Minimalism can be luxurious, an opulence of absence. Brendan Landis, who records as Hey Exit, has found an opulent minimalism by taking some of the most spare music ever, Erik Satie’s classic “Gymnopedie 1,”and maximizing its presence through simultaneous repetition. What he’s done is taken multiple renditions of the piece (“Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1”is the reworking’s title) and layered them atop one another. There’s a joke about being hit by either a ton of bricks or a ton of pillows, and how either way it’s a ton — at some point weight trumps texture. Landis’ experiment reveals that amassed pillowy music doesn’t gather in density so much as exaggerate its inherent properties: a cloud becomes the sky.
To adjust the varying lengths, Landis took the longest piece as the norm and stretched the others to match it. Stretching is, along with supercuts (like the one of every time Metallica’s singer says “yeah”in a song) or the layering of related videos (like Michael Bell-Smith’s version of the first 12 chapters of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet), a popular means by which pop-culture audiences examine the objects of their affection. In supercuts, you can marvel at the mastery or mundanity of repeated elements. In the layered videos, you can note structures, tempos, and other commonalities. A major stretched-audio milestone was an 800% extension of a Justin Bieber track. This gained a lot of notoriety for turning the rakish pop figure into an angel — the thing being, you can stretch just about anything and eventually it becomes angelic. Arguably the key benefit of exaggerated stretching is getting inside the tonality of a piece, witnessing it as architecture: frozen music amid which you can wander.
Landis here uses stretching in a much more functional manner. By matching the start and end of the source recordings, he draws attention to variations in tempo and phrasing. By combining so many Saties in one place he honors the work by bringing an orchestral gravitas to a solo piano piece. At the same time, he also manages to put it off at a distance. “Every Recording of Gymnopedie 1”sounds like nothing so much as one person playing it at the far end of a very long hallway lined with glass — an opulent hall perhaps — the echoes triggering echoes triggering echoes.
The track was originally posted at soundcloud.com/hey-exit, found thanks to Gretchen Jude. More from Hey Exit, aka Brendan Landis of Brooklyn (I met him when he was living in San Francisco and performing with Erik Schoster) at heyexit.com.
*Let’s take Landis’ word for it.