I’ll come right out and say it: I’m not a big fan of remixes. I understand the need and desire to pay some homage to music that you find inspiring and beautiful. And given our society’s predilection for recontextualizing and reiterating pop culture in general, remixing sort of seems to be the post-modern de rigueur thing to do. But maybe I subscribe too heavily to the auteur idea for artists in general, that the vision put forth by the original artist is the authoritative one — that it’s canon, if you will — and that other versions are, therefore, pretenders to the throne.
That’s one huge generalization, of course, and I don’t mean to whitewash all remixes in existence, nor do I intend to dismiss those with mad remixing skills. But again, generally speaking, if I have to choose between picking up an album of remixes, and getting an album of brand new material — either by the remixer(s) or the remixee(s) — new material will win out almost every time. I yearn for something new, something fresh, something original — and remixes just never quite leave me satisfied beyond the initial piquing of curiosity.
Which brings us to In Sea Remixes, a collection of remixes of Aarktica’s In Sea. And in addition to my normal dislike of remixes, I was especially anxious regarding this particular collection, for two reasons.
First is simply that I like In Sea a lot (I rank it, along with No Solace in Sleep, as my favorite Aarktica disc), and I simply don’t like running the risk of seeing (or hearing, as the case may be) things that I like and value being… mishandled.
Second, I was concerned simply due to the nature of Aarktica’s music. It’s one thing to remix a pop hit, with its numerous hooks and crooks to latch onto and send spiralling off into new directions. But In Sea’s music is, for the most part, as removed from any form of “pop” music as you can imagine. Remixing ambient music feels like a rather pointless exercise, unless you treat the source material as less raw materials to remix and more a canvas on which to create something new.
Not surprisingly, I find that the most successful and memorable remixes on In Sea Remixes are those that do just that: that take Jon DeRosa’s icily spectral sounds and incorporate them into songs that are less remix and more collaboration towards a new original.
For example, Rameses III’s “Sky Burial” remix of “I Am (The Ice)” takes the original’s ethereal sounds and shimmering guitars, and masterfully inverts them. The original suggested the Arctic sun peeking up over the horizon after a long, dark winter; the remix suggests the polar (npi) opposite. The guitar sounds are stretched out, becoming more ominous and amorphous. Meanwhile, the sighing vocals suggest cold winter winds beginning to make their presence felt as another stretch of wintry night sets in. Sky burial, indeed. The two versions may be dissimilar in tone and outlook, but they are both arresting, captivating examples of glacial ambient drift.
Mason Jones’ remix of “In Sea” also contains spare elements of the original, but sets them against that age-old remixing tool — fresh beats — to solid effect. Impressive — and surprising — considering that Aarktica’s music is at its best when it’s most beatless. And again, we have an interesting inversion of the original. There, the song’s warmth came from the very human sound of DeRosa’s hands sliding along his guitar’s strings. But with the remix, the warmth comes from the mirage-like waves of guitar that are cast off from the song’s rhythmic core and sent spinning off into the ether a la some desert vision.
Finally, Planar’s remix of “Young Light” trades surging guitar riffs for arpeggiated synths, beguiling female vocals, and beats. It’s one of the most dramatic reworkings on the disc — beat out only by Remora’s vulgar-yet-humorous electro/disco/hip-hop take on “Instill” — and one that instantly grabs my attention every time it comes on.
Unfortunately, other tracks are less memorable. Al Qaeda’s remix of “A Plague of Frost (In The Guise of Diamonds)” takes one of In Sea’s most subtle tracks and simply ramps up its levels for nearly 8 minutes with some extra noise and feedback tossed in for good measure. The result is a giant, ugly slab of sound that grows more oppressive and uninteresting with each passing second. ThisQuietArmy does something similar to “Corpse Reviver No. 2,” which is little more than a collection of quasi-power electronics, gloomy synths, and funereal beats drizzled over the original’s ponderous guitar tones.
James Duncan’s remix of “When We’re Ghosts” does little to deviate from the original aside from fragmenting its ragged noise bursts and ping-ponging them all over the place. Finally, the three remixes of Aarktica’s cover of Danzig’s “Am I Demon” leave little to no impression. They come, they go, and I promptly forget about them — which is a double shame seeing as how one of the remixers is The Declining Winter (and their version feels particularly tossed off).
All in all, In Sea Remixes offers little new insight into Aarktica’s music or any of the remixers. There are some fine tracks on the disc, no doubt about that (Rameses III’s remix is particularly haunting). The disc is at its best when a remixer’s muse melds with Aarktica’s original vision and something truly unique emerges. But In Sea Remixes is ultimately a mixed bag, little more than a curiosity piece in my collection.