After the critically acclaimed Nexus 6581 album Reyn Ouwehand, a former member of the famed Maniacs of Noise C64 music group, turned to Martin Galway for inspiration with his next SID remix album - with a twist. Reyn, whose previous album was mostly acoustic, decided to create some synthy dance remixes of Galway tunes for the Back In Time Live 3 event - and his work turned into an entire album's worth of tracks.
Galway compositions with a dance/club treatment? To me this sounds like fitting a jet engine to a swimming pool or putting stop lights on books - a weird combination, to say the least. Galway's tunes naturally lend themselves to ambient covers, not thumping rhythms, so I got very curious about how Reyn managed to tackle this challenge.
The subtle and not so subtle hints on the album cover provide great visual clues that this CD is intimately tied to the renaissance of the Commodore-64: the cover is the color of the breadbox C64 with rainbow colored lines running across the top. A prominent Commodore logo in the middle of the front is coupled with the triple-soundwave sign of all audio things - a great logo for SID music in general that also made it onto a T-shirt that Reyn was selling at Back In Time Live 3. The artwork on the CD itself makes it look like it's a good old 1541 floppy disc - a great touch!
Inside the cover are two short articles, both by Warren Pilkington, current administrator of the High Voltage SID Collection: the first one is a great and lengthy description how Martin Galway got into SID composition and what he did later on, and the other one is about who Reyn is and how he got to where he is now.
Although the album is advertised as a club/dance album, I found that only half of the tracks are like that. Which, I think, will disappoint people who will buy this album for that reason alone. Actually, these are not remixes per se, but one-to-one synth covers of the originals overlayed with club rhythms.
1. Parallax [title]
That is true of the first track already. Although a rather weak base drum beat is present in most part of the track, the rhythm section is basically missing in action, because Parallax is an inherently ambient track and sounds like even Reyn didn't have a clue how to "dance it up". I give credit to Reyn, though, for not mutilating Galway's arrangement, as the entire 11 and a half minute long composition is present here. Extra credit for the excellent handling of the last 4 melodic minutes of the track which shows how talented Reyn is and brings out Galway's genious, too. But whenever the rhythm section is present I feel it is being forced upon this otherwise excellent synth cover.
2. Comic Bakery [title]
I think Danko's attempt on the Back In Time II album to remix this tune failed miserably, so I was rather skeptical about this one, too. However, it is one of the best dance remixes on this album, stretching the original tune to almost 6 minutes. Reyn captured the feel of the original perfectly and overlayed a matching club rhythm on top of it with drums and synth stabs. The combination works very nicely and is pretty danceable!
3. Yie Ar Kung Fu 2 [title]
The excellent original Galway composition is melancholic and a bit romantic and Reyn wisely decided to leave it so. Except for some annoying low-fi brush drums introduced at 1:30 or so, it is a one-to-one cover with little deviation from the original. Which can be looked at either as a blessing or a curse. A blessing, because the SID itself is great to begin with. A curse, because I expected more from Reyn: some improvisations, some additional personal touches...
4. Athena [title]
It's almost a no-brainer to make this SID into a thumping dance hit and Reyn doesn't disappoint here: he turned it into a highly rhythmic, almost religious experience. I only wish the rest of the club remixes on this album were of the same quality as this one.
5. Arkanoid [title]
Imagine that the SID sounds are replaced with some wacky, filtered synth sounds and you get what is presented here. It's not bad, but I actually think it's good that it's not longer than 2 and a half minutes.
6. Insects In Space [title]
Unfortunately, Reyn cuts to the chase with this cover of his, which means that the entire "buzzing insects" intro of the SID is missing - which was not only an excellent way to set the mood for the game, but it was also one of the most amazing displays of Galway's mastery of the SID chip. Regardless, this remix is only slightly better than average: it's a grey blob that you can never quite comprehend.
7. Parallax [ingame]
It's hard to top the Back In Time 3 version of this composition. Reyn couldn't do it either, but he got suspiciously close to it - too close. Of course, how many ways can this Galway tune be remixed? It's spacey-floaty, touchy-feely, synthy-ambient.
8. Miami Vice [ingame]
Ohmegod, this track is over 12 minutes long which means that Reyn included the entire original arrangement in his cover! The slowly evolving, almost fractal nature of the tune is carried forward by a slowly built up club rhythm. This would definitely work in a club environment (especially if the DJ is mixing this tune live!), but by the middle of the track it starts to bore or even annoy a listener who pays too much attention to it.
9. Rambo [high score]
Providing a welcome break from the rest of the tracks this is a 3 minute drums- only exercise, very much in line with the original. Hiring a real drummer would've helped here tremendously, as the featured synth drums are somewhat weak and too computerized. Which was probably the point Reyn wanted to make in the first place, but it doesn't quite work for me.
10. Wizball [title]
This oft-remixed tour de force of what many perceive as the pinnacle of Galway's C64 career gets a rather good treatment by Reyn on his album. But I don't think it's quite as good as the fantastic Wizball 2000 mix on Back In Time II, as Reyn's obsession with sticking to the original arrangement actually backfires here: just when you would get into the rhythm of the track, the drums disappear. This provides a shock similar to getting your TV turned off right before the final seconds of an exciting sports event.
11. Wizball [ingame]
This almost non-dance cover starts with a 5 minute chill-out section, probably to let the dancers cool off (although I don't think they even broke a sweat over this album). This portion of the track has a lot more potential than what it actually fulfills. Again, what I miss are the variations, the subtle, but oh-so-important background clues of Reyn's genious. Then it turns around completely: it quiets down into that famous Wizball melody in a style reminiscent of Jarre's Band in the Rain composition and lets the listener slowly float out of the trance...
This album, which started life as a small work for BIT Live 3, is a notable effort by Reyn Ouwehand, mostly because the original arrangements are kept intact. For example, the Parallax title tune and the Miami Vice ingame tunes are really 11+ minutes long - it must've been very hard to squeeze uptempo drumtracks into such rigid frameworks. But not even Reyn could pull this off all the time: for some tracks, it works, for some others, it fails.
Reyn has raised the bar very high for himself with Nexus 6581 - and he couldn't live up to it. His talent turned out an album where even the worst tracks are better than average - but where most of the best tracks also leave something to be desired. I think many tracks just won't work in a club environment simply because they lack a good, danceable rhythm.
While I have no doubt that Galway Remixed will sell more copies than Nexus simply because it has greater commercial appeal, I think this is achieved at the expense of quality. Nexus is truly a piece of artwork with intricate details and elaborate soundscapes (Asian Legends, anyone?), but Galway Remixed feels more like a mass-produced reproduction of a painting than an original Mona Lisa. Which, I think, is a shameful sacrifice of Reyn's talents.
URL: Reyn Ouwehand's webpage