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Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer
Re:ECM Rory Gibb , July 25th, 2011 11:14

Despite typically being pinned under the ‘experimental/avant-garde techno’ blanket, the work of many of Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer’s closest contemporaries is steeped in jazz, questing for complete compositional freedom in music generally limited by structurally rigid modes of creation. The Moritz Von Oswald Trio, with whom Loderbauer plays modular synth, are probably the best example of that approach. While remaining rhythmically locked to a clubby pulse, their albums are sprawling and exploratory, as evocative of In A Silent Way as they are of the dub techno on which Von Oswald made his name. The Trio’s percussionist Sasu Ripatti is a trained jazz drummer, and the frosty experimental dub he produces under the alias Vladislav Delay feels staggered, individual elements confounding expectations by arriving a few milliseconds before or after they’re expected. The same is true of Villalobos’ own music. Although they remain entirely in thrall to the demands of the dancefloor – though regularly stretch its boundaries into the abstract, something to which The Au Harem D’Archimede and his fabric.36 mix can attest – his records carry a textural and compositional sophistication reaching far beyond simple club functionality. And his legendary DJ sets are renowned for including everything from the usual techno and house selections to cuts of jazz, folk and traditional music, amongst others.

It was actually after Villalobos started playing music from ECM’s back catalogue in his sets that the idea for his and Loderbauer’s collaborative album Re:ECM was hatched. I say ‘album’, because to limit its contents as simply a remix project, or a collection of pieces inspired by the ECM back catalogue, is to do both producers a great disservice. On Re:ECM, Villalobos and Loderbauer fully integrate their own methods for composition and recording into those of ECM’s back catalogue, forming a completely inseparable hybrid of the two. In general they remain reverent to the spirit and atmosphere of the original pieces, but deconstruct them, tearing them apart into their constituent parts, all the way down to the resonance of the rooms in which they were recorded. These samples are then used as components within the duo’s net of interacting machines, their modular synthesizers patched to interact with one another independently of their operators, lending the final pieces a blissful spontaneity. The result is an album that, just like the ECM catalogue itself, is absolutely brimming with space – there’s nothing even resembling a four-to-the-floor beat here, something Villalobos devotees in particular might find surprising. So although the first association that might spring to mind is Deutsche Grammophon’s Recomposed series, where producers including Villalobos, Matthew Herbet Carl Craig and Moritz Von Oswald twisted the label’s classical selections into dancefloor shapes, Re:ECM is a strikingly different proposition.

For a start, everything about the project is carefully considered down to the finest point. Re:ECM is notable for the fine attention to conceptual and sonic detail that pervades everything, from the pieces themselves to its artwork and presentation. The liner notes are particularly revealing. In the opening paragraph, Villalobos and Loderbauer explain their interest in uniting the worlds of acoustic and electronic music, before breaking that broad statement down into its constituent parts: the limitations of frequency imposed by electronic production; the importance of a sense of space, generated in good acoustic recordings by the use of multiple mics; the ability to improvise. By considering and covering all these bases, the duo have been largely successful in achieving their aim – were it not for the odd distinctly synthetic lurch, much of Re:ECM’s tracks sound as though they could be original acoustic recordings, new additions to the label’s catalogue. Everything here, from the diffuse piano droplets of opener ‘Reblop’ to the stately choral march ‘Reblazhenstva’ (a deliciously rhythmic versioning of Alexander Knaifel’s ‘Blazhenstva’) contains as much space as it does sound. Yawning periods of silence are punctuated by the thrum of background echo, still bounding off the walls of the rooms in which they were originally captured on tape.

Techno’s ghost remains present throughout: the odd handclap or tweaked snare will suddenly shatter the eerie calm. Acoustic parts, like the mournful violin theme that peers through ‘Reblazhenstva’s mesh of percussive elements, compete with a mess of static interference and the tectonic rumble of sub-bass. But everything is comparatively dry, purposely avoiding electronic music’s usual use of computer reverb to generate a sense of space. So the electronics that punctuate the atmospheres of the original records (kept very much intact by the duo) occasionally sound almost invasive: tiny aquatic clicks cutting through the harp cascades of ‘Replob’, the effervescent snare hits of ‘Retimeless’ arriving as a shock after the sensory deprivation of ‘Resvete’. At other times they’re seamlessly integrated, to tremendously moving effect. The album’s highlight is the second disc’s ‘Rekondakion’, a version of Arvo Part’s ‘Kanon Pokajanen’ that turns its reverent voices into an underwater chorus of sirens, beckoning across a seemingly infinite void. Pitchshifted voices gradually begin to harmonise with the original choir, the result as heartrending a sonic depiction of drowning as Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking Of The Titanic or Philip Jeck’s An Ark For The Listener.

With its very human sound palette and semi-improvised, studio-driven creative process (the interactive nature of the duo’s equipment ensured that everything they played had to be recorded; no two takes on a track could ever sound the same twice), Re:ECM is intrinsically linked to jazz and dub. Their signifiers are certainly there sonically – dub’s cavernous low-end and studio trickery; the jazzy brushed drums of ‘Recat’ and ‘Resenada’, whose woody tones again recall Vladislav Delay. But just like those genres, with Re:ECM the duo emphasise the importance of the process itself, recognizing it as equally crucial a component of music as the final result. In Villalobos and Loderbauer’s hands, then, the ECM catalogue becomes more than simply a stone set of recorded pieces of music (music as noun) but a further set of tools with which to music (music as verb). Which, although taking Villalobos some distance from his usual club-centric music, remains in spirit with both his and Loderbauer’s usual ethos – pushing boundaries, breaking down barriers.