Balmorhea: All is Wild, All is Silent Remixes
Western Vinyl

Already a strong contender for a slot on textura's year-end “Best of 2009” list, Balmorhea's All is Wild, All is Silent now gets an equally impressive remix treatment. The mere list of contributors is enough to set an experimental electronic music fan's heart aflutter, with Eluvium, Machinefabriek, The Fun Years, Library Tapes, Jacaszek, Helios, Peter Broderick, and Xela a sampling of the upper-echelon names involved. In general, the remixes cumulatively strike a target that's not easy to hit: re-imaginings that retain just enough of the originals to be recognizable as such, while also clearly reflecting the indelible imprints of the interpreters. Apparently the project came about somewhat serendipitously; after initially asking a few musical colleagues to remix tracks, Balmorhea found itself with eleven treatments on hand and therefore more than enough for a full-length release. Interestingly, three originals receive two treatments apiece, which shows in starkest terms how different the artists' approaches can be when working from the same source material.

The opener, a seventeen-minute treatment of “Settler” by Eluvium, justifies the acquisition all by its lonesome. Following an introductory male-and-female vocal swirl, the slowly rising piece gains force through a gradual accumulation of instrumental detail, both acoustic (strings, acoustic guitar, bass, drums) and electronic, as it becomes ever more dense and agitated before then stripping layers away until we're left with a dream-like exeunt and the return of the vocal chants with which the piece began. In “Harm & Boon,” Rafael Anton Irisarri wraps a gentle piano melody in a thick blanket of static haze, while Tiny Vipers reduces it to a stuttering flow of delicate guitar patterns and bold electric guitar strokes. Bexar Bexar multiplies the acoustic fingerpicking in “Elegy” until it resembles a psychedelic whirligig. In Machinefabriek's remix of “Remembrance,” the original's banjo theme eventually emerges out of a fog-encrusted drone of harmonium and vinyl noise. Opening in a thick dust cloud, The Fun Years' “Coahuila” may begin in like manner but soon enough takes a drums-prodded plunge; Library Tapes' version of same eschews such “rock” signifiers for a string-laden romp that paves the way for a “Night in the Draw” remix by Jacaszek that's as haunting as one would expect from the man behind Treny. I'm less partial to Peter Broderick's decision to include a voiceover in “November 1, 1832” since it proves distracting and detracts from the melancholy he otherwise brings to the piece via stately piano and multi-tracked vocals. As with the other paired treatments, Xela's slow-burning fuzz transformation of “November 1, 1832” has next to nothing in common with Broderick's. Surprisingly given its unassuming character, Keith Kenniff's Helios version of “Truth” turns out to be the album's most stirring, due in large part to the gorgeous piano motif that repeats hypnotically throughout the four-minute setting. Naturally, the hour-long collection is no substitute for the original but it's not supposed to be. Instead, the listener, Balmorhea devotee or otherwise, should regard it as a worthy complement to one of the year's standout recordings.

September 2009