Friday, June 20, 2008

Inviting chaos

This article by The New Republic's David Hajdu holds two very personal attachments for me. First, the author advised me in my master's program in arts journalism; his guidance in writing and his recommendations in reading have scarcely left my mind in the year since I completed my degree.

Secondly, the invitations that Hajdu addresses by the bands Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails for fans to remix their songs have a clear analog among my own musical tastes and experiences. The 2003 album of remixed versions of songs by the Washington, DC-based band The Dismemberment Plan is a precursor to the current wave of fan-driven invention. The band is among my all-time favorites, and the album, titled "The People's History of the Dismemberment Plan," is a creative endeavor similar to Nine Inch Nails "The Limitless Potential": a collection of re-imagined songs drawn from raw tracks of individual instruments and voices. Some were done by longtime fans, others by casual listeners, and one notable contribution came from an artist who had never heard any of the Plan's music until after submitting his contribution.

The Plan's project was somewhat wider in scope than Trent Reznor's. Tracks from three of the band's four albums could be downloaded and remixed, more than just the two most recent releases that Reznor made available. The experiment, though conducted less than five years ago, also took place in a different era with respect to music technology. The band attempted to sell actual CDs of the remixes, rather than offer them for download.

Without having the CD in front of me, I don't know whether the Plan claimed ownership over the remixes in the way that Radiohead does in its current project. I suspect not; after a short-lived flirtation with Interscope Records, the Plan never strayed from its roots on the DC-based independent label DeSoto Records. "The People's History" is wild, weird and uneven - modifiers that might describe the band's early output, albums titled "!" and "The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified." Only one track from those albums appear on "The People's History," though, and the remixes of songs from later albums "Emergency & I" and "Change" presents more staid material in a newly unhinged fashion. The band's music, in its original and altered forms, remains vital today, with a irresistible tension between exuberance and melancholy in its lyrics and a blend of the rubbery and the robotic in its playing.


Rich said...

Very nice, Trent is one of my all time favorite artists. if this opportunity has come a few years earlier I might have mixed one myself . Today i no longer have the time nor the skill to do thus.

Anonymous said...

I have to hear the Dismemberment Plan! You fire...
-- Hajdu