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“Regenerative Culture” by Eduardo Navas


«Information is not knowledge». (Albert Einstein). Linkedin maps data visualization. Picture: Luc Legay/Flickr. (see Norient for context)

Regenerative Knowledge was written between June and October 2015. It was published on Norient in five parts between March and June 2016. I want to thank Thomas Burkhalter and Theresa Beyer for editing the essay and making it available on Norient’s academic journal. In this essay I update the definitions of remix with an emphasis on the regenerative remix. I argue that constant updating is becoming ubiquitous, which is much more evident a year after the essay was written. A short version titled “Im/material Regeneration” was published in print as part of Seismographic Sounds in 2015.

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Cultural production has entered a stage in which archived digital material can potentially be used at will;[1] just like people combine words to create sentences (just like this sentence is written with a word-processing application), in contemporary times, people with the use of digital tools are able to create unique works made with splices of other pre-recorded materials, with the ubiquitous action of cut/copy & paste, and output them at an ever-increasing speed.[2] This is possible because what is digitally produced in art and music, for instance, once it becomes part of an archive, particularly a database, begins to function more like building blocks, optimized to be combined infinitely.[3] This state of affairs is actually at play in all areas of culture, and consequently is redefining the way we perceive the world and how we function as part of it. The implications of this in terms of how we think of creativity and its relation to the industry built around authorship are important to consider for a concrete understanding of the type of global culture we are becoming.

In what follows, I evaluate situations and social variables that are important for a critical reflection on how elements flow and are assembled according to diverse needs for expression of ideas and informational exchange. I begin by elaborating on what I previously defined as the regenerative remix,[4] which is specific to the time of networked media, to then relate it to speech in terms of sound and textual communication. I then provide examples that make evident the future trends already manifested in our times. Because digital media consists in large part in optimizing the manipulation of experience-based material that before mechanical reproduction went unrecorded, the aim of this analysis, in effect, is to evaluate how ephemerality is redefined when image, sound, and text are digitally produced and reproduced, and efficiently archived in databases in order to be used for diverse purposes. In other words, what happens when what in the past was only ephemeral is turned into an immaterial exchangeable element, and most often than not some type of commodity? To begin in what follows I analyze how the regenerative remix functions as a type of bridge to a future in which constant updates and pervasive connectivity will become ubiquitous in all aspects of life.

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[1] This is a reasonable proposition as long as the person has access to the material. Some archives are evidently password protected. The person has to be also in a position to exert such an act, and this is linked to economics and class that define the person’s reality. I am not able to go into this issue in this text as its focus is on how sampling is functioning in terms of regeneration.

[2] This is already evident in the fact that the time it takes to produce just about any cultural apparatus has been shortened exponentially since the industrial revolution. Futurist Alvin Toffler makes a case with his term “The 800th Lifetime.” The much criticized Ray Kurzweil, who currently is affiliated with Google, also makes a case for exponential growth, arguing that Moore’s Law will be superseded in 2020, and we will enter a new paradigm of innovation. See, Alvin Toffler, “The 800th Lifetime,” Future Shock (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 9-10. Ray Kurtzweil, “Ray Kurzweil Announced Singularity University,” Ted Talks, Last updated February 2009: https://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_announces_singularity_university#t-188322.

[3] My use of the term “building blocks” is influenced by the work of Manuel De Landa, who discusses language in relation to biology and geology. I refer to his work throughout this essay. See Manuel De Landa“Linguistic History: 1000 – 1700 A.D.,” A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 183 – 190.

[4] Eduardo Navas, “Remix[ing] Theory,” Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling (New York: Springer, 2012), 101-108.

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Notes on “Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens”

Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Kirby Ferguson has released a fifth episode of Everything is a Remix, this time focusing on the work of J.J. Abrams, particularly his latest film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In this occasion Ferguson goes into some detail of how different types of remixes are developed. He presents two key points that allow him to explain how Abrams’s remix approach is different from George Lucas’s. While doing this he also poses a question that appears to be inevitable once culture becomes aware of how the creative process has always functioned in terms of borrowing, citing, appropriating, and recycling material: is remix reaching its limits?

The first premise that Ferguson introduces is the concept of copying major story elements as opposed to directly copying scenes or shots.  He explains that the former is what Abrams currently does, and the latter is what Lucas did. This approach is what I have defined in various publications as cultural citation. [1] (For a specific explanation of how cultural citation functions see my previous notes on Ferguson’s first three episodes). Both Lucas and Abrams actually perform two different forms of cultural citation. Lucas developed his shots by close emulation, which is what bands such as Led Zeppelin did when they took blues compositions to develop their own songs , or what Quentin Tarantino continues to do in his films (See my first notes). Copying entire plot lines fall under the broad practice in literature usually discussed under the term of intertextuality, which is the ability to embed ideas within ideas to develop new works. This particular form of “borrowing” or appropriating is difficult to track because it is more about being aware of references held in one’s memory–in other words, one must know the history prior to viewing the work in order to notice the resemblances that would go unnoticed for a person who is marginally familiar with the subject. But with the increase of material being produced even in this broad manner and our ability to track all types of recyclability with quantification of data, this more broad form of immaterial borrowing is becoming more obvious to people who normally would not worry about such details in the creative process.

The other premise that Ferguson presents is how remix functions in large part with what he refers to as “familiar.” He actually contrasts this term with the “novel” to develop a diagram of his own that shows that the most successful remixes (if we are thinking in commercial terms primarily, according to his conclusion in this episode) are the ones that fall right at the middle of both the familiar and the novel.


Figure 1: image capture from Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens,” at minute 6:56.

The familiar and the novel resemble my own definition of the framework of culture, in which I explain that there are two layers. The first layer is where something is introduced (Ferguson calls this “novel”) and the second layer is where that which is introduced attains cultural value and is then ripe for remixing (Ferguson calls this “familiar.”) The diagram towards the end of his episode (see figure 1 above) visualizes in different fashion what I presented in past articles with various diagrams of the framework of culture (See figure 2 below).


Figure 2: For an explanation of these diagrams see “The Framework of Culture” and “Culture and Remix: A Theory of Cultural Sublation”[2]

This comparison of terms in a way appears to be a remix of remixes in itself since Ferguson and I may well be part of “multiple discovery” a process he explains at the end of his third episode in the series. It leads us back to the question on whether or not remixing is reaching its limits. Ferguson argues that remix can be successful when it is used in a balanced approach when it takes enough of the familiar and enough of the novel in order to present a work that is entertaining to the audience. The question that remains with Ferguson’s proposition is if the novel and the familiar as he presents them are reconfigured to become a type of formula to develop remixes that will be more likely successful? (According to how he defines success.) Can this be possible one may ask, when it is well known that the “novel” is that which resists to become part of the mainstream (or using his term “familiar”), even when parts of it may clearly be incorporated? This question is likely to remain unanswered as it has proven to be part of the drive for creativity by those who remain on the margins and decide to develop a vision of their own. Such individuals are at the periphery, and to be there, the price to question a more balanced approach (between the familiar and the novel) appears inevitable. This may well be a residue of the well known debates of high and low culture beginning in late modernism well into postmodernism.

In terms of at least popular success, it appears that Ferguson’s very own series may be a good example of balancing the familiar with the novel, as he has become an influential figure in popularizing the importance in understanding how remix (as a “novel” creative form) functions well when it is balanced as he explains in his fifth episode. More importantly his short films help make a case to understand why it is crucial that we not only become aware of the creative process, but also that we practice cultural production in fair fashion. On this last point Ferguson appears to give general references to the sources that have influenced him whenever he can, although one may wonder if some of his references go unacknowledged and credit is not attributed to those people from whom he has borrowed to develop his arguments? Slippage of accreditation on his part may be unavoidable given that his documentaries in the end are quite general and borrow from literally hundreds of people who have contributed to the main premises he taps into. This question is more than crucial among individuals doing in-depth research.

Also, the reality is that cultural production appears to be moving towards the speed of speech (we are producing media at the moment based on how fast we may type and may surpass this very soon to the speed of thought years from now). It is becoming more and more difficult to keep track of all things we would need to cite in order to be fair to those who have performed important research that informs our opinions and points of view. [3] But doing this remains important because on one level, one may not recognize a remix if the citation is not recognizable (this may not be so important if one is not interested in making sure people know that what one is producing is a remix). In terms of developing new arguments, it is a matter of ethical etiquette for one can always claim that one reached certain conclusions based on independent research, and this is where the community is important. Perhaps the most basic automated peer reviewer may be Google, who can show us who has written what fairly well. So, loss aversion (another term by Ferguson) may become reconfigured, perhaps even acceptable, or strategically displaced, in the future and the ethics behind such omissions may change as the concept of the writer as author shifts into new forms.

The downside of Ferguson’s series as much as I like it, and I particularly like “Everything is a Remix: The Force Awakens,” is that all episodes may well be shooting for the middle of the road towards that balance that Ferguson considers “explosive.” The challenge for future episodes in the series is whether or not they will become too formulaic, a bit like the Star Wars films are likely to become a successful template for money making, now that Disney owns the franchise. The challenge for remix as a practice in the end is to remain pushing itself by reinventing new forms and ideas with what is already invented–in order to make the remix truly different and new; and if it is done really well, such work could be novel, functioning at the edges of the first layer of the framework of culture. If remix stops doing this, it may well reach its limit, but something else will likely evolve out of such possible exhaustion–and that will be the difference of remix according to its very own repetition.[4]


[1] I began discussing the principles of this term in 2009. The basic definitions were published in 2012 in my book Remix Theory: The Aesthetics Sampling. A more developed version can be found in my article “Culture and Remix: A Theory of Cultural Sublation (2014).” Earlier versions of this can be found in “The Framework of Culture: Remix in Music, Art, and Literature (2013),” and “The New Aesthetic and the Framework of Culture (2012).”

[2] There is a fifth diagram that shows how meta-loops are at play in our current state of production. See “Culture and Remix: A Theory of Cultural Sublation” (2014)

[3] I go over the implications of the ever-increasing speed of production in “Regenerative Culture,” (2016).

[4] For the relation of difference, repetition and remix see David J. Gunkel’s Book, Of Remixology (2015).

“Culture and Remix: A Theory on Cultural Sublation” excerpt from The Routledge Companion, by Eduardo Navas

In late 2014/early 2015, I co-edited, along with xtine Burrough and Owen Gallagher, The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies. My chapter contribution to the anthology is “Culture and Remix: A Theory on Cultural Sublation.” Part of the introduction follows below. If interested, the chapter can be perused on Google books. Use Firefox for best results.

A Theory on Cultural Sublation
Eduardo Navas

Remix culture is a term increasingly used to explain basic principles of creativity and individual expression since the mid- to late 1990s.[1] Given its common usage, the nature of the compound-term’s dependence on a complex history may not seem obvious. When evaluating the relation of remix to culture at times one may ask, “What kind of culture are we becoming when we consider remixing an important element in creative production?” And, “What exactly is culture?” In this line of questioning, it becomes evident that in order to understand in depth what role remix plays in culture it is necessary to define with precision the term “culture.” This should make possible a discussion about the possibilities and limitations of remix, not only in terms of remix culture, which is a concept in large part informed and shaped by Creative Commons, but also culture in the larger context of history. The following, then, is a brief analysis in which I first define culture to then evaluate its relation to remix. The concept of the avant-garde is presented as a cultural example in which remixing is at play explicitly on two layers that I define as the framework of culture.[2] I also analyze how social media relies on the framework of culture to develop a new type of economy. This analysis will expose the reasons why, historically, creative production appears to resist established patterns of production, but eventually is sublated by cultural economies and becomes vital to capital as a whole.

Culture Defined

All cultural critics (as their title implies) have to assume a concise idea of culture. Two cultural critics who have taken the time to define culture at length are Raymond Williams, who published his theories around the 1950s, and Terry Eagleton, who became an authority as a surveyor of culture, due to his focus on the subject particularly in the 1980s. Eagleton defines culture by referencing the definitions of Williams, as well as T. S. Eliot. In Eagleton’s definition, one comes away with a sense of culture defined, unapologetically, by the West. He argues that as Western thought has spread throughout the world, it has been able to make claims to a certain way of thinking that affects other cultures that did not hold Western values.[3] Eagleton also points out that culture originates in nature and is defined by labor. Culture is nature modified according to the interests of individuals who perform a specific form of manual work: “We derive our word for the finest of human activities from labour and agriculture, crops and cultivation.”[4] Eagleton discusses at some length how culture developed a sense of resistance, especially in the nineteenth century; for him, such resistance has links to the rise of the avant-garde during the same time period.

According to Raymond Williams, the fact that art became a value in and of itself at times separated from everyday life was the result of a preoccupation with cultural changes that started around 1790, and climaxed around 1945. Part of the cultural struggle  since the end of World War II, Williams argues, had been to find ways to reintegrate the value of art back into the everyday.[5] Williams divides the separation of art and everyday life into three stages: the first from 1790 to 1870, when industrialism rapidly developed; the second from 1870 to 1914, when specializations started to become the norm; and finally, 1914 to 1945, a time when the specializations of the second period kept developing, but became complicated by the rise of mass media and large corporations.[6]\

Peruse the chapter on Google books. Use Firefox for best results.

“Political Remix Video: An Interview with Dr. Colin Gardner” by Diran Lyons

Diran Lyons has been producing political remixes for some time. I recently received a tweet of his latest mashup “Political Remix Video: An Interview with Dr. Colin Gardner” which combines selected clips from Lyons’s own previous mashups with an interview with Dr. Gardner, who is professor and chair in the department of art at UC Santa Barbara. Following his previous approach, Lyons’s video mashup questions the way we perceive the moving image, which in this case is redefined as the time image by Dr. Gardner, according to philosophical writings on film by the late French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. The time image questions our expectations of cause and effect; it is an image that reminds us to look beyond the surface of movement. Based on this premise, Lyons goes on to show clips from several films, mass media, and speeches by politicians on the left and the right of American politics. The result is a mashup that takes no sides but questions all things persons could possibly assume about power and absolute positions on right and wrong.

The Revolution will be Sponsored: Research by Pau Figueres

Figure 1: Screenshot of Pau Figueres’s online project “The Revolution will be Sponsored

During the 2015 Spring academic term, I am hosting in the School of Visual Arts at Penn State, Visiting Scholar Pau Figueres, who is an artist and Ph.D. candidate from Bilbao, Spain. His research focuses on anti-consumerism and concepts of recyclability.

Upon arriving at Penn State Figueres began to produce a diverse set of works on branding that he should be making public in the future. As part of his activities he also developed an online resource, “The Revolution will be Sponsored,” on which he shares the work of artists who focus on, and/or use or critique corporate brands. The online entries in effect have turned out to be an artistic curation, meaning its more of an art project, itself.

Figueres’s methodology includes implementing principles of remix in his analysis, which is the reason why he is doing research under my guidance. I look forward to the results of his ongoing investigation.  In the mean time, one can reflect on his current online project, which in effect exposes how art and commerce are much closer than ever.

Preliminary Notes on Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia Part 3


Figure 1: Detail of Minima Moralia Redux Remixes 51 – 55. First set of entries part of the second part of Minima Moralia Redux.

Read the entire entry at Remix Data

Minima Moralia Redux, a selective remix of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia, enters a second phase in 2015. This was not foreseen when I began the project back in 2011, because the work is not only a work of art, but also research on data analytics, as well as a critical reflection on networked culture.

The first part of Minima Moralia Redux (entries  one to fifty), consisted of updating Theodor Adorno’s aphorisms–that is to remix them as contemporary reflections of the way global society and culture is engaging with emerging technology. When I finished the first section, I realized that the project’s aesthetics were changing. This was for a few reasons. In terms of research, the first section provided more than enough data for me to data-mine Adorno’s approach to writing; therefore, I came to see no need in following this methodology. I plan to make my findings about this aspect  public in a formal paper in the future.

Read the entire entry at Remix Data

Routledge Companion to Remix Studies Now Available

I just received in the mail a hardbound copy of The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies. It’s been such a long process. Editing 41 chapters has been quite an endeavor, but a good one. I would like to thank my co-editors, xtine Burrough and Owen Gallagher, who are just amazing collaborators. This book could not have been published on time had it not been for our mutual diligence in meeting deadlines. I also want to thank the contributors who were just amazing during the long editing process (for a full list of authors see the dedicated site for the book: Remix Studies).

I really hope that researchers, academics and remixers find the anthology worth perusing.

More information on the book:

Routledge: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415716253/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Routledge-Companion-Remix-Studies-Companions/dp/041571625X


Interview for the Radio Show: Fade In/Fade Out, Remixing Culture

At the end of July, I was interviewed  for KulturWelle. Their radio feature titled Fade In/Fade Out, Remixing Culture, which aired on September 3, 2014, presents excerpts of interviews with musicologist Fabian Czolbe, media and communications researcher Steffen Lepa, Ramón Reichert, and, myself, Eduardo Navas.

The feature is literally a remix in German and English of our reflections on the recyclability of culture complemented with music and sound excerpts. Even if one does not understand German, one should listen to the hour long show. It is a true rhetorical soundscape equivalent to a well mixed music recording. Many thanks to Nikita Hock, who first contacted me, and all the producers of the radio show, including  Anastasia Andersson, Bernadette Breyer, Lara Deininger and Angelika Piechotta.

Table of Contents for the Routledge Companion to Remix Studies Available

We have now turned in the manuscript of The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, and can release the Table of Contents. The reader is due for release around December 14, 2014. The TOC is below:

Introduction Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, xtine burrough

Part I: History
1. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality” Martin Irvine
2. “A Rhetoric of Remix” Scott H. Church
3. “Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal: Reflections on Cut-Copy-Paste Culture” Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss
4. “Toward a Remix Culture: An Existential Perspective” Vito Campanelli
5. “An Oral History of Sampling: From Turntables to Mashups” Kembrew McLeod
6. “Can I Borrow Your Proper Name? Remixing Signatures and the Contemporary Author” Cicero da Silva
7. The Extended Remix: Rhetoric and history Margie Borschke
8. “Culture and Remix: A Theory on Cultural Sublation” Eduardo Navas

Part II: Aesthetics
9. “Remix Strategies in Social Media” Lev Manovich
10. “Remixing Movies and Trailers Before and After the Digital Age” Nicola Maria Dusi
11. “Remixing the Plague of Images: Video Art from Latin America in a Transnational Context” Erandy Vergara
12. “Race & Remix: The Aesthetics of Race in the Visual & Performing Arts” Tashima Thomas
13. “Digital Poetics and Remix Culture: From the Artisanal Image to the Immaterial Image” Monica Tavares
14. “The End of an Aura: Nostalgia, Memory, and the Haunting of Hip-hop” Roy Christopher
15. “Appropriation is Activism” Byron Russell

Part III: Ethics
16. “The Emerging Ethics of Networked Culture” Aram Sinnreich
17. “The Panopticon of Ethical Video Remix Practice” Mette Birk
18. “Cutting Scholarship Together/Apart: Rethinking the Political-Economy of Scholarly Book Publishing” Janneke Adema
19. “Copyright and Fair Use in Remix: From Alarmism to Action” Patricia Aufderheide
20. “I Thought I Made A Vid, But Then You Told Me That I Didn’t: Aesthetics and Boundary Work in the Fan Vidding Community” Katharina Freund
21. “Peeling The Layers of the Onion: Authorship in Mashup and Remix Cultures” John Logie
22. “remixthecontext (a theoretical fiction)” Mark Amerika

Part IV: Politics
23. “A Capital Remix” Rachel O’Dwyer
24. “Remix Practices and Activism: A Semiotic Analysis of Creative Dissent” Paolo Peverini
25. “Political Remix Video as a Vernacular Discourse” Olivia Conti
26. “Locative Media as Remix” Conor McGarrigle
27. “The Politics of John Lennon’s “Imagine”: Contextualizing the Roles of Mashups and New Media in Political Protest” J. Meryl Krieger
28. “Détournement as a Premise of the Remix from Political, Aesthetic, and Technical Perspectives” Nadine Wanono
29. “The New Polymath (Remixing Knowledge)” Rachel Falconer

Part V: Practice
30. “Crises of Meaning in Communities of Creative Appropriation: A Case Study of the 2010 RE/Mixed Media Festival” Tom Tenney
31. “Of ‘REAPPROPRIATIONS'” Gustavo Romano
32. “Aesthetics of Remix: Networked Interactive Objects and Interface Design” Jonah Brucker-Cohen
33. “Reflections on the Amen Break: A Continued History, an Unsettled Ethics” Nate Harrison
34. “Going Crazy with Remix: A Classroom Study by Practice via Lenz v. Universal” xtine burrough and Dr. Emily Erickson
35. “A Remix Artist and Advocate” Desiree D’Alessandro
36. “Occupy / Band Aid Mashup: ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?'” Owen Gallagher
37. “Remixing the Remix” Elisa Kreisinger
38. “A Fair(y) Use Tale” Eric Faden
39. “An Aesthetics of Deception in Political Remix Video” Diran Lyons
40. “Radical Remix: Manifestoon” Jesse Drew
41. “In Two Minds” Kevin Atherton


Forthcoming: The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies

I have not posted on Remix Theory for some time. The reason being that I have been editing along with fellow editors xtine Burrough and Owen Gallagher an upcoming volume on Remix Studies. It has been a lot of intensive work, needless to say but well worthwhile as we believe the remix community will value the many contributions that comprise the volume. We hope to have the book published in the latter half of 2014–at the moment the tentative release date is for early 2015.  Here is some information and a link to the official webpage:

The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies

Edited by Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, xtine burrough

The Remix Studies Reader comprises contemporary texts by key authors and artists who are active in the emerging field of remix studies. This rapidly growing field extends from remix culture, an organic international movement that originated in the popular music culture of the 1970s and has grown into a rich cultural activity encompassing various forms of media. The act of recombining pre-existing material brings up pressing questions of authenticity, reception, authorship, copyright, and the techno-politics of media activism. This book approaches remix studies from various angles, including sections on history, aesthetics, ethics, and politics, and presents theoretical chapters alongside case studies of remix projects related to the themes of each section. The Remix Studies Reader will be a valuable resource for researchers and practitioners, as well as a teaching tool for instructors using remix practices in the classroom.


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