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LP Feature/ Popol Vuh: "Mika Vainio, Haswell & Hecker Remixes"

img  Tobias
There is something about the plurality of today’s musical landscape which I thoroughly enjoy and others deeply despise: Everybody is an influence on someone and anyone, no matter how historically irrelevant, can be the subject of a tribute. It is therefore both a surprise and a letdown that Popol Vuh, a major influence on various generations of electronic musicians, seminal supporters of the Moog synthesizer and one of the few bands thrown into the obscure melting pot labelled “Krautrock” whose oeuvre not only alluded to classical music but was actually enjoyed by its fans, should have had to do without one until now.

These two remixes, pressed on transparent red Vinyl are therefore closing a wound left to fester for much too long. Their focus lies – somewhat predicatably – on the soundtrack work of Florian Fricke’s brainchild, but by bringing together material originally recorded in 1972 for the visually halucinatory “Aguirre” and to the 1987 flick “Cobra Verde” (both by Werner Herzog), these two extended cuts manage to snapshoot the band in two important moments of their career: In its infancy and shortly before the 90s, when albums got scarser and Fricke released his personal Mozart interpretations.

The thing with overdue tributes is that they often tend to be done by dedicated admirers, probably the kind of musician least suitable for the job – there is a fine line between reverence and respect and keeping to the latter side of the border seems appropriate when trying to transport a personal feeling to an audience. Which is why, despite an initial sensation of scepticism, it makes perfect sense if it is neither one of the group’s oldschool companions nor one of their contemporary imitators (of which, by the way, there aren’t all that many) who tackles the job here, but rather two acts known for developping a language completely their own – and, frankly, pretty far away from the Popol Vuh sound.

First up, there’s Mika Vainio, one half of Finish expressive abstractionists Pan Sonic and, by now, a respected solo artist. Even though his eponymous output has never attracted the kind of attention his duo efforts have managed to secure, his take on “Nachts: Schnee” proves this needs to be seen as an incidental public whim rather than justified neglect. The piece begins with a ferocious explosion and at first wilfully surpresses the atmospheric action before it can come to full fruition. Gradually, however, Vainio unchains the drones and the piece develops into a sensous breath, full of nocturnal romance and sweetly raptured entanglement.

The fact that the remix of the much older original, the majestic and mysteriously intangible opening to “Aguirre”, now sounds like a coiled-up mix of deep ambient with up-to-date sound art is a nice piece of artistic irony. Haswell & Hacker, whose collaboration has already shattered every border imaginable with releases on Warner Music’s Classical devision and work with Iannis Xenakis’ UPIC system, appear to take the opening sequence of the barely five minute long Popol Vuh piece as a sort of stem cell, from which they suck life energy into their track like slurping a glasshardes-milkshake through a chillipepper straw.

After an early culmination, sighing and clanging noises take over, as the music is dissected into blocks of choral erruptions, which fade into gentle drones and then into silence. At the end, the manipulations sound almost like the bird song contained in the very first seconds – the piece coming full circle in a bizarre way.

There is a chance that Florian Fricke, who thought of the Moog mainly as an instrument capable of conveying a wide range of emotions and less as a tool to develop novel sounds or a radically different kind of music, would have enjoyed Vainio’s moodwork better than the fractured ambiances of Haswell & Hecker. But both pieces alike make a point of not trying to imitate their blueprints in terms of arrangement nor technique – Fricke was known to compose his pieces on the Piano before bringing in the electronics.

Their curageous treatment of these classics awards them a contemporary relevance again and sheds new light on the originals, all but forgotten outside of Germany and certain cineastic circles. It was about time.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Editions Mego
Homepage: Mika Vainio at Pan Sonic
Homepage: Haswell & Hacker

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