John Cale has always been my preferred member of the Velvets, mainly for his experimental approach and for channeling his great teachers of the 20th century musical history. Lou Reed is awesome too. I spun ‘Berlin’ like a million of times back in the day, but I’ve never really enjoyed Reed´s attitude. I felt it facilitated the dissolution of the original Velvet Underground after two absolutely ground-breaking albums, which served as an antidote to the hippie culture and all that nice talk about free love and peace. That creepy, squeaky violin in ‘Venus in Furs’ is definitely one of my most beloved sounds ever produced and John has influenced me on many levels as a solo artist as well. When I came across the remix compilation Extra Playful Transitions, I decided to get over my distaste of remixes and give it a try. It can’t possibly end up like the Lou Reed and Metallica release, perhaps one of the most boring and terrible collaborations ever.
Actress, Maria Minerva, Alva Noto, Leyland Kirby, Tim Hecker…who else could rework tracks by someone so huge like Cale? Their versions push Cale’s original tracks into different sonic territories, infusing it with their trademark approaches and sounds. And it works. Be it Minerva’s dancey, hazy take, or Actress´ thorough deconstruction of Cale’s violin patterns, the results are smooth and a pleasure to listen to. Alva Noto manifests his ANBB side here, armed with his typical sine wave noisy warfare, although you´ve probably never heard something as poppy from Nikolai as on this EP. It sounds like Nine Inch Nails minus the angst-driven lyrics, and could be the perfect soundtrack for long car rides through the streets of decaying Bratislava. Hecker and Kirby remain faithful to their sonic signatures with dreamy ambience, only now disposing with an exclusive sample bank: I think it’s called John Cale playing the violin. The results are better than Hecker’s Ravedeath 1979. It would be interesting to see those two working together in future.
This is possibly one of the best tribute compilations: connecting a legend with some of the most talented present-day producers, completely reconfiguring the original release and presenting Cale in a new light.
Jacques Kustod is a musician currently based in Bratislava, Slovakia. His latest synth-driven EP Trois Visages is out as a free download.