Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens.
Listen: 12 All-Star Electronic Musicians Remix Michael Gordon's 'Timber'
Monday, November 28, 2016
Michael Gordon's Timber from 2011 was a breakthrough for the composer, fusing the trademarks of his style – experiments with timbre, and with highly complex relationships between layers of rhythm – to a startlingly elegant concept. The piece could have borrowed its title from Steve Reich, whose Music for Pieces of Wood is the obvious point of comparison here, but Timber's six percussionists execute their elaborate polyrhythms not on conventional percussion instruments but on ordinary 2x4 planks, mounted and beaten with mallets. The result is surprisingly exquisite, an ear-tickling exercise in rhythm and resonance, as the overtones of the vibrating planks sing out in ghostly harmony.
Now, Gordon's Cantaloupe Music label, which previously issued a studio recording by Dutch percussionists Slagwerk Den Haag, is revisiting Timber with a new release that pairs a new recording of the hour-long work, performed live by Mantra Percussion at the 2014 Bang on a Can Marathon, with a dozen new remixes of Mantra's own studio performance.
Remix albums are always a dicy proposition, but especially classical remix albums. But the remixers on Timber Remixed are outstanding, without exception, and they all seem to be working from a deep understanding of what makes the original piece so interesting. Tim Hecker, Fennesz, Oneohtrix Point Never, Squarepusher, Ikue Mori, Mira Calix, Hauschka: these artists are a who's-who of the highbrow electronic vernacular.
And while there is a limit to the variety that twelve different artists can achieve from a single, extremely static piece of music, it is a delight to hear them subtly augment Gordon's score – like Jóhann Jóhannsson, transforming the piece's aura of implied harmonies into audible harmonic motion – or gleefully vandalize it almost beyond recognition, like Greg Saunier of the band Deerhoof.
Thanks to the strange acoustics of Mantra's live recording in the Winter Garden shopping mall of the World Financial Center, it sounds like a remix itself, almost burying the attacks of the individual mallets under great washes of howling overtones. Timber is, as it turns out, as durable as it is lovely, and not only worth revisiting for a second time, but at least thirteen more times, with each track on this issue offering a different perspective on this rich and meditative work.
Michael Gordon: Timber Remixed
Cantaloupe Music | Released Oct. 28