CD by Ambient Great-Godfather

By no means an “electronic” composer, Erik Satie (1866-1925) remains essential listening in this area, owing to his clairvoyant modernity, which often emphasized a philosophical repose, and his musical writings, which championed the value of background music. Pianist France Clidat‘s three-CD Complete Piano Works (Astoria) has little aside from its comprehensiveness to recommend it, but that’s enough. The minimal liner notes are sentimental and fluffy and individual CDs peculiarly opt to combine many of Satie’s multi-piece works, notably the three-part “Gymnopedies,” into a single track. Of particular interest to electronic-minded listeners are his “Descriptions automatiques,” which deserve consideration as a predecessor of the remix. Per Satie biographer James Harding: the piece opens “with ‘Sur un vaisseau’ which, in its stylized representation of a ship pitching and tossing, adopts an ‘automatic’ rhythm. … Against this rocking of the boat a popular refrain cuts in, ‘Maman les p’tits bateaux … ont-ils des jambes?’ which he would have remembered from his seaside childhood.” Just to get this straight: a sample of a pre-existing song is set over a mechanical rhythm. Voila, the remix.

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