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Music Review: Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer – Re: ECM

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There have been plenty of unusual releases this year, but so far nothing has surprised me as much as Re: ECM. Berlin-based Djs Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer have reimagined 17 tracks from the acclaimed label, to create a truly unique set. They use the term “sound-structures” rather than “remixes” to describe their work, but the terminology is academic. What the duo have achieved with these jazz and new music compositions is to cast them in a whole new light. The results are a striking blend of tape loops, minimal beats, instrument sounds, and silence.

“Immersing oneself in the productions of ECM, one learns a lot about the optimum sound experience. We too have the paramount rule of making no compromises where sound is concerned.” say Villalobos and Loderbauer.

Of the seventeen tracks contained on Re: ECM, I certainly do not hear any compromises. What the mixmasters have fashioned here could never be mistaken for dance music, but Re: ECM is quite possible the ultimate chill-out record.

This is by no means the first ECM album to utilize electronically manipulated sounds to achieve a goal. Nils-Petter Molvaer’s remixed Khmer from 2007 comes immediately to mind. There are are also catalog releases by the Music Improvisation Company and Karlheinz Stockhausen to be considered. But Re: ECM is the first to take a various artists approach, and to allow outside Djs to do as they please with the original takes.

The duo were careful in their choices. “We chose specific ECM productions that offered parts where instruments, voices/choirs, and atmospheres were self-sufficient and isolated in the room,” they say. The use of ECM as source material could not have been more logical then, seeing as how one of producer Manfred Eicher’s stated goals with each recording is to fully utilize the dynamics of sound and silence in the studio.

To this end, Re: ECM becomes far more than just an assemblage of doctored tracks, but rather a journey unto itself. Whether initially planned this way, or the result of happy coincidence, the two-disc set has a definite structure about it.

The minimalistic approach of the first track, “Reblop” (Christian Wallumrod) sets the stage nicely. This begins with an interesting piano loop, morphing into a great, stand-alone piece by the end. This introduction to the record works perfectly as it shows what Villalobos and Loderbauer are working towards, without being so radical as to completely derail the project.

From there we venture into ambient territory for a time, and are slowly introduced to some minimal beats. These are used as tastefully and discreetly as any other element, and add a great deal to pieces such as “Rensenada,” (Bennie Maupin), and “Reblazhenstva,” (Alexander Knaifel). As the set continues, things become a bit darker. The ever-present ambient tone takes on a more sinister character during “Retikhiy,” (Alexander Knaifel), and “Rekondakiom,” (Arvo Part).

The works of composers Christian Wallumrod and Alexander Knaifel seem particularly suited to the method of Villalobos and Loderbauer, as they utilize five and four songs from each respectively. Placing the two composers back to back to conclude the set seems to wind things up in a suitably perverse fashion. Knaifel’s “Resole” has a soothing, almost transcendent tone which eases ones mind in a satisfying way. The duo clearly did not wish for the experience to end on such a note however, as their treatments of Wallumrod’s “Redetach” display. My nickname for this one is “ECM Nervosa.”

Re: ECM is another unexpected release from the people at this endlessly intriguing label. It is definitely one worth checking into for fans of ambient music, chill-out, and most especially of the label itself.

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