Remixing the Rite

It’s not every day that electronic music DJs dabble in the classical music realm…but often, when they do, the results are less than thrilling.

Okay…Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won an Oscar for that last one—a remix of In the Hall of the Mountain King, from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt.

“There’s this increasing wave in my part of music of the lack of respecting an original work for what it is,” says Stefan Goldmann, a DJ and composer of electronic music who lives in Berlin. He told me, he struggles with the idea of DJs remixing other people’s work.

StefanGoldmann1“So, someone composes a piece of music in a certain way and somebody else just instantly says, ‘Oh, I can do better,’ and changes it around? At some point, I thought, why would everybody just change what I do as a music composer and producer to suit some different idea and we never get to hear the original anymore?”

Still, Goldmann says remixes are about more than just slapping a synthesized techno beat underneath the music and taking it to the club. There’s an artfulness there. A DJ has the power to make you hear a piece of music in a new and different way. It’s as much interpretive of existing material as it is the creation of new material.

Which is one reason why, a couple of years ago, Goldmann–whose father is the late composer and conductor Friedrich Goldmann–decided to remix a work that Leonard Bernstein called “the most important piece of music of the 20th century.”

Well, Goldmann doesn’t actually call it a “remix.” What he did was take 14 different recordings of The Rite, spliced the audio into a bunch of tiny chunks, and edited together a complete performance of The Rite of Spring. He stayed completely faithful to Stravinsky’s score—no notes have been added; none have been taken away.

Stravinsky-Sacre-edit“I didn’t want to impose interruptions on the listener, because I believe the work itself has so many really drastic turns from one part to another that it doesn’t need a second layer of harsh interruptions. So, I’d rather try to identify in the editing process where I can make an edit that doesn’t interfere with listening to the composition itself.”

In all, Goldmann made close to 150 edits (he says he lost exact count). As you listen, you find yourself in a different sound world every few seconds. The changes are subtle, but definitely noticeable. Goldmann says The Rite of Spring lends itself to this kind of editing treatment because the music is so fragmentary and it’s constantly changing.

stravinsky2Brian: “Listening to your edit, one of the things that strikes me is: because of the cuts, and because of the shifting of interpretation, it gives you a sense of being uncomfortable. Not being sure of what’s coming next. And I love that, because it reminds me that maybe this is, in some small way, how audiences felt back in 1913 when they were hearing this music for the first time. There is that sort of uneasiness about listening back.”

Stefan Goldmann: “Well, sometimes it’s quite an interesting experience as a listener to be confronted with some music we just don’t know where it will be going. We’re so used to have standards of what to expect in any context of music, be it classical or rock or hip hop or anything. We’re just so used to standards that are kept in a certain environment, but whenever we’re confronted with something that manages to disrupt this feeling of knowing what we have to expect, we can value it if it’s done in a good way. And sometimes we can even approach a classic again 100 years later and maybe not recreate the experience of the audience in 1913 in Paris, but we can remind ourselves that what we take for granted now was brand new sometime ago and it had a reason why it turned into a standard for us and into an inspiration for so much music that came afterwards. That’s a good thing to be conscious about why we value something; why it entered our canon of works of art we now consider essential.”

Stefan Goldmann is a German DJ and electronic music composer, who has made an edit of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring from 14 different recordings. By the way, he has never told anyone which recordings he used; and he told me so far no one has successfully guessed any of them. You can hear a sample of Goldmann’s edit here. (Look for the gray audio player at the top of the page.)

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