Not too long ago a friend asked me, “What music consistently gives you the chills?” It was more difficult to answer than I would have imagined, and I could perhaps attribute said difficulty to the unrelenting musical sameness we are bombarded with daily. What may have given someone chills in the 1960s, say, psych rock, may no longer have that effect, due to its repetition and ubiquity. So when I first heard Michael Gordon’s Timber Remixed and the hair on my arms stood at attention, I knew it was something special.
Originally releasing Timber in 2009, Gordon – a founding member of the Bang on a Can collective – conceived the work live, when he placed six wooden 2x4s of differing lengths in a circle and then arranged six percussionists around the newfangled instruments to create wildly primal rhythms. The varied lengths of the 2x4s allowed for different pitches to come forth and the wood’s sonic properties resonated to the point that the audiences believed electronics were present.
In September, Mantra Percussion’s Mike McCurdy – who has been heavily involved in the recording process and live performances of Timber – told Stereogum:
“As Timber was first brought to the public’s attention in 2010-2012, one of the most frequently heard responses from audiences, listeners and reviewers were about the electronics in the piece. But there are no electronics in the piece! As it was performed over the years, a disclaimer was actually given in the concert program before each performance that the sounds being produced were all natural, and that the wood itself had such lush harmonics as to deceive the ear, as though some electronic process was being applied to the sound.
All this talk about electronics got Michael Gordon thinking, and he proposed the idea in the fall of 2012 to find people to remix the album. So we came up with a favorites list of composers and musicians to take the music and do whatever they wanted, as long as the underlying composition could be perceived.”
The result is Timber Remixed, a gorgeous, haunting record that is so otherworldly it is difficult to describe. I wouldn’t even say one can hear this album, as it seems more appropriate to say that you will feel it…as if it is happening to you. A kind of vibratory massage throughout the body. As McCurdy mentioned, star producers stud this album, including the likes of Tim Hecker, Fennesz, Oneohtrix Point Never, Squarepusher, and Hauschka to name but a few. Each track is like it’s own warped world, though the 12 remixes form a galaxy as a whole.
While the original Timber is a testament to lumber alone, doing for wood what Glenn Branca has done for the guitar, Timber Remixed re-contextualizes Gordon’s vision into a layered multiverse of electronic manipulation. Timber’s pitch is higher, while Timber Remixed is more guttural, like the boom of a falling redwood.
Favorite moments occur during Fennesz’s ambient, spacey, whirring take on the piece, as well as Greg Saunier’s aggressive, staccato beats that recall video game machine guns. But the final remix by Hauschka has to be my favorite, as it disassembles and puts back together the material, fashioning a complex collage that sits nicely between reworking and staying true to the original.
Please take the next available two hours in your schedule. Lie on your bed, turn off your lights, and listen to Timber Remixed. It’s cheaper than Flotation Therapy and you won’t get salt in your eyes.
Timber Remixed is out now via Cantaloupe Music.
01 “Jóhann Jóhannsson”
02 “Sam Pluta”
03 “Tim Hecker”
05 “Oneohtrix Point Never”
06 “Greg Saunier”
07 “HPRIZM/High Priest of APC”
08 “Ian Williams”
10 “Ikue Mori”
11 “Mira Calix”