oceanCertain types of music borrow heavily from the past. Chill-out music, for instance, often revolves around a distinctive sample, and some of those samples are used again and again on different tracks. It’s instructive sometimes to go back to the original. Ocean Beach (Cinematic Cybophonia Remix) is a chill-out classic from 2001, featuring highly distinctive tuned percussion and a beautiful “Hollywood-style” string section playing a theme dripping with glissando. It all sounds incredibly post-modern and is full of intriguing detail. This is the work of a Swiss DJ and producer called Eros Minichiello, who remixed an earlier (and much grittier) soul/acid jazz groove version by the Black Mighty Orchestra. This one is much cruder. It sets up the basic groove – complete with a flute reminiscent of the Theme from Shaft – and just pastes the same string sample on top of the groove, dispensing altogether with the tuned percussion. The Cybophonia Remix takes flute, drums and guitar from that version, but clearly goes back to the original source for the tuned percussion and strings.

So where do they come from? The source track turns out to be “Lujon”, a somewhat legendary instrumental from Henry Mancini’s 1961 album Mr Lucky Goes Latin. The entire first minute is used for the remix sample. Let’s take a closer look at the two most distinctive elements separately. First the tuned percussion, which in fact is responsible for the name of the piece. The lujon is the name of an instrument first commissioned by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet and built by a musician called Bill Loughborough (who was a friend of Harry Partch). The name “lujon” was a play on the name John Lewis. It had six metal tongs suspended inside a resonating box. The lujon was played for Mancini by Shelly Manne, and subsequently also used by film composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Some may also remember it from the soundtrack of the 1960s TV series Daktari, where it was also played by Shelly Manne.

The melodic bass line played on the lujon acts as counterpoint to the second distinctive element, the string section. I can’t do better than to quote from Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music by John Caps (2012). He describes “Lujon” as “an atmospheric nocturne with [a] hammock-swing melody and a sighing major-key release…the seductive melody wafts in from the strings with…a tropical ambiance”. Caps quotes Mancini himself on the details of the scoring: “…strictly a Ravel take-off…it’s just eight parts, starting four parts in the violins and then the four parts doubled an octave lower in the violas and the cellos. It’s a very sensuous sound that Ravel made famous. But he was my influence there.”

I have to say I was shocked to discover the extent of the borrowing in Ocean Beach (Remix). The reason is that the two core elements sampled sound so modern, even in the context of the 1961 original. But in the end my surprise doesn’t lessen my admiration for the remix, which adds new elements to great effect – such as the flute from Shaft, the rhythm guitar and drums from Black Mighty Orchestra (especially in the middle section), and above all, in the new sense of space and scale it brings to that beautiful string theme, which is really too big for the two minutes 37 seconds of the original piece. The final string section cadence (that “sighing major-key release” mentioned above) is particularly wonderful at the end, where it is repeated six or seven times during the fade-out. I think Mancini, a common target for sampling, would have approved – though he might have wanted a credit on the record label.

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