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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

5 Vantages on an MP3 Theme

In the classic story “Rashomon,” several individuals witness or are involved in a crime, but when they each recount the event after the fact, they tell markedly different versions. That tale, published by writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa in 1915 and immortalized 35 years later in a film version, directed by Akira Kurosawa, has the quality of a fable, and its lessons are of self-evident value during our ongoing Age of the Remix. Fitting, then, that a song by the group Rashamon (note distinct spelling) has been offered up in five different post-production versions by four artists (Motion, Fisk Industries, Duff Parker, si-cut.db), each of them providing different vantages on the original. You might argue that the original stands apart, but in fact when they’re played as a set of six it’s difficult to point to the “real”one.

The original is the heaviest by far, certainly. It begins with a tamped down piano figure and a sampled voice, that of a crazed man, complete with tape-deck surface noise, soon muddied with elastic percussion of the exaggerated drum’n’bass variety, which is flanged until it sounds like the heavy flaps of metal used to summon thunderstorms in motion pictures. Motion’s “Mix One” is almost impossible to reconcile with the original, built as it is from little more than slow aquatic pulses, intoned on distant gongs, details that go by almost unnoticed in Rashamon’s track. Si-cut.db’s lengthy entry (seven minutes, compared with the original’s 5:41) comes closest to Motion’s “Mix One”for its estimable attempt at weightlessness — but how Si-cut employs the little offbeats is even more enticing, bringing them in on occasion, making them swing; those tidy rhythmic cues alone make it the choice cut among the interpretations here. Duff Parker likewise emphasizes the delicate moments that the original used as mere accent marks, and his piece is widely varied, with periods of intense echo and others of pristine silence. Motion’s “Mix Two”shares Parker’s interest in veering off in various directions. Fisk Industries retains the original’s throaty holler, burying it in a watery dub, interspersing bits of the original syncopation, their pitch raised considerably, to a tinny consistency. They’re all for free — the original, and the five remixes — on the Highpoint Lowlife record label’s “download”page: highpointlowlife.com/downloads.shtml.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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