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More Notes on Everything is a Remix and Ferguson’s Lecture at Creative Mornings

Everything is a Remix Part 4 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Part 4 of the Series “Everything is a Remix” (above) has been released on line by Kirby Ferguson. In this last segment, Ferguson retells in large part Lessig’s argument on copyright and free culture (later renamed read/write culture). Kirby points to a “System Failure” in the near future. I don’t have much to add in terms of criticism about the series, given that Ferguson very much hops back and forth between cultural citations and material samplings, not acknowledging the complexity of intertextuality as I already discussed in a previous criticism I wrote about his series.

Another video was recently released by Creative Mornings, in which Ferguson goes over his views on remix as a “metaphor” (below). I wonder why he does not make metaphor a key issue in his videos. One would not have to worry about the watering down of “remix” as a term with a specific meaning in networked culture. But perhaps in the end Ferguson may sense that everything is not a remix. As I previously explained, in the end he is discussing intertextuality.

Well produced videos, worth watching. I think people will change their minds about creativity when viewing them, and this is a real contribution by Ferguson.

2011/08 Kirby Ferguson from CreativeMornings on Vimeo.

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.

Write to Your Congress Representative about SOPA

In an effort to create awareness of the repercussions that SOPA would bring to the innovation of online exchange, Wikipedia has blocked its service for 24 hours.  In turn, they have provided a very useful tool to find out who is one’s representative if residing in the United States.  Wikipedia is doing this along with WordPress,  Reddit, and Mozilla. Log on to Wikipedia and you will be taken directly to the proper page for further action.  Their views on SOPA are reposted below:

Call your elected officials.

Tell them you are their constituent, and you oppose SOPA and PIPA.

Why?

SOPA and PIPA would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. SOPA and PIPA would build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

In a world in which politicians regulate the Internet based on the influence of big money, Wikipedia — and sites like it — cannot survive.

Congress says it’s trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the “cure” that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease. SOPA and PIPA are not the answer: they would fatally damage the free and open Internet.

Remix and Cultural Analytics at Anthropology in Digital Times

I will be presenting my research on Remix and cultural analytics at the University of Lumiére in Lyon, France on November 24.  Program and other information availlable.

A brief note on my presentation:

I will discuss the evolution of remixing in a three case study, with particular emphasis on when and how the video remixes were produced.  This is done in order to reflect on the initial uploads of material and subsequent remixes as important vehicles of communication and creative practice.

What cultural analytics can bring to anthropology, and other fields that adopt it, is the ability to attain a balanced approach based on quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Posts about my research:

Charleston Style

Lotus Flower Parodies

Downfall Parodies

— Eduardo Navas

Protect IP Act Breaks the Internet

Protect IP Act Breaks the Internet from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Kirby Ferguson took time off his Everything is a Remix project to explain why we should write to our representatives in Congress and tell them not to pass the Protect IP bill.

Essay on “Traceblog,” Chapter Contribution to Net Works Book Publication

I contributed an essay on my project Traceblog to the book publication Net Works: Case Studies in Web Art and Design, edited by Xtine Burrough.  I want to thank Xtine for the opportunity to share my ideas.  Below are excerpts from my chapter contribution, which is titled after the actual online project as “Traceblog.”  After the excerpts you will find the table of contents, which, in my view, includes an impressive list of contemporary new media artists. Excerpts from my chapter contribution:

[…] Traceblog was developed in reaction to one of my previous projects titled Diary of a Star (2004-07), a blog that appropriated entries from The Andy Warhol Diaries.   As exciting as Diary of a Star was for me to produce, it consumed more time than I expected because entries had to be carefully written and took much longer to compose than average blog posts. Soon after I finished the Warhol project I began to think about the changes that had taken place with the shift to Web 2.0, and how blogging had changed since 2004. I realized that keeping track of people’s surfing activity had become an important element for private, public, and state organizations to data-mine patterns of communication and consumption online.   The term “social media” began to be used more often when discussing the growth of early networks such as Orkut, and Friendster around 2004, the period when I began to develop Diary of a Star.

I evaluated the changes in online activity since 2004 and decided to develop Traceblog to reflect on the new stage that global culture was entering in 2008, during which millions of people around the world willingly shared information about themselves online, via social networks such as Facebook, Flickr, and Myspace, as well as YouTube, not to mention thousands of blogs, which by such time were conventional tools of communication for average Internet users. The result of the social media frenzy is an attitude of sharing that is ubiquitous in 2010, the time of this writing.

[…] Traceblog is a direct result of my ongoing practice as artist and media researcher.  It makes the most of the default state of works of art in new media practice as informational forms, not defined by physical presentation. Traceblog and similar online works function in a state of flux defined by the growing archive and its relation to the ever-present: the now.

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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.

Research on Remix and Cultural Analytics, Part 3

Image: detail of video montage grid of “Hitler’s angry reaction to the iPad.”  One of several remixes on Hitler’s Downfall.  Larger images of this montage and others with proper explanation are included below.

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.

This is part 3 of a series of posts in which I introduce three case studies of YouTube video remixes. My first case study is the Charleston Style remixes.  The second case study is Radiohead’s Lotus Flower remixes.

In the above video, Hitler rants about the iPad’s lack of features.

I learned about the Downfall remixes while doing research for the Charleston Style remixes.  For a good assessment of its development, read Know your Meme’s blog post of August 1, 2011.   These parodies consist of various excerpts from a not so well-known film titled Downfall, released in 2004, about the last days of Hitler and his inner circle before they all committed suicide.   There are a few scenes that have been used for the remixes, but I chose the most popular, which is also the longest excerpt remixed, of about 3:59.  The footage presents Hitler being told by key members of his inner circle that Berlin is surrounded and that it is only a matter of time before the enemy reaches them in the city.  Hitler is upset about the fact that he was not told the truth sooner and rants for quite sometime to eventually come to terms with his certain defeat.

In the above video Hitler rants about not getting the role as the Joker in Batman.

The parodies consists of taking the original footage, and implementing subtitles in English that have nothing to do with what Hitler is actually saying in German.   Instead, the subtitles present him ranting about the lack of features of the iPad, his realization that Pokemon does not exist, and his disbelief that Kanye West was extremely rude to Taylor Swift when West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech at an MTV video awards to tell her that Beyonce was a much better music artist, among many other remixes.  I made a definite decision to focus on the Downfall remixes after I ran into one that showed Hitler upset about the “fact” that the Lotus Flower remixes had surpassed the Downfall Parodies’ popularity on YouTube.

In the above video Hitler rants about the Lotus Flower remixes.

I consider this reference a way of coming full circle between the memes.  With the Downfall parodies I was unable to find remixes before January 2007; and, therefore, I am not sure what the first parody may have been (check know your meme’s entry for a parody of 2006 that is no longer available); many which have been featured on articles by newspapers are no longer available on YouTube.   Nevertheless, new ones keep showing up, as reflections and commentaries of current events.


Montage grid of Downfall video, with proper English subtitles. 
View 2200px wide version Note that the resolution of the grid montage I make available does not allow for the subtitles to be read.

With the Downfall remixes, the result is similar to the Charleston Remix. In the Charleston, it is only the music that is switched, and for Downfall, only the subtitles are changed; therefore, the only major shift takes place with the formal placement of translations on the screen: sometimes on the middle of the screen, but for the most part at the bottom. For this reason, I’m only showing one montage grid visualization (above).

Visualization of Downfall with original English subtitles (no longer available on YouTube). View 2000px image. The thin horizontal white bars near the bottom of the frame are the subtitles.  To former link of this video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bmkUlXp5sk&feature=related.  

Visualization of “Hitler’s Reaction to the new Kiss album,” a video remix in which Hitler rants about the album’s title “Sonic Boom.”  View 2000px image. The subtitles (the thin horizontal white bars) in this case move all over the frame.  To view this video visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwOLfppXhsk&feature=youtu.be.


Visualization of “Hitler Rejected For Joker In Batman 3.”
View 2000px image

Another shift we can notice with the subtitles is that they may crossover from one shot to the next based on the emphasis of the content that the remixer wants to make. But none of the Charleston and Downfall videos are heavily edited as the Lotus Flower remixes. I will compare at length the three case studies in part four of this series.

Remix and Media Literacy: An Interview with video artist Elisa Kreisinger

Note: I met Elisa Kreisinger during a panel presentation at the OVC in 2010. I find her work to be quite interesting for various reasons which are explored in the following interview by Vicki Calahan.

My initial foray as NAMAC blogger can be seen as a parallel text or a continuation of the conversation initiated by Patricia Zimmerman’s fine posting the other day, Film Studies as Social Media 2.0, or the New Media Ecosystems of Virtual Cinephilia. In this instance I want to look specifically at one context within the emergent forms of digital scholarship known as “remix.”  I have been fortunate the last two years as a visiting scholar at USC’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy to focus my praxis based undergraduate seminars around this topic with assorted permutations.

Read the complete review at namac.org

Remix[ing] Re/Appropriations, By Eduardo Navas

Written for the MEIAC, Badajoz, Spain, March of 2010, for the exhibition Re/appropriations, organized by Gustavo Romano.  The exhibition was launched in December 2009.  The text is released online with permission.

(Versión en Español)

The exhibition Re/Appropriations, curated by Gustavo Romano, proposes that artists in networked culture find their creative potential in the appropriation, selection, and combination of pre-existing material on a meta-level—that of the re, or more specifically, Remix as a form of discourse.  To this effect, Romano recontextualizes the artist as a “redirector of information,” rather than a creator.  This premise as the entry point for creative production at the beginning of the twenty-first century leads to a recurring question often posed on the popular awareness of Remix: “Remixing, as an act of combining material has been around for a long time, one could argue since symbolic language was conceived; so, what is so different about the elements of Remix explored during the first decades of the twenty-first century that make them unique from those in the past?”[1]

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