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DJ Hojo – 40 Last Times

To some people I’m sure the thought of listening to 42 versions of Ariana Grande‘s ‘One Last Time’ in a continuous 47-minute-long mix would be akin to spending 47 minutes imprisoned within a kind of Buddhist hell (Naraka) incurred by a very minor karmic infraction (say, using the word “your”, when “you’re” is meant, or vice versa). I’m not fluent in Sanskrit but I’d imagine the English translation of such an underworld would be ‘The Hell of Enduring Listening to the Musical Contents of a Teenage Girl’s iTunes Library for 47 Minutes’. However, these people may not be aware that DJ Hojo‘s form of artistic reverence draws from a well of musical tradition that dates back to the Renaissance and beyond.

If the mix were entitled something along the lines of the ‘Grande Variations’ or ‘Variations on a Theme of Ariana’ then this link to the past would become immediately clear and allusions to Bach‘s lauded Goldberg Variations or Elgar‘s esteemed Enigma Variations would be equally forthcoming, and that is exactly the lineage this mix belongs to. The fact that pretty much every renowned composer has utilised the theme-and-variations form in some way is a testament to its appeal and efficacy throughout the ages, and DJ Hojo undoubtedly shares this sentiment, as evidenced by his work here. This mix is DJ Hojo’s homage to Ms. Grande, much like Rachmaninoff paid respect to Paganini with his rhapsodic variations based on the latter’s famous 24th caprice, or Benjamin Britten paid tribute to his former mentor Frank Bridge with his set of variations for string orchestra. Sure, there are quite glaring differences between the creations bestowed unto the world by the past masters and the work under discussion here, but they are largely products of the age and environment in which they were formulated, with this work being the 21st century equivalent of the same basic concept.

Take one of the most exemplary instances of the theme-and-variations form, the aforementioned Goldberg Variations. The entire 1024 bars of the work (including the reiteration of the theme in the ‘Aria da Capo’) are performed on the same keyboard instrument (usually harpsichord or piano), meaning the exact same timbre throughout the duration of the piece. And due to the imposed structure of the form, the harmonic progressions and implicit bassline remains roughly consistent throughout, meaning the crucial element that carries the role of the variator is the melody. (Obviously, changes in dynamics and tempo are present but they aren’t intrinsically tied to melodic development, and are mostly at the discretion of the performer rather than strictly specified by the composer.) By contrast, 40 Last Times retains the key melodic component (Grande’s vocals) mostly in a form that is readily recognisable from the original recorded performance, and the variety is introduced through altering everything around it. The vocals act as the anchor (as opposed to the bassline used by Bach) and even when distorted and manipulated using various production techniques they hold everything together with their repetitious gravity. The greatest difference, however, between the two works is evidently the variety in timbre used in the contemporary effort. By using a large selection of instruments, be they acoustic, electric or synthetic, the relatively basic melodic variation is comfortably compensated for by a wealth in the tonal spectrum, and the supporting accompaniment contains sufficient diversity to mask any over-reliance on the core repeated elements. In both instances there are points at which the music has been so distanced from the original theme/version, whether timbrally or melodically, that even with the harmonic bondages remaining in place, the sensory effect is that an entirely new piece of music is being experienced, and thus the seeming constraints of the structure are transcended; the limitations becoming liberations.

So whilst it may be a stretch to relate this mix to the passacaglias and chaconnes of the Baroque, there is no denying that the basis for its existence is indebted to a form that has been present within our musical landscape for centuries (if not millennia), and that the fascination with similar-yet-different versions of the same musical fragment joined into a sinuous continuum holds an appeal that inexplicably transcends time, culture and genre to maintain a perpetual undercurrent beneath humanity’s interest in musical appreciation.

(With all that said, I still think ‘Break Free’ is Grande’s magnum opus, and would love a similar treatment applied to that song as has been demonstrated magnificently here by DJ Hojo.)