Philip Glass' Rework: Re-Invention At The Speed of Glass

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I generally have been disappointed with so-called "remix" albums. Only a handful I have heard display any interpretation or insight into the music being entrusted to the hands of said DJs and remix-focused studio engineers.


When I heard about Philip Glass' project with none other than Beck, I grew hopeful and even excited. I mean... both Glass and Beck have prodigious recorded output, and one thing they share in common is a fairly high standard for quality.Thus, they wouldn't have gone to the trouble of making a limited edition 2 LP set on 180-gram vinyl--including a limited run of 500 glass-clear copies, sold through the artist's website--if the project wasn't pretty stellar.


Glass' intent for the release was to begin exploring ways to expand his listening audience and ensure ongoing interest in his work for generations to come.I think he has accomplished his goal with this release.


All the music contained within has a new flavor, oftentimes mixed with quirky  beats, sound effects, vocals and rhythms not in the original performances. However, at the end of the day the tracks bear the distinctive imprint of Philip Glass' music.Thus, the title, "Rework__" is very much appropriate: these works have been re-thunk and re-interpreted, not simply remixed for dance-minded night club patrons.


For comparison's sake, check out the Radiohead remix album from 2011--TKOL RMX 1234567--which to my ear almost universally fails simply due to the lack of imagination from the DJs tasked with remixing.There, they just sample bits of the original music and mostly just bring everything down to a lowest common denominator of dance music-lite beats--they completely miss the underlying essence of Radiohead's intent to deconstruct standard rhythmic approaches in popular music.


To that, maybe it is an unfair comparison given the repetitive nature of much of Philip Glass' repertoire, which might lend itself more easily--again, perhaps--to complete reinterpretation (I reserve the right to retract this statement).Whatever the case, my favorite pieces on this new album are the ones that take the music to markedly new places, while retaining some Glass-ian essence.  


For example,"Music In 12 Parts" by My Great Part kicks off the album with haunting Glass pulsation. By the time you get to Cornelius' rework of the "Opening from Glassworks" the listener is well entranced and conditioned to appreciate the lovely variation and themes presented from his reinvention. It reminds me no less of Brian Eno's reconstruction of Pachabel's Canon in D Major on his landmark 1975 release Discreet Music -- where you can "hear" the underlying original work as your subconscious fills in gaps left by the remixer, while presenting an entirely new interpretation of the original artists' composition. It's pretty amazing when you consider this is simply piano music on this particular track!


Beck's own contribution is a 20-plus minute opus dubbed "NYC 73-78" which grows like some lost prog-rock epic from the love children of Yes' Jon Anderson, Robert Wyatt and Sigur Ros' Jonsi.Beck of course adds a multitude of ideas including lush tripped out vocal sections meshing Glass's ideas with world-beat infused time treks.The only thing missing from this track would be some tasty real time backwards guitar work from Adrian Belew (I can dream, can't I?). It even has a section at the end which recalls no less than Brian Wilson's masterwork, SMiLE (listen for the melody which echo's the Whispering Bells section from the end of Wilson's "Holidays," for you SMiLE-o-philes out there). This is pretty awesome stuff that will warrant repeated listens.


Given that, Peter Broderick's treatment of "Islands" (from Glassworks) also goes down similar paths to Beck (albeit over a much shorter timespan); I will soon be looking into his other works, in fact. 


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The sound on this 2-LP 180-gram wonder is remarkably uniform and full bodied. Since the recording involves remixes and reinventions of other works, I have no idea as to the overall sonic profile of the source material - it probably varies wildly dependent upon Glass' original source materials. One would guess it would have been done at at least 24-bit /48 kHz, but that may or may not be the case.


All that said, I have to raise the reasonable question in this instance, as I do with many recordings that mix lo fi and hi fi elements: does it really matter? This album traverses many sonic textures at the speed of Glass' music which itself can warp time signatures and instrumental flavors right under your nose?  So, do we really need to worry about the spectrum of all the audio source material here? I think not. 


It sounds good enough to warrant playback on a good turntable and stereo system -- that is for certain.  It sounds pretty awesome on my Music Hall 7.1 turntable.   Even the free MP3 download sounds pretty good in its own right when played over my iPad, iPhone and in the car.


Just get this album. Turn it up. And, hope they put out a surround sound version in the near future - that would be icing on the cake of this magnificent Rework project. Bravo!

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