Yearly Archives: 2004

Remembering Only What I Wanted It To Be, Not What It Was (WB:RMX)

Feets, Don't Fail Me Now: RMXOnce upon a time there was a group of musical artists who pioneered their own way in the world.  But before once upon a time there were a bunch of kids who wanted to start a rock band and get a record contract.  Those kids recorded a demo and sent it to Warner Brothers.  It was rejected and they never became the rock band.  They became The Residents, and the world is better for it.

WB:RMX is the first official release of material from The Warner Bros Album which, legend has it, led to the group’s name.  The original album has attained legendary status among fans, many clamoring for it to be made available.  And now it has finally been released, but with a catch: it has been heavily remixed with new music.

How will the fans, those who have been salivating for this early material ever since they learned of its existence, respond to it?  On the one hand it can feel like their wishes not only have been granted, but also new work has been put into the album, indicating a real interest on the part of The Residents, a group that has traditionally played down this material so much as to practically deny its existence.  On the other hand it can feel like a slap in the face: “no, you can’t have it, and here’s bizarre rendering of it designed to mock you.”  Evidence of the latter would be the twisted cassette version of the 1977 Radio Special; evidence of the former would be all of the remix projects they’ve been releasing lately (expanded Freak Show and DVD releases of Eskimo, Disfigured Night, and Demons Dance Alone).

I think it’s a little bit of both.  The Residents clearly keep a distance between themselves and this early recording, treating it as a completely separate entity, and providing complete freedom to manipulate it as they see fit.  But they’ve also neglected to release the album in its original form, implicitly setting up RMX as the real version, not to be compared with the source, as is so often the intent of a remix project.  The listener is usually rewarded for being familiar with the original work, picking up on what has and hasn’t been changed.  Here, that is not permitted.  Everything is new to the listener, and the distinction between original and remix gets muddied a bit.  There are moments that are undoubtedly old, and others that are undoubtedly new, but there is a wealth of material between those extremes.  Maybe it’s new and using more traditional instruments; maybe it’s old but run through a computer.  This album represents a view of life that believes we never leave our past behind, that it remains interwoven with the present and shapes our future.

In denying the existence of this material for so long, The Residents had been running from their past, though at this point in their career it becomes a bit understandable.  Like looking at childhood photographs, they probably don’t even recognize the creators of these 1971 tapes.  To put it out unaltered under the name “Residents” would be blatantly false, and to use an entirely different name would just be awkward.  But if we look at this, not from now to then, but from then to now, the story is different.  Imagine if you knew that, in the future, you would try to forget who you are and what you are doing right now – indeed, if you were to have no presence in your future.  That’s a terrible feeling, and nobody deserves that.  In accepting this early material, The Residents are accepting their former selves, at the very least as valuable collaborators.  And for a bunch of kids just starting out, uncertain of direction but armed with a big dream of mixing art with music, working with a group such as The Residents must feel like the greatest opportunity imaginable.  We should watch that young group; I think they might wind up doing something very interesting.

I Wonder If They Have Christmas On The Other Side (12 Days of Brumalia)

I want my goose to lay a Marathon station for Brumalia.Another holiday season comes to a close.  For many it’s a stressful time, packed with family obligations and an inescapable evaluation of how well you’ve done the past year.  It could be better.   It could be, say, a celebration of life and sharing.  Some people work to make that happen…

The Residents have been putting a song on their new website every day for the past thirteen days (well, except for Saturday, when there was an additional bonus track).  Collectively the fourteen songs are called The Twelve Days Of Brumalia, which expectedly makes numerous references to the Christmas carol, but more importantly showcase a bit of the group’s internal creative process.

Many of the song titles are playful variations on the original lyrics, such as “Partridge Pairing” and “Lying Goose.”  My favorite is “Wiggling Wahines” in place of “nine ladies dancing” (I did have to look up “wahines” and that’s probably why I like this one best – that, and the hula-dancing Homer Simpson which accompanies it).  The images (one for every song) often provide a visual pun –  a calling Tweety Bird, a pipe organ paired with a Piper airplane, etc.  Even before getting to the music, a great sense of fun permeates this project.  And why not?  It’s a gift for fans, a way to say thank you for being there.

The pictures incorporate two other themes: religious images and water.  The first is obvious: the winter solstice is a holiday for many religions, and The Residents draw attention to this fact, blending the ideologies together.  Not in a dismissive way or out of ignorance, but with a sense of inclusion.  The Internet, more than anything else, provides the means through which we can have a true global community.  And Brumalia is a block party for all who wish to visit.

As for the water… at first I thought the images were sinking.  Or that the water was rising to engulf them.  But now I think they are rising from the water.  Water: the basis of life.  From the depths comes a new creature.  And the new creature The Residents have brought?  None other than themselves.  They are changing again.

It is traditional for The Residents to announce their new perspective with a holiday release that is given away for free.  Brumalia is Santa Dog for the twenty-first century.  It reflects a change in how they approach music.  Granted, there is a fair amount of material from Demons Dance Alone included, but that only solidifies what appears to be a new direction for the group: music as elements to be manipulated, not unlike a DJ’s remix of a song.  Which, when said that way, sounds like what they’ve always done.  But the method has changed.  Same intent, different tools.

The source material also differs from the remix.  Some Brumalia tracks do come from older recordings, but most are entirely new, indicating that The Residents don’t see the need to let a piece of music age before feeding it into their music machine.  All notes, all sounds – equal in their eyes.  This is the New Residents.

It’s still early, and they are feeling their way around their new surroundings.  Brumalia is a collection of experiments.  Successful experiments, mind you – they wouldn’t hand out their failures as holiday gifts.  But I think it’s safe to say that this project is more varied, more eclectic – more schizophrenic, even – than what we’ll see from them next.  The Residents operate by jumping into interesting looking boxes and pushing against the walls to see which give and which have just the right amount of resistance.  Some pieces from Brumalia came easily for them, and some were too difficult or ultimately unsatisfying.  But somewhere in the middle they find the ideas and techniques that itch.  It might be a thematic concept, it might be a particular musical style, it might be a technique for producing these sounds.  Whatever it is, they’ve found it, and found it worth exploring.  Next step: scratch that itch.