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Pre-order Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling

Cover Design: Ludmil Trenkov

Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling can now be pre-ordered.  You can place your order on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Powell’sl Books, or another major online bookseller in your region, anywhere in the world.  The book is scheduled to be available in Europe in July, 2012 and in the U.S. in September/October of 2012.

The book will also be available electronically through university libraries that have subscriptions with Springer’s online service, Springerlink.  I encourage educators who find the book as a whole, or in part, of use for classes to consider the latter option to make the material available to students at an affordable price.

Anyone should be able to preview book chapters on Springerlink once the book is released everywhere.  If you would like a print copy for review, please send me, Eduardo Navas, an e-mail with your information and motivation for requesting a print version.

For all questions, please feel free to contact me at eduardo_at_navasse_dot_net.

Also, see the main entry on this book for the table of content and more information.

Below are selected excerpts from the book:

From Chapter One, Remix[ing] Sampling, page 11:

Before Remix is defined specifically in the late 1960s and ‘70s, it is necessary to trace its cultural development, which will clarify how Remix is informed by modernism and postmodernism at the beginning of the twenty-first century. For this reason, my aim in this chapter is to contextualize Remix’s theoretical framework. This will be done in two parts. The first consists of the three stages of mechanical reproduction, which set the ground for sampling to rise as a meta-activity in the second half of the twentieth century. The three stages are presented with the aim to understand how people engage with mechanical reproduction as media becomes more accessible for manipulation. […]The three stages are then linked to four stages of Remix, which overlap the second and third stage of mechanical reproduction.

From Chapter two, Remix[ing] Music, page 61:

To remix is to compose, and dub was the first stage where this possibility was seen not as an act that promoted genius, but as an act that questioned authorship, creativity, originality, and the economics that supported the discourse behind these terms as stable cultural forms. […] Repetition becomes the privileged mode of production, in which preexisting material is recycled towards new forms of representation. The potential behind this paradigm shift would not become evident until the second stage of Remix in New York City, where the principles explored in dub were further explored in what today is known as turntablism: the looping of small sections of records to create new beats—instrumental loops, on top of which MCs and rappers would freestyle, improvising rhymes. […]

From Chapter Three, Remix[ing] Theory, page 125:

Once the concept of sampling, as understood in music during the ‘70s and ‘80s, was introduced as an activity directly linked to remixing different elements beyond music (and eventually evolved into an influential discourse), appropriation and recycling as concepts changed at the beginning of the twenty-first century; they cannot be considered on the same terms prior to the development of machines specifically design for remixing. This would be equivalent to trying to understand the world in terms of representation prior to the photo camera. Once a specific technology is introduced it eventually develops a discourse that helps to shape cultural anxieties. Remix has done and is currently doing this to concepts of appropriation. Remix has changed how we look at the production of material in terms of combinations. This is what enables Remix to become an aesthetic, a discourse that, like a virus, can move through any cultural area and be progressive and regressive depending on the intentions of the people implementing its principles.

More excerpts available once the book is available.

Upcoming Book, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling

Image: Preliminary cover design and logo for upcoming book by Ludmil Trenkov.

I am very happy to announce that my book Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling is scheduled to be published later on this year, by Springer Wien New York Press.  If all goes according to schedule, it should be available no later than this Fall.  The book offers an in-depth analysis on Remix as a form of discourse.  To get a sense of what to expect, you can read my previously published text, “Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture,” also available through Springer: http://www.springerlink.com/content/r7r28443320k6012/. You can read my online version as well, though I encourage you to support the publishing company by downloading the official version.

I will offer more information about the book in the near future, such as the table of content, and excerpts from the text. For now I wanted to share the promotional abstract:

Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling is an analysis of Remix in art, music, and new media. Navas argues that Remix, as a form of discourse, affects culture in ways that go beyond the basic recombination of material. His investigation locates the roots of Remix in early forms of mechanical reproduction, in seven stages, beginning in the nineteenth century with the development of the photo camera and the phonograph, leading to contemporary remix culture. This book places particular emphasis on the rise of Remix in music during the 1970s and ‘80s in relation to art and media at the beginning of the twenty-first Century. Navas argues that Remix is a type of binder, a cultural glue—a virus—that informs and supports contemporary culture.

Notes on Everything is a Remix, Part 1, 2, and 3

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix is a four part web-film series directed and produced by Kirby Ferguson. It has been about a year since the first segment (above) was released. Since then, Ferguson has released parts two and three. The fourth and final installment is scheduled to be released this Fall of 2011, and I look forward to viewing it.

When I viewed part one, I really liked it, and thought that the title, while it may sound polemical to some degree (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way), somewhat falls along the lines of how I view and have been discussing Remix as a form of discourse during the past few years. However, once I viewed the other two segments, I realized that the way some of the material is presented begins to water down the very foundation of the term “remix.”

For this reason, while I do like very much Ferguson’s series, and often share it as a reference with anyone who wants to get a sense of Remix as a form of discourse, I find the need to write down some of the issues that may be overseen in Ferguson’s series.

This oversight perhaps may be in part because short films cannot possibly cover in-depth analysis as a series of texts or a book would. On the other hand, it may be inevitably tempting to make an ever-expanding megamix about culture and media with a generalization that one cannot fully embrace (though in the spirit of remixing can truly like and admire). With both of these possibilities in mind, I briefly share my views on this series.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

The main issue about remixes that comes up, even in the first video, is that there is no explanation of the relation between material sampling and cultural citation. as I previously explained in Regressive and Reflexive Mashups, there is a difference between a Medley and a Megamix: the former is played by a band, while the latter is composed in the studio usually by a DJ producer, who understands how to manipulate breaks on the turntables.

What this means is that a remix in the strict sense of its foundational definition has to be materially grounded on a citation that can be quantified, in other words, measured. This is one of the reasons why DJ producers quickly ran into trouble with copyright law: a lawyer could play a sample from a Hip Hop song, in direct juxtaposition with the originating source of the sample and make evident on purely material grounds that the sample was an act of plagiarism.

But this is not exactly what happened with Led Zeppelin. What happened with Zeppelin, as the example given in Ferguson’s first segment, was straight forward plagiarism within the tradition of covers and knock-offs. Two terms that are also mentioned in the first segment as forms of “legal remixes.” What these forms of recycling content do share with remixes is intertextual citation–the embedding of ideas by way of direct or even indirect reference, which often is not materially grounded, but rather made possible through well calculated emulation.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

The best example of intertextual citation in the postmodern sense would be Quentin Tarantino’s films, which are also mentioned at the end of the credits of part two. Tarantino does not sample directly from the films he references in his own work, but rather recreates the scenes or shots to develop his own narratives. This allows him to claim autonomy of the material, much in the way that Zeppelin (in my view unfairly) can still keep their credibility, perhaps on the ground of reproducing material in a unique way that is their own–even if they failed to cite the sources from which they blatantly stole.

In other words, because, both, Tarantino and Zeppelin don’t materially take, but rather emulate with great precision, their productions are not remixes by definition, but rather informed by principles of Remix as a form of discourse. Their actions are cultural citations. These details are missed, unfortunately, in the first three parts of the series by Ferguson.

Now, as it is already obvious above, I do extend the concept of remix as Remix (with a capital “R”) to pretty much all the areas of culture that Ferguson mentions in his series, including the Apple computer. But when I do this, it is to emphasize that we are functioning under a paradigm ruled by acts of material appropriation and recyclability.

The attitude of remix made possible with the technology first introduced earlier in photo-collage and tape loops and eventually music samplers, has now become an attitude, an aesthetic that informs the way cultural material is produced. But this does not mean that “everything is a remix.” This may appear to be so, but as much as I myself would like this to be the case, it is not. What one could say is that “everything is intertextual,” which is closer to the tradition of sharing ideas in conceptual and material form, prior to the time of modernism. Historically all the material covered by Ferguson is certainly relevant in terms of recyclability, but it does not validate the catch-all statement “everything is a remix.”

Understandably, “everything is intertextual” (which could also be contested if one gets really picky) is not as catchy as “everything is a remix.” To go viral, one must use what is in vogue and quickly understood. Intertextuality had its time in the postmodern period. Now, it appears that remix is the catch all phrase.

And why is it important to point out such nuances that in the end a person enjoying Ferguson’s short films may find too nit-picky? Because if we actually take the time to differentiate the referencing of ideas in conceptual and material form (ideas, and actual products reused) then copyright law may actually be changed. If we keep referencing intellectual production in general fashion as Ferguson’s work unfortunately does, we will not be able to change laws on intellectual property. It is for this reason, only, why I write this entry, because I find that the film series could benefit from understanding the important differences between material samplings and cultural citations.

I should add a note to explain that my concern here is not academic by any means, even though I make a living by working with research institutions. I have been invested in remix culture long before the very term was coined. Before investing myself professionally as a media researcher and artist, I was a DJ for over fifteen years. And for this reason, as much as I would like everything to be a remix, I have to admit that this is not the case. To be blunt, from the point of view of cultural critics who are wary of hegemony, “Everything is a Remix” can be understood as a flip-on-the-script of diversity, paradoxically, to become a totalitarian statement–that anyone who is invested in difference is compelled to resist. I say this understanding that Ferguson probably does not mean it this way, which is why I do share his work as much as I can. Kudos to Ferguson.

Shrine to the Funky Drummer

Shrine to the Funky Drummer from Joshua Pablo Rosenstock on Vimeo.

Recently received a link from Joshua Pablo Rosenstock about his video, Shrine to the Funky Drummer.  The video presents Rosenstock as a subject who is greatly influenced by James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.”  We quickly learn that his interest is a jumping point to understand how the song’s basic drum beat has become part of Hip Hop consciousness.

While the video, in my opinion could be edited (the intro is too long, and some footage does not match the sound), it does provide some historical context as to the art of sampling and its place in Hip Hop Culture.  It starts with Rosenstock listening to a scratched 45, and then playing the beat on a drum set.  The next set of scenes are about DJ’s manipulating The Funky Drummer’s break beat, complemented with random interviews with record diggers and turntablists. The video then goes back to Rosenstock who no longer plays a drum set, but a set of samples from a drum machine.

Shrine to the Funky Drummer reminds me a bit about Nate Harrison’s  Amen Brother Break.  Though very different in approach, both videos can be complementary references for understanding the history of Remix.  I understand that Shrine to the Funky Drummer’s current version is a rough cut, so I look forward to the final production.

REBLOG (Press Release): Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs

Image and text source: IMT Gallery

Note: Press release about an upcoming exhibition in which I participate taking place in London at IMT Gallery during May through June of 2010.

———-

Dead Fingers Talk is an ambitious forthcoming exhibition presenting two unreleased tape experiments by William Burroughs from the mid 1960s alongside responses by 23 artists, musicians, writers, composers and curators.

Few writers have exerted as great an influence over such a diverse range of art forms as William Burroughs. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and Junky, continues to be regularly referenced in music, visual art, sound art, film, web-based practice and literature. One typically overlooked, yet critically important, manifestation of his radical ideas about manipulation, technology and society is found in his extensive experiments with tape recorders in the 1960s and ’70s. Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs is the first exhibition to truly demonstrate the diversity of resonance in the arts of Burroughs’ theories of sound.

listen to your present time tapes and you will begin to see who you are and what you are doing here mix yesterday in with today and hear tomorrow your future rising out of old recordings

everybody splice himself in with everybody else

The exhibition includes work by Joe Ambrose, Steve Aylett, Alex Baker & Kit Poulson, Lawrence English, The Human Separation, Riccardo Iacono, Anthony Joseph, Cathy Lane, Eduardo Navas, Negativland, o.blaat, Aki Onda, Jörg Piringer, Plastique Fantastique, Simon Ruben White, Giorgio Sadotti, Scanner, Terre Thaemlitz, Thomson & Craighead, Laureana Toledo and Ultra-red, with performances by Ascsoms and Solina Hi-Fi.

Inspired by the expelled Surrealist painter Brion Gysin, and yet never meant as art but as a pseudo-scientific investigation of sounds and our relationship to technology and material, the experiments provide early examples of interactions which are essential listening for artists working in the digital age.

In the case of the work in the exhibition the contributors were asked to provide a “recording” in response to Burroughs’ tape experiments. The works, which vary significantly in media and focus, demonstrate the diversity of attitudes to such a groundbreaking period of investigation.

Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs is curated by Mark Jackson. The project is supported by the London College of Communication, CRiSAP and ADi Audiovisual and has been made possible by the kind assistance of the William Burroughs Trust, Riflemaker and the British Library.

Ant Farm’s Cadillac Ranch Remixed

The above image is a photoshop composite by Steve Brown for the New York Times. The background was taken from the Getty Images archive. It is an illustration for the article Putting the Dream Car Out on the Pasture, published on July 27, 2008, which explains how people are coping with the high cost of gas prices.

As many people in the arts would know as well as those who love to take road trips, the above image borrows from Ant Farm’s famous land art piece “Cadillac Ranch,” in which Cadillacs were dumped into the ground at Amarillo, Texas. In 1997 it was moved a couple of miles from its original location. It is a disappointment that there is no reference to Ant Farm’s work. Below are some images of Ant Farm’s public art installation, along with comments by the people who took the pictures.

Image from Flickr

Quote: “The Cadillac Ranch just west of Amarillo is a famous Route 66 landmark. Built up in 1974 by said to be eccentric but brilliant millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 and The Ant Farm, this line of old Cadillacs are buried nose first into the ground. The angle of the cars are also reputed to be the same as the ancient pyramids at Cheops. The Cadillacs were moved further west in 1997 from its original location due to growth from nearby Amarillo. The Cadillac Ranch is another of the must see sights off the Mother Road.”
-RoadsidePeek.Com Website

Image and text from Treehugger

Quote: Ant farm was a group of artists and architects that, along with Archigram, was hugely influential among architecture students in the seventies, particularly if you were into mobile architecture, alternative technologies and dovetail joints. Many know about their Cadillac Ranch, which remains an iconic statement about the end of oil as it was in the last oil crisis; few, including Regine at Worldchanging know about their other work. However she does now, after seeing an exhibition of their work at the The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Seville.

Munch Remixed by the Wall Street Journal: a brief critical note

Image source: Wall Street Journal

I read a Wall Street Journal article on Sunday July 20, titled “How to Control your Fears in a Fearsome Market.” The article by Jason Zweig was accompanied with the above image by artist Heath Hnegargner. The image is quite small online, but the WSJ’s print edition shows a much larger reproduction.

There are a few things that intrigue me about the image. First, there is no reference to Edvard Munch’s original work, The Scream. This could be because Munch’s work may be so ingrained in people’s minds that a citation of the original is no longer necessary.

Second, Hnegargner appropriates Munch’s image in the name of that which many consider the opposite of nature: modernity and its current aftermath in the global economic market. In the image above, the appropriated figure covers his ears in despair not because nature is screaming (as the original image is contextualized based on Munch’s writings), but because the world market is screaming. Such is the power of appropriation. Below is a reproduction of Munch’s painting, from 1893.

Image source: http://www.charleroisd.org/middleschool/images/munch.png

Youtube Video: DJ Spooky – That Subliminal Kid -Remix Culture

Still from Youtube upload: Spooky lectures on Remix Culture and Sampling

Looking for material on Remix Culture, I recently ran into this two hour lecture by DJ Spooky at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Spooky beat juggles history to argue his position on sampling. From the Phonograph to the Jamaican Sound System, one gets a good sense of the potential creativity that Spooky and other promoters of Remix Culture believe in. Some of the questions at the end are quite interesting, and challenging. Definitely worth the 100 minutes of your time.

Imagining modernity, revising tradition: Nor-tec music in Tijuana and other borders, by Alejandro L. Madrid

Image source: Youtube

Text source: Look Smart: Find Articles

December 2005

Based on extensive fieldwork in Tijuana, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Mexico City, this article explores the intersections of identity, modernity, desire, and marginality in the production, distribution, and transnational consumption of Nor-tec music. Tijuana musicians developed Nor-tec by combining sounds sampled from traditional music of the north of Mexico (conjunto norteno and banda) with compositional techniques borrowed from techno music. The resulting style reflects the current re-elaboration of tradition in relation to imaginary articulations of modernity that takes place in Tijuana’s youth border culture.

Read the entire text at Look Smart: Find Articles

‘Copyright criminals’ look to remix the noise–legally, by Daniel Terdiman

Image source: Copyright Criminals

Text source: Cnet

When Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, says he thinks musicians should be able to remix samples of others’ clips into new works, he puts his money where his mouth is.

Miller is part of a group of musicians including Public Enemy’s Chuck D; Parliament Funkadelic’s George Clinton; and the band De La Soul who are allowing the public to mash up audio snippets from interviews they’ve given into submissions for a new remixing competition.

The Copyright Criminals Remix Contest, which is sponsored by the nonprofit copyright licensing organization Creative Commons, is all about promoting remixing culture and encouraging artists like Miller to make their work legally and affordably available for other musicians to manipulate.

Creative Commons has built a licensing system that allows content creators to decide which usage rights to their work to grant others. In every case, the licenses require attribution to the creator. Some allow users to manipulate licensed work for any non-commercial purpose, while others don’t. The ultimate point is to faciliate copyrights that are flexible on which rights users get.

Read the entire article at Cnet

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