May 8, 2009

Ye Olde Remixe

King Tubby - possible first 'producer as artist'.

The meaning of the word 'producer' has expanded over the last few musical eras, it now includes folks such as the remix artist and the DJ-turned-studio-album-creator. The creative status of the producer's work has leaped into prominence with the increased incidence of artist's whose product is music which has as its most defining element the fact that it was produced (rather than played or sung).

While many of these artists can and do recreate their production in live performance (Kid Koala serving a decidedly non-dance remix of "Moon River" on three platters), the point is that they make studio albums which are not constituted by any element of performance (see the extreme example of Girltalk, who watches his laptop as it plays his show for him, thereby relegating himself to the role of observer of his own studio work - his musical status as performer is reduced to knowing what is coming next in the song).

Allen Toussaint jamming.

Previous to the inception of the hip-hop producer, and anterior to even the disco producer, there were plenty of 'producers', but rarely did they play an acknowledged role in the creative brilliance of a given song. My dawg DJ Uncle Jam observed once that in terms of Allen Toussaint's production: "everything dude touched turned to gold". This may well be true, but he was still working with real live musicians, and while that might be considered even more impressive than mixing and programming, it is certainly different.

So, what do we make of the conceptual quality of this Quincy Jones meditation:

What's Going On
- Quincy Jones, Smackwater Jack (1971)

Jones is reinterpreting Marvin Gaye's original in a significant way (both came out in the same year). But what he's doing sounds nothing like a jazz interpretation, or an older school soul version, or a funk version. In fact, it sort of just sounds like the original version, but in different order, with different emphasis and timing. The first vocals we hear - "sister, sister, sister, sister" - come from the original version: "picket lines (sister) and picket signs (sister) don't punish me (sister) with brutality (sister)..." But those main vocals are left out. Sounds like a remix to me. Except performed.

This kind of conceptual remixing can be mapped almost exactly to Kid Koala's live/studio version of "Moon River".

Jones plays guitar in another track on the album. To be specific, he samples from the history of guitar blues moving forward in time. It is a cataloging project, much in the same way that Girltalk catalogs contemporary pop:

Guitar Blues Odyssey: From Roots to Fruits - Quincy Jones, Smackwater Jack (1971)

This song is clearly the work of a producer. Production requires some quality of perspective, a wider view than the average artist possesses. Creative production is making music about music. It is from these minds that the most innovative songs and albums emerge (e.g. Thriller).

Note: I've more or less omitted reggae's turn into dub from this discussion, and don't mean to say that Q. Jones was a first, just that he was the rad.

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