applying those skills to the works of a famous minimalist composer at that, they can assured that he makes the moment count. Over nearly 21 minutes, “NYC: 73 – 78” takes you from an X-Files beginning, through an echoey tunnel headed towards a growing light, then takes a dark detour through dancey undergrounds before dropping you off in Enoland. When you click and drag the cursor on your sound file around, it’s pretty incredible to think it’s all part of one song. I’ll shield myself before saying that I enjoy this more than anything from Modern Guilt.
Philip Glass appears to remix very easily. Nothing from REWORK_Philip Glass remixed feels like an aggressively forced match made in hell (not taking various opinions of remixes and minimalism into account). It all pours down easily, with enough of variance in sound to remind you that there are many hands on deck. If it’s not one of the top electronic/DJ releases of the year, it at least manages to sidestep the problems inherent in some crossover projects.