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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.

Listen to the Loop: filtering hand-picked tunes

Listentotheloop.com is a blog run by Christine Chatz.  I had the pleasure of meeting Christine over the holiday break, this past December, in San Diego, California.  She treats her blog as a type of curatorial venue where she “hand-picks” music artists much like a DJ would during a radio show.  My favorite posts are the ones called “Throwback Thursdays,” in which she usually features a historical figure that may have been overseen in music history.  Below is her snippet on the role Betty Davis (image above) played in the lives of Miles Davis,  Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone:

Raunchy, gritty, and hugely influential, Betty Davis remains unsurpassed as the queen of funk. At the time of her debut in 1973, she was attacked by critics for her “obscene” demeanor. Davis refused to tone it down, reveling in the emotions that fueled the vigor behind her “woman on the prowl” lyrics. During her marriage to Miles Davis, she introduced both Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone to the jazz great, inadvertently laying the groundwork for the production of the legendary record Bitches Brew.

Remix of Adorno’s Minima Moralia

Click image for large view.  Detail of Minima Moralia 6.

Minima Moralia Redux:

Minima Moralia Redux is a selective remix by Eduardo Navas of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia. Starting on October 16, 2011, an entry a week will be rewritten until the 153 aphorisms of Minima Moralia become part of the blog.

Theodor Adorno’s aphorisms are carefully analyzed and reinterpreted in order to explore the principles of the selective remix, often found in music and video. The selective remix consists of adding to or subtracting material from a pre-existing source.

Minima Moralia Redux is the result of a long term post-doctoral analysis in cultural analytics performed for The Department of Information Science and Media Studies  http://www.uib.no/infomedia/en at the University of Bergen, Norway, in collaboration with Software Studies Lab
http://lab.softwarestudies.com/ at the University of California, San Diego.

Minima Moralia Redux is part of the Blog Remixes:

Eduardo Navas

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.

Research on Remix and Cultural Analytics, Part 1

Image: Composite image of four YouTube video remixes. From top left to bottom right appear thumbnail montages of Charleston — Original Al & Leon Style!!, Charles Style, Charleston Mirror, and Charleston Mix.  Larger images of the montages with proper explanation are included below as part of this introduction to my initial research on viral videos.

As part of my post doctoral research for The Department of Information Science and Media Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway, I am using cultural analytics techniques to analyze YouTube video remixes.  My research is done in collaboration with the Software Studies Lab at the University of California, San Diego. A big thank you to CRCA at Calit2 for providing a space for daily work during my stays in San Diego.

What follows is a brief introduction of my preliminary interest on video remixes and how I plan to use cultural analytics to evaluate their evolution on YouTube.  My current research consists of various elements, some which I will not introduce at length today, but will only mention to contextualize the use of video grid montage as an analytical tool.


Dead spin: Panasonic discontinues Technics analog turntables

TOKYO (TR) – Fans of analog music were dealt another blow when consumer electronics company Panasonic announced earlier this month that it would be discontinuing the audio products within its Technics brand, most notably the legendary line of analog turntables.

On October 20, the company said that it was winding down production of the Technics SL-1200MK6 analog turntable, the SH-EX1200 analog audio mixer and the RP-DH1200 and RP-DJ1200 stereo headphones due to challenges in the marketplace.

“Panasonic decided to end production mainly due to a decline in demand for these analog products and also the growing difficulty of procuring key analog components necessary to sustain production,” the company said in statement issued to The Tokyo Reporter.

Last year, Japan’s last remaining vinyl pressing plant, owned by the production company Toyo Kasei, produced around 400,000 discs from its multifloor factory in Yokohama’s Tsurumi Ward, a far cry from the industry’s peak of 70 million four decades ago.

Panasonic said that sales of analog decks today represent roughly 5 percent of the figure from ten years ago. At present the company has no plans for putting analog turntables back on the market.

Read complete story at The Tokyo Reporter

Remix and the Rouelles of Media Production

I’m very happy to be collaborating with Mette Birk, Mark O’ Cúlár, Owen Gallagher, Eli Horwatt, Martin Leduc, and Tara Zepel on a chapter contribution for Networked Book.

Direct link to Chapter Introduction: http://remix.networkedbook.org/

ABSTRACT: The text on video remixing contributed to Networked Book is the result of an ongoing collaboration that started in January 2010, when Owen Gallagher invited Mette Birk, Mark O’ Cúlár, Martin Leduc, and Eduardo Navas to join a ‘Remix Theory and Praxis’ online seminar. In April, Navas invited Tara Zepell to join the group.

The text explores concepts of remixing not only in content and form, but also in process. The aim of the collaboration is to evaluate how the creative process functions as a type of remix itself in a period when production keeps moving toward a collective approach in all facets of culture. The emphasis on video remixing is the result of a collaborative rewriting activity among the contributors, who each wrote independent paragraphs that went through constant revisions once combined as a single text. Video was selected as the subject of analysis because members have a common interest in time-based media, and also because video remixing is at the forefront of media production. One of the group goals is that the text becomes a statement of what video could be as a reflective form of the networked culture that is developing at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The text is in constant revision and readers are encouraged to join in its writing.

Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture, 2010 Revision, by Eduardo Navas

Download a high resolution version of Diagram in PDF format

This text was originally published on June 25, 2007 in Vague Terrain Journal as a contribution to the issue titled Sample Culture. It was revised in November 2009 and subsequently published as a chapter contribution in Sonvilla-Weiss, Stefan (Ed.) Mashup Cultures, 2010, ISBN: 978-3-7091-0095-0, Springer Wien/New York published in May 2010.

It is here republished with permission from the publisher and is requested that it be cited appropriately.  This online publication is different from the print version in that it is missing images that help illustrate the theory of Remix that I propose.  I do encourage readers to consider looking at the actual publication as it offers an important collection of texts on mashups.

I would like to thank Greg J. Smith for giving me the opportunity to publish my initial ideas in Vague Terrain, and Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss for inviting me to revise them as a contribution to his book publication.

This version brings together much of my previous writing.  Individuals who have read texts such as The Bond of Repetition and Representation, as well as Turbulence: Remixes and Bonus Beats will find that many of my definitions and theories of Remix are repeated in this text.  I found this necessary to make sense of a fourth term which I introduce: the Regenerative Remix.  Those who have read the previous version of this text may like to skip pre-existing parts, and go directly to the section titled “The Regenerative Remix.”  However, all sections have been revised for clarity, so I encourage readers to at least browse through previously written material.

An important change has been made to this text.  In the original version I argued that Reflexive Mashups were not remixes.  In 2007 I did not know what Reflexive Mashups could be if they were not remixes in the traditional sense, but after consideration and rewriting, I developed the concept of the Regenerative Remix.  To learn more about this change in my definition of Remix as a form of discourse I invite readers to consider my revised argument.  I also introduce a chart (above) which helps explain how Remix moves across culture. I also include an entirely new conclusion which will clarify my earlier position on software mashups.

A note on formatting: The text below is set up in simple text form.  This means that italics and other conventions found in print publications are missing.  If you would like to read a print ready version, please download a PDF file.



During the first decade of the twenty-first century, sampling is practiced in new media culture when any software users including creative industry professionals as well as average consumers apply cut/copy & paste in diverse software applications; for professionals this could mean 3-D modeling software like Maya (used to develop animations in films like Spiderman or Lord of the Rings); [1] and for average persons it could mean Microsoft Word, often used to write texts like this one. Cut/copy & paste which is, in essence, a common form of sampling, is a vital new media feature in the development of Remix. In Web 2.0 applications cut/copy & paste is a necessary element to develop mashups; yet the cultural model of mashups is not limited to software, but spans across media.

Mashups actually have roots in sampling principles that became apparent and popular in music around the seventies with the growing popularity of music remixes in disco and hip hop culture, and even though mashups are founded on principles initially explored in music they are not straight forward remixes if we think of remixes as allegories. This is important to entertain because, at first, Remix appears to extend repetition of content and form in media in terms of mass escapism; the argument in this paper, however, is that when mashups move beyond basic remix principles, a constructive rupture develops that shows possibilities for new forms of cultural production that question standard commercial practice.


The Bond of Repetition and Representation Video, Medialab Prado

Note: Medialab Prado has released online the video documentation of my presentation of “Remix, The Bond of Repetition and Representation” for Interactivos during the summer of 2008.  The presentation emphasizes the concept of  Visual Play, which was the thematic for the workshops sessions in that year.  A different version of the text was later published at the end of the same year by Telefónica, and is available online, through Remix theory as post 361. The introduction is in Spanish, but the text presentation itself is in English.  The video is also downloadable with a Spanish voiceover translation.  Much of the material presented has also become parts of various texts also available on Remix Theory. Abstract of the text follows below as published on Medialab’s website:

This text, “Remix: The bond of Repetition and Representation,” entertains the historical importance of Remix in culture at large. It places particular importance on how the image is constantly appropriated in the visual arts as well as other areas of mass culture with unprecedented efficiency. This is done to understand the dialectics at play within Remix, itself and to further understand the principles behind concepts such as “Visual Play” in the emerging network culture. As it becomes clear in the following essay, in order for remix culture to come about, certain dynamics had to be in place, and these were first explored in music, around the contention of representation and repetition. This essay defines the concept of Remix in relation to these two terms, and then moves on to examine its role in media and art. There are three Remix definitions introduced in this essay: The Extended, The Selective and the Reflexive Remixes. These definitions are outlined historically and examined in various areas of culture including the visual arts, pop culture as well as game culture. The essay ends with a critical reflection on what one can do with an awareness of Remix as a dialectical manifestation.

The Vocoder: From Speech-Scrambling To Robot Rock

Note: The following is an interview about a book that’s coming out on the history of the vocoder.  Quite interesting.  My only observation is that the interviewer casually links early Hip Hop with pop culture and this is missed by the interviewee. Historians know that early Hip Hop was also an avant-garde movement, though with different preocupations of previous groups who may have deliberately linked themselves with the nineteenth century concept. Still worth the listen/reading.

Orignally aired/published: May 13, 2010

If you’ve listened to pop music in the past 40 years, you’ve probably heard more than a few songs with a robotic sound. That’s thanks to the vocoder, a device invented by Bell Labs, the research division of AT&T. Though the vocoder has found its way into music, the machine was never intended for that function. Rather, it was developed to decrease the cost of long-distance calls and has taken on numerous other uses since.

Music journalist Dave Tompkins has written a book about the vocoder and its unlikely history. It’s called How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop.

Tompkins says the machine played a significant role in World War II. After the U.S. government discovered that Winston Churchill’s conversations with Franklin D. Roosevelt were being intercepted and deciphered by the Germans, it decided to invest in speech-encoding technology. So the National Defense Research Committee commissioned Bell Labs in 1942 to develop a machine — and Bell Labs delivered.

The vocoder wasn’t without its flaws. Intelligibility of speech sometimes proved a problem, but Tompkins says pitch control was a bigger concern.

“They didn’t mind world leaders sounding like robots, just as long as they didn’t sound like chipmunks,” he says. “Eisenhower did not want to sound like a chipmunk.”

Read or listen to the complete interview at NPR

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