Following on the heels of the Talking Heads reissues (which have been spectacular, at least the first four albums), another early-’80s David Byrne masterpiece is getting loving reissue treatment, with a twist.
Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was a significant milestone, if not an out and out first, for all sorts of practices that are in wide use today, including sampling, found vocals, and crosses between world music and guitar pop. But the album and the extra tracks (though no “Qu’ran” – a track that was part of the original LP but was apparently considered blasphemous by Muslims and which has never been made available digitally in the US) are only part of the coolness: As part of the reissue, downloadable multitrack masters will be made available for two of the songs and licensed under Creative Commons licenses for remixing purposes.
The remix site isn’t live yet, so it’s anyone’s guess for what will go up there. I’m personally hoping for “Help Me Somebody” and “Moonlight in Glory,” though I’d be very very happy to get a chance to remix “The Jezebel Spirit.” Hopefully they’ll have the remix site up before the 11th, when the album, delayed for several weeks, officially drops.
The irony in all this, of course, is that My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was all about reusing found sounds, including not a few samples from the Alan Lomax field recording “Sea Island Folk Festival” by the Moving Star Hall Singers, a group of Gullah musicians from Johns Island, South Carolina. Any remixes from these tracks will therefore be modern remixes of sounds that were sampled by mainstream musicians from a recording that was in turn appropriated by an ethnomusicologist from performances by Gullah musicians – who likely had historical antecedents for their songs in oral tradition. So offering the tracks up for remixes is actually a neat way of owning up to the debt that Eno and Byrne owed to the intellectual commons. The only question is, did anyone involved in the original recordings get residuals?
(On my life with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts: I got this album a few months after graduating college and was immediately addicted. It made its way on to one of the best mix tapes I ever made, and I was so hooked on it that I was prone to quoting some of the found words while I was out with friends, who then of course looked at me like I was nuts. Which I was. I was in the Bush of Ghosts. I still haven’t found anything quite like it. Moby is all over this reissue, as he should be since the record had a substantial influence on his Play, but Play is a pale shadow by comparison.)