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Popol Vuh remixes review

Popol Vuh - Aguirre, Nacht Schnee (Editions Mego)

Having been one of the pioneers of new age ambient music, it was rather amusing to see Austrian Noise label Editions Mego be given the chance to lay their hands on reinterpreting the late Florian Fricke’s legacy, but it proves to be an inspirational choice.  Popol Vuh have become popular to a certain extent through their close involvement with Werner Herzog, whose films have become part of the canon of classic post-war European cinema, although beyond the two collaborations here, taken from 1972’s Aguirre, Wrath of God soundtrack, and 1987’s Cobra Verde, they are still something of a mystery to many.  In fact, alongside Tangerine Dream they are one of the cornerstones of ambient electronic music, having produced one of the first truly electronic LPs with 1970’s Affenstunde. Fricke’s on-and-off relationship with electronic equipment book-ended their recording career, as he famously rejected it in 1972 after a wholesale conversion to Christianity and Hinduism, only to allow it back into his life near the end of Popol Vuh’s existence.  

The sort of excursions that Haswell and Hecker regularly saunter forth with would, I’m sure,  have Fricke turning in his grave, although I suspect that he would have enjoyed the icy minimalism of Vainio. It proves to be an interesting dichotomy of artistic aesthetics that is rewarding. Too many times, rather obvious artists have been chosen to remix the great and good of the German rock canon, and in the case of Kraftwerk and Can, the results have always been disappointing.  This is a refreshing 21st century take on two classic ambient pieces, Haswell and Hecker recoding the icy atmosphere of “Aguirre” and mirroring the descent of Klaus Kinski’s character into madness with accompanying squeals of electronic noise. Vainio’s effort is more streamlined, adding a more personal touch to what is an unusually uplifting piece of ambience.  If this is but the tip of the iceberg with regard to future reworkings of Popol Vuh’s back catalogue, then we are in for a rich journey.

 Toby Frith

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