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Mixing It up, new releases w/o 4/27

Last night I went to see “33 Variations” on Broadway: a new play based upon Beethoven’s 33 variations of a second rate Diabelli waltz. The play was way too busy to be any good but the music was absolutely beautiful. I don’t know my classical all that well so I knew Beethoven for Symphony # 9, powerful, almost overwhelming music for full orchestra. The variations are all piano solos (some as short as 33 seconds, the longest 4 minutes). It solved my Beethoven problem by simplifying the instrumentation and allowing me to settle on one sound.

None of which is the point of this blog.

It got me to thinking what variations really were in musical terms: what happens on a variation is this: a composer writes a piece of work and another composer writes a variation using the same template as the original piece of work.

The variation might be considered a cover song, but not really. Before the recording of music all songs were cover songs, and until the early 60s, most pop singers were cover artists. But they were remaining essentially true to the originals. Now, this wasn’t true of jazz. If you listen to, say, Miles Davis “Someday My Prince Is Come,” this instrumental version is nothing if not a variation on the song.

So a variation is not an 1880s type of cover though it has similarities.

Next I wondered if it was a type of sampling. Here is the similarity: certainly since Puff Daddy and Biggie revolutionized rap, rap has used a sample as a template for rappers to remake in their image. If you listen to Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and then listen to Biggies’ “Mo Money, Mo Problems” you will see exactly what I mean…. the chorus of Ross’ original is swallowed whole inside Biggies pop masterwork.

And still: sampling sometimes is a form of variation but sampling is and always will be essentially about sampling rhythm tracks and scratching to repeat them.

So is there not a modern equivalent to the re-mix? A friend of mine asked me to send her Neyo’s “She’s Got Her Own” and so I did but she didn’t want that. She wanted the re-mix with Jamie Foxx and Fabulous. The song was no longer the song only: it was one of many variations.

Rihanna has done so many at this point she could release an album of re-mixes of “Unbrella” alone. Almost randomly (just off the top of my head) the T-Pain-Justin Timberlake “Can’t believe It” remix is variable via the vocals; M.I.A.’s “Boyz” remix variable through a different drum track and a Jay-Z sharing lead and rapping.

It’s a suckers game to go wide on such a wide genre but the remix seems to me to be a precise offspring to the variation all those years ago.

Funny how much difference a week makes. “Together through Life” I will review entirely at a later date and most of the other songs I’ve mentioned in passing. NOFX’s is a very good punk band and if you like em “We Call It America” is speed punk at its best. Settle are a pretty good rock band from Pennsylvania. “Grandmarshall’s Mooncloth Robes” is a hot little rocker with a catchy chorus (if that sounds a way too obvious reviw, it still aint easy to write and play hot little rockes with catchy chorus). The album is called “At Home We’re Tourist” but they sound nothing like gang Of four.

Done with me? Good, I’m going back to Alfred Breindel’s version of “33 Variations”.

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