There are two albums in my iTunes library that, despite being released a full decade apart, are remarkably similar, not in sound or style, but in concept.
The first is The Seduction of Claude Debussy, the 1999 release from Art of Noise. The band, popular in the 1980’s for their pioneering use of samples and digital mixing, reunited briefly in 1998, releasing only one studio album (this one) before collapsing again in 2000. The second album is Rites, a 2009 release by unsigned/freelance digital artist Tettix. Judson Cowan (the man behind the Greek moniker meaning “cicada”), – whose work ranges from 8-bit video game electronica, to a cappella covers to original pop – releases all his work for free on his website, tettix.net.
If I put these CDs on at a party, I would guess that no one would link the two; their sounds are quite different. Art of Noise’s work might fit the chill genre, with soaring vocals and piano, a few tracks with light rapping and a deep narrative voice-over by actor John Hurt. Rites, on the other hand, is jarring. It is fast, heavy beats coupled to bleeps, bloops and skips overlaid on a bed of strings.
So what is the connection? Both works are modern retoolings of classical works. The Seduction of Claude Debussy draws (as I’m sure you could guess) wholly from the oeuvre of that French Impressionist while Rites refers to none other than Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky. To say that they sample these works is probably incorrect. In many of the tracks on Debussy and nearly all of Rites, the more applicable term might be remix. Give a listen to “Il Pleure,” the opening track from Debussy and to “Dances of the Young Girls” from Rites. Different, eh?
There are a few artists doing things like this and I think these two CDs are examples of how to do it right. They are both out of the norm, but they’re good listens even if you don’t know the background. I’ve heard of a few DJs throwing on a classical vinyl occasionally and I’m all for it; there’s nothing wrong with giving classical music a kick in the pants to keep it relevant. Phoenix paid homage to that panty-loosener of old, Franz Litszt in their recent hit “Lisztomania,” so maybe that’ll help get the ball rolling.
I did find one more group doing some cool stuff. Black Violin (which is actually a violin/viola duo) has played both symphony halls and the Apollo. I’ll close with their take on “Brandenburg Concerto #3.”