30 November 2017

Dolphin love and limits

I never understood remixes. My literary background had me believing in ultimate, untouchable forms. Any rework or editing is a step toward that final draft. Not to say that I don't enjoy a good remix when I hear one. But now that I think about it, I am fascinated by this open and pliant nature of the song—something counter to literature, in particular the tyrannical art of poetry.


Erol Alkan is making me think about it. Sometime in 2012, six years since its release, I don't feel like dancin' found its way to my player, looped for weeks. Five more years passed till I discovered Alkan's Carnival of light rework. What I heard was something subdued but exciting. How he stretched a pleasant moment, toyed with it, built on it. And when I thought it would simply go on for ever—which I didn't mind—he brought the best bit of lyrics out, leaving me with nostalgic aftertaste.

This month he shared a playlist containing songs in his "Reworks Volume 1" compilation. While The bay (Metronomy), Golden Skans (Klaxons), Congratulations (MGMT), and Why won't you make up your mind (Tame Impala) were instant favorites, Gee up (Kindness) captured my heart completely.

It was my first time to hear it. Naturally I looked up the original, which turned out to be a two-minute ditty. Alkan didn't make it longer, he made it habitable—for me a deliberate and, more importantly, considerate act. I was smiling for seven minutes straight.

The two-and-a-half hour playlist contains many unfamiliar songs (to me). As is my habit, I slept with music I was getting acquainted with. In the middle of the night, a turbulent bass-line, deep and seductive woke me up.


Forever dolphin love makes me think of houses. Outside it's a box. Inside it's a universe. Outside it's plain, inside it's forking. There are rooms and bodies; there are dreams, lives lived and memories.

That's how rich it sounds, and how deceptively linear it seems. Until today the track plays. Sometimes I listen to it the way I re-read a book: simultaneously taking pleasure in what's in front of me and what's to come. Sometimes I keep it in the background, and when I get back to it, I know exactly where the song is, or where I am in the song. In the bar where notes slide off a manic percussion.


Ann Lauterbach has said it before and she couldn't say it any better: "Form, after all, is chosen limits. Limit, as a formal characteristic, is the expression of choice in the service of the possible. The possible is the indeterminate futurity of meaning. Form posits the optimum conditions for meaning to occur." (The night sky: Writings on the poetics of experience. 2005.)

My suspicion is that artists daunted by the freedom they so crave, fearful of the blank space, forget that their job is to create limits.


The best works of art teach you how to regard them. My early dives into electronic music had me baffled over minute-long intros on ten-minute tracks—that or verses that rush to the chorus, or drop or whatever trick's in store for the listener.

I realized that the radio has its own set of limitations as well. Thus the extended versions and radio-edits, terms that once did not make sense to my poetry-worshipping brain.

Listening to Alkan's rework of Connan Mockasin's Forever dolphin love, I learn to appreciate the beauty of a remix done right. When the artist is at liberty to choose his own limits, and chooses well. Then it's not just about giving the song a different flavor or making it danceable; but rather creating out of it another song that stands on its own.

Then you don't notice that ten minutes have gone by because you're offered a full home. If anything, you'll be surprised that you actually want more.


(Read a companion sketch here.)

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