Michael Gordon’s Timber Remixed is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year — an album review

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“For an instant I think I saw. I saw the loneliness of man as a gigantic wave which had been frozen in front of me, held back by the invisible wall of a metaphor.”
― Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan

Timber Remixed is an unexpected aural journey. With sounds that build in different directions, it is a meditative exercise on minimalist music. Indeed, throughout the album you get to zone out with these reiterative alterations of percussion that are also modern and almost feel infinite, meaning without a beginning or an end. The album presents collaborations with Squarepusher, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Greg Saunier, among others. The double CD set also includes Mantra’s live performance of “Timber” from the 2014 Bang on a Can Marathon.

The original Timber, composed by Michael Gordon (Michael Gordon and Bill Morrison talk about their Miami Beach city symphony El Sol Caliente — An Indie Ethos exclusive), has six percussionists playing wooden simantras, which are basically mounted 2×4 wooden boards. It is a limited instrument, but one that Gordon was able to get some incredible sounds via multilayered reverberations. The wood itself sounds as if it was mixed with post-production electronics. However, the original recording is an acoustic one. As you listen to it, you can tell the infinite variations possible within it and how different musicians’ interpretations of it says more about their own personal music styles than about the original piece. Gordon has stated that he was influenced by the work of Carlos Castaneda and his spiritual journey to “bring on visions.”

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The album of remixes opens with a track by Jóhannsson, an Icelandic composer that is known for atmospheric sounds and film scores. His take on Gordon’s composition does not disappoint. It starts slow, volume down and its pace picks up with a droney build-up. It is a blissful 8:34 minutes that never feels rushed. The whole piece is an ambient track that uses electronic music to create a different atmosphere from the original, it deserves repeat listening — preferably with headphones and on vinyl — to discover the textural sounds that envelop you as you listen in.

A stand out of the remixes, however, is Saunier’s take, which opens with a rush of percussion that sounds like we’re running out of time. The intermittent rhythm is followed by background sounds that even include a voice emitting some sort of cheerful scream, but it could be interpreted in other ways. Saunier, of Deerhoof fame, delivers strident chords meant to be played loudly. Saunier takes Gordon to the reaches of avant-rock with a treatment that makes the track sound more noise pop and less minimal than the original piece.

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Along these lines, the remix by Ian Williams is also a hard thumping rendition that gives “Timber” an electronic treatment that makes you want to get up and dance. It is a syncopated rhythm that speeds up as it gets louder, later shifting the underlying rhythm. The album also includes some more melodic tracks, like the one by Mira Calix that opens with a siren-like chant and includes electronics that sound like chimes in a dream-like world.

The remix by Oneohtrix Point Never adds different instruments. The familiar Mantra is there, yet on top of it, you can hear piano and electronic arrangements that include the use of a synthesizer, making this track sound as if it belongs on a movie soundtrack. Imagery comes to mind of perhaps an unfinished story with a suspenseful atmosphere. Oneohtrix Point Never’s experimental work seems to be the perfect fit for Gordon’s deceptively simple music.

In the remixes, we encounter how a piece can be made new through different treatments. These creative encounters are reminiscent of the infinite amount of interpretations there are on John Cage’s 4’33’’, where the genius of the composition lies in the infinite ways it can be interpreted, developing an iterative relationship between musicians and composers. This is not a static piece, but a creative collaboration that is sure to expand the reaches of even the listeners’ imagination, as different takes open new and fascinating possibilities.

Ana Morgenstern

Timber Remixed was released on Oct. 28 by Cantaloupe records and can be purchased online here or support IndieEthos by buying it via this link.

(Copyright 2016 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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