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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.

Artistic Expressions and Copyright: The theory and practice of remix culture

Note: The following is an excerpt of a concise summary of the history and theory of Remix:

How have artists critically appropriated the concept of copyright in their works? In this course we will take a closer look at remix culture from the perspectives of text, image and music, and how different artists over considerable time have related to the idea of using already copyrighted materials. We will also investigate some of the different software programs that have, and are, important in the process of creating contemporary remix culture.

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. Copyright does not protect ideas, only their expression. In most jurisdictions copyright arises upon fixation and does not need to be registered. Copyright owners have the exclusive statutory right to exercise control over copying and other exploitation of the works for a specific period of time, after which the work is said to enter the public domain. Uses covered under limitations and exceptions to copyright, such as fair use, do not require permission from the copyright owner. All other uses require permission. Copyright owners can license or permanently transfer or assign their exclusive rights to others.

Read the complete entry at Augmented Reality

Remix: The Ethics of Modular Complexity in Sustainability, By Eduardo Navas

COMPLETE TEXT

“The Ethics of Modular Complexity in Sustainability” was published in the CSPA Quarterly, Spring 2010 Issue.  My text is available online according to a Creative Commons License adopted by the CSPA Journal. The content may be copied, distributed, and displayed as long as proper credit is given to the CSPA and the individual author(s), and as long as these contents are used by others for noncommercial purposes only.  Any derivative works that result from these contents must also be shared alike.

The journal is the print publication for The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts, a non-profit that supports artists and organizations in the process of becoming ecologically and economically sustainable while maintaining artistic excellence.

Editor statement for Spring 2010 issue:

In this issue, we’re working against the stereotypes of the form, and attempting to broaden its term. As always, we’re exploring our chosen theme across disciplines and were delighted to include sculpture, visual art, theater, public art, and media art in the following pages. Instead of asking for work based on waste materials, we asked for work built from objects that already exist.

———-

Abstract: “Remix: The Ethics of Modular Complexity in Sustainability” evaluates sustainability in networked culture.  It considers how the flow of information in terms of immaterial production and its relation to knowledge play a role in a fourth economic layer supported by the growing ubiquity of globalization.  It revisits and expands, yet again, on my interest in Jacques Attali’s concepts of noise and music to propose a critical position fully embedded in pervasive connectivity.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This text was written as a testing ground for my growing interest in the concepts of volume and module, as explored in vodule.com.  Consequently, this text uses the term modular complexity, but does not define it.  I consider this text as part of my process to develop a precise definition of modular complexity in social and cultural terms.  The interests that inform this text are also relevant to my current research on Remix and Cultural Analytics.  Future writings will make clear the interrelation of all these ongoing projects.

This online version contains minor edits made in order to clarify the argument.

———–

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, sustainability can be read with a double meaning: to be self-supportive while socially conscious. This is because specialized fields (and individuals who work in these fields) need to be aware of their interconnectivity if they are to subsist in global culture. Sustainability is relevant in the arts and media according to the interrelation of material and intellectual production, given that such relation supports specialized fields. Sustainability, when linked to social consciousness, modifies how the recycling of material becomes relevant in culture at large. One could promote a philosophy of sustainability, which embodies critical awareness of the politics of intellectual and material property with real consequences in daily life. This is relevant in all areas of culture, even when one may produce strictly in the realm of aesthetics, and other specialized spaces that appear distanced from politics and economy.

The double signification of sustainability also shares principles of recycling with Remix as a form of discourse.  This is because Remix expands across culture from music to ecology: from immaterial pleasure to material responsibility.  The act of remixing has become common due to the rise of information exchange dependent on cut/copy and paste, which is an act of sampling data in all forms.  It enables individuals to apply the attitude of recombining in the realms of aesthetics and material reality, albeit with different results.  To be able to critically understand how such attitude functions in the symbolic and the material is the very challenge of sustainability.

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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.

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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

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: Elektra Digest, by Rhiannon Vogl

Image source: Elektra Festival

Text source: Vague Terrain

Last week, I headed to Montréal for the 11th incarnation of the Elektra International Digital Arts Festival in Montréal. The five day event attracted artists and industry professionals from as far away as Dakar, Seoul, Istanbul and Shanghai, as well as various countries across Europe and North America, to the cosmopolitan Québeqois city, which is quickly, as many of us already knew, establishing a name for itself as THE creative hotbed for electronic arts. There was much to take in each day, and while it can’t all be discussed here, this post represents a compendium of the most interesting, evocative and stimulating experiences from my time there.

The Conferences

For those presenting at the International Marketplace for Digital Arts, the future, in the (wink) words of Chip Douglas, is very much now. The “professional rendez-vous” as it was dubbed by Elektra’s organizers, was a two-day blitz of presentations, debates and dialogues, given by over 30 international artists, producers, agents, broadcasters, curators, institutional directors and event organizers. While the format of the conference itself could be described as both a massive speed dating session and networking boot camp, leaving not quite enough space for attendees to fully digest all that was being offered, the conceptual framework of the event – arranged as a space to foster collaborations and to develop new, cross-border distribution networks, was clearly taken advantage of by all observers and presenters alike.

Read the entire entry at Vague Terrain

PRESS RELEASE: Richie Hawtin and Derivative Launch Plastikman Live Visual Contest

Image source: http://www.derivative.ca/Plastikman/

Note: I don’t normally post competition opportunities, but the following call is worth noting because it exposes a shift in remix culture:  the DJ and VJ hybrid.  Besides, I admit to being a Plastikman fan.

Derivative is pleased to announce the next-gen of their collaboration with techno-futurist Richie Hawtin who is unleashing PLASTIKMAN LIVE 2010 a much-anticipated series of live shows produced in collaboration with Minus & Derivative to launch at this year’s Timewarp festival on March 27th, 2010.

The influential Plastikman performance at MUTEK 2004 was visually driven by Derivative’s powerful software tool TouchDesigner enabling Richie to orchestrate sound and visual compositions generatively and in real time; the technology altering the course of how electronic music could be performed and experienced live.

Image source: http://www.derivativeinc.com/Events/15-Plastikman/

That was then. With the current generation of TouchDesigner 077 completely reengineered, the team has built an information-rich bridge between Richie’s Ableton Live rig and Derivative’s TouchDesigner. Derivative will release the TouchDesigner-Live Bridge to its users this year. Hawtin’s visual artist Ali Demirel has been working closely with Derivative’s Jarrett Smith and Markus Heckmann in LA and Toronto to create the content and a custom performing interface for the shows.

Another Hawtin/Minus/Derivative collaboration invites the community to create their own visuals to original Plastikman tracks using TouchDesigner. Hawtin and Derivative have packaged and made available for download a complete toolset that includes a purpose-built TouchDesigner synth and 4 Plastikman tracks enabling participants with full support to produce visuals in the same real-time generative environment as the show’s. Winning entries are to be incorporated into the live events.

Dedicated to advancing the way we make art and visualize information and ideas, Derivative has produced live visuals and interactive art projects for an exemplary roster of international superstars that include Prada, Herzog & de Meuron and Rush. They have also developed major theme park attractions globally. In a unique alliance with raster-noton now entering its second year Derivative designed and built an expandable framework for multi-screen live performances under the guidance of label founders carsten nicolai (alva noto) and olaf bender (byetone). The collaboration resulted in a series of shows last year at Club Transmediale, Sonar, MUTEK, OFFF, and Ars Electronica that were received as precedent-setting.

TouchDesigner is the most complete authoring tool for building interactive 3D art, visualizations, prototypes and user interfaces. Its open, broad and highly-visual procedural architecture boosts and expands discovery, creativity and productivity.

TouchDesigner FTE (Free Thinking Environment) and its counterpart TouchDesigner Pro puts a free development environment with an extremely rich feature set into the hands of artists, animators, educators and “everyone else”. “TouchDesigner is our vision of what is possible in tomorrow’s software tools for building interactive applications and exploring data, imagery and sound”, Derivative founder and CEO Greg Hermanovic states. “It exploits what is possible in today’s computing technology and is positioned to grow with the foreseeable advancements in computer, graphics and mobile technologies.”

944 Nightlife Issue, KCRW DJ’s Featured, by Eduardo Navas

Image: 944.com

I’m currently in Los Angeles.  Just picked up a copy of 944, a magazine about fashion, entertainment and lifestyle.  The August issue features “the nightlife.”  Like most lifestyle magazines these days, it consists of short snippets about trendsetters or “pioneers.”  One cannot help but notice a quote stating that DJ’s can make as much as 35,000 for a three hour set.  The magazine truly hypes up the life on the ones and twos.

Regardless of such statements, as I  grew up in Los Angeles, I was quite happy to see that 944 acknowledged real talent.  Above are some of the DJ’s that have shaped my views on music beyond the mainstream.  Trinidad’s Chocolate City may well be a historical gem of a radio show, which any music historian specialized in radio would have to note; he has a vast knowledge of R & B and Soul and has taken great care to bring back B-sides that even serious record diggers have missed.  The same for Jason Bentley, who was around even before Garth with his radio show, Metropolis.  Bentley was one of the first DJ’s to mix electronic music live on the radio.

The entire magazine can be browsed in a well designed flash interface: http://proofcenter.944.com/flipbook/?locale=4

Principles of Sampling Come Full Circle

Massive Attack’s Grant Marshall and Robert Del Naja

Image source: The Guardian Music Blog

One of the anxieties often cited by those who guard intellectual property is how artists who sample ultimately steal from those who created the “original” material, therefore taking away potential revenue from the original source.  Another common argument is that the original source runs the danger of going unrecognized by those who enjoy the material composed of samples. Even if sampling artists may pay royalties, it is often argued by those who believe in creating things with their bare hands that artists who sample are simply unoriginal. Yet, as the article “What is your sampling Epiphany,” by Simon Reynolds entertains, at the moment, the republishing of material as a set of recordings sampled by well-known music studio artists has the potential of becoming a common trend–not to mention a major form of revenue for record companies.

We have reached a state in the consumption of post-production when those who have developed a career based on other artists’ samples have become the ones who support renewed sales of the originating sources in the form of reissues. This is the case with Massive Attack’s Protected Massive Samples. Now, it appears remix culture is coming full circle. The implications of this trend might further complicate copyright law in the near future. This trend is worth keeping in sight.

The article by Reynolds ends with a very compelling citation of Virilio, which was actually forwarded to me by my colleague, Greg Smith. It reads more like an aphorism that exposes that dialectics of culture:

The French philosopher Paul Virilio argued that every new technology comes complete with its own unique catastrophe; the invention of the aeroplane, for instance, was also the invention of the plane crash. The corollary of the sample epiphany is what I call the “sample stain.”

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