When considering the 13th Disquiet Junto project, it’s helpful to remember that the subject material is itself a remix. The Disquiet Junto is a Soundcloud.com-based group in which musicians respond each week to a proposed compositional project. The 13th such project involves reworking a recording of the first movement of the Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, by Dimitri Shostakovich. The source audio was recorded live by the ensemble wild Up. The project was announced on Thursday, March 29, and is due by 11:59pm on Monday, April 2.
I usually wait until the end of a Junto project to comment on it, but this one is special, so I want to get some thinking out while it is still in progress. It is is worth thinking of the Chamber Symphony as a remix unto itself, because the symphony is an arrangement by another man, Rudolph Barshai. With Shostakovich’s blessing, Barshai took the contours of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 and expanded them into something orchestral. Likeiwse, with the full permission of the Los Angeles chamber ensemble wild Up, the Junto participants are extrapolating from the wild Up recording of the Barshai’s symphonic version of Shostakovich’s quartet. If that sounds meta, then I am accomplishing at least part of my goal.
This 13th Junto project is a particularly special one, because it’s only the second time we are working from not only a commercial release, but from constituent parts of a track on that release. (The previous time was when Marcus Fischer, for the fourth Junto, provided stems — that is the music-production terms for individual subparts — of a song off his Collected Dust recording.) This is an essential distinction. Much “remixing” these days means working with the commercially released version of a piece of music, a single track: cutting it up, moving pieces around, transforming it, adding to it, subtracting from it. But in the case of both the Fischer project and, now, the Shostakovich project, the Junto participants were provided the pieces from which the commercial track was constructed. The wild Up recording of Shostakovich was done live, so the “parts” are in fact 10 simultaneous recordings of the symphony, recorded on variously placed microphones. The folder containing these parts looks like this:
To hear the performance 10 times from different vantages is to get a Rashomon version of the piece. In part, it is simply an opportunity to hear it akin to how the performers hear it: if you listen to the woodwinds, then you’re hearing it sort of how a member of the woodwind portion of the ensemble heard it while it was being performed. But more importantly, to listen to it is to hear different parts of it come to the fore. Because it was recorded live, there is no clear “isolation” between parts. In each of the tracks you hear the entire work, just with different sections given different relative prominence.
Listen to the original recording, also streaming below, at: wildup.bandcamp.com
And for comparison’s sake, here is a performance of the String Quartet No. 8 by the Kopelman Quartet, via youtube.com:
The remixes are unfolding at this very moment at soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto.
(Stencil of Dimitri Shostakovich up top generously provided by Chris Hutson, of chrishutsonart.com. He is based in Peoria, Illinois.)