Popol Vuh: Revisited & Remixed (1970-1999)

If you've found yourself mesmerized by Werner Herzog films such as Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Nosferatu, you'll be just as excited at the prospect of this double-disc Popol Vuh collection, which pairs a representative overview of the pioneering (Popol Vuh were the first German band to employ a Moog synthesizer) progressive rock band's original material and a set of remix treatments by front-line electronic artists. Those familiar with the aforementioned films already know how integral the soundtrack materials are to the impact those respective films make and how much Popol Vuh's musical contributions enhance the films' ethereal and hallucinatory qualities. Produced by Johannes Fricke and Roland Appel, the recording, which marks the tenth anniversary of Popol Vuh founder and keyboardist Florian Fricke's death, comes at an interesting time, given the ongoing public and critical reappraisal of the prog-rock genre and corresponding interest in and re-emergence of kosmische musik, and provides an ideal entry-point for listeners new to the group's music.

The first disc captures the breadth of Popol Vuh's sound, seeing as how it includes soundtrack pieces from Aguirre, Nosferatu, and Cobra Verde plus original Popol Vuh tracks that highlight the group's electronic side. On the soundtrack-related front, the ethereal 1974 Aguirre piece, “Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei,” conjures a mystical and timeless realm. The 1987 Cobra Verde pieces, “Nachts-Schnee” and “Eine andere Welt,” achieve the same effect if to a slightly less mystical degree when the emphasis is on meditative ambient atmosphere and when voices aren't included. Two settings from 1987's Nosferatu also appear, with choir voices boosting the gothic stateliness of “Brüder Des Schattens” and sitars giving “Through Pain To Heaven” an Eastern drone quality. A pronounced percussion emphasis lends the fifteen-minute title track from the group's 1970 debut album, Affenstunde, an earthy, even tribal quality that's countered by the synthesizer noodling threading itself through the piece. If “Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei” sounds as if it's emanating out of some celestial sphere, “Affenstunde” sounds like it's oozing forth from some just-discovered jungle tribe. Electronic pulsations course through Affenstunde's “Ich Mache Einen Spiegel” in a way that brings forth the group's heavy kosmische character, and a bonus track from Affenstunde, “Train Through Time,” augments electronic and hand percussion materials with the insistent chug of a locomotive in a piece one might describe as a psychedelic jam.

The remixers naturally update the Popol Vuh sound, often by introducing a rhythmic emphasis that's less pronounced in the originals. In his “Aguirre I / II” (Lacrima Di Rei Edit),” Vienna-based Peter Kruder invests the original with motorik thrust by adding a forceful 4/4 pulse. Thomas Fehlmann likewise animates his “Schnee” mix with a bass-heavy and dubbed-out club treatment, while Roland Appel gives “Through Pain to Heaven / Kyrie” ample momentum in an exuberant house treatment. Alex Barck (Jazzanova) brings a mercurial and panoramic approach to a “Prog Rock Edit” of “Haram Dei Haram Dei,” in which a loose, Eastern-styled vibe brings Popol Vuh's earthier side to the forefront. Mouse On Mars's “Through Pain To Heaven” is a predictably overcaffeinated treatment from the Berlin duo, though the bleepy bass-funk groove the group includes is definitely ear-catching, even if it does feel light years removed from the Popol Vuh original. With wordless vocals riding a trippy wave of hand drums and organs, Stereolab's “Hosianna Mantra” remix, on the other hand, finds Tim Gane's outfit to be kindred spirits to Popol Vuh. Other contributors opt for different approaches to the music, with some applying ambient treatments. Eschewing dance rhythms altogether, Mika Vainio opts for meditative sound sculpting in his ten-minute “Ambient edit” of “Nachts Schnee,” while Haswell & Hecker's “Aguirre I / II (Endless edit)” is as bold a treatment as one would expect.

Being a single album only, the originals half can only hint at the deep catalogue Popol Vuh created over its multi-decade run, so anyone naively expecting a comprehensive portrait will be disappointed; the most the collection can do is provide some introductory impression of the treasures contained therein. For those so inclined, a more complete portrait of the soundtrack work the group produced for Herzog can be found in a five-CD box set from SPV, Werner Herzog Soundtracks, that offers four hours of material from Aguirre, Heart of Glass, Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo, and Cobra Verde (it wouldn't be overstating it to call that particular collection essential, especially for listeners interested in krautrock and its formative years). In the booklet accompanying the Revisited & Remixed collection, Kruder's comment says its best: “Popol Vuh created borderless atmospheres forever resonating in the world of today and tomorrow.” The material included, in particular the first disc, argues strongly for that “borderless” character of Popol Vuh's music.

August 2011