In an attempt to cut down on the labor involved in transferring LPs to mp3s or CD, I’ve been binging a bit on buying some old music. I received a copy of the remastered version of Concrete Blonde’s eponymous debut from 1986, and it set my senses askew. This was one of those records I listened to so repeatedly at the time that I nearly had it memorized; but when I put it on something wasn’t right. For several songs, I tried to convince myself that it was because I was listening to it on the computer’s speaker system while transferring it to iTunes. But that wasn’t it at all—the entire record has been remixed using different takes, and perhaps some overdubs. Somehow, this just didn’t seem proper.

My memories of record albums encode a complex cascade of images and experiences; they are close to the core of my soul. It isn’t the music alone, or any sort of idolatry towards the performers, but rather that they hold vast stores of experiences that get triggered in a sort of Proustian digression that can last for days. To change them is to rewrite history, decentering what I thought I had experienced into something entirely new. It tastes of a transgression, of a deviance which can be either a guilty pleasure (gosh, I don’t remember it sounding that good!) or a cruel trick where records mixed for maximum impact on narrow bandwidth equipment is stretched until it breaks the dynamic of experience (I don’t remember that damn finger-cymbal!).

As I review early material on metaphor (Aristotle and Demetrius in particular) it dawns on me that there can be no transgression without some normative concept of the proper. We don’t want our histories to be tread upon and rewritten, because to move away from their actuality is to reduce them to metaphor. While metaphor is powerful, it rests on the idea that there is a “proper” term that can be bent or shifted to create a new thought. History is composed of old thoughts, not new ones. That’s why remixing history seems so deviant to me, I guess. It is one thing to offer up a new interpretation, but yet another to label it as if it were the original, only new and improved. Improvement is a crooked road, in this case, rather than a straight one.

That’s one of the reasons why when I get the chance I want to transfer more music from LPs for convenience’s sake. The paradigm case for musical “improvements,” in my opinion, is Frank Zappa’s re-recordings of his early Verve records. The bass and drum tracks literally rotted away from the masters, so he was forced to rerecord them. I have the original records. They are completely different in feeling and intent than the re-releases, and in most cases I like the original versions better. However, some of them were reenergized in a unique way by the invasive process of creating new rhythms for them. Sometimes these rhythms match the spirit of the original, but they nearly always take the song in entirely new directions.

The core question is how far it is proper to deviate from an original and still label it as such. When does an analogy stop being a reference to its source, and start becoming a unique assertion all its own?

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