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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.

Ferguson_Familiar_Critical

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).

FrameworkRemix4Frs

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).

Keywords: A Remix of Culture and Society

KeywordsRemix

A Project by Eduardo Navas

“Keywords: A Remix of Culture and Society” is an online project which takes all of the terms that Raymond Williams published in his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (Oxford, 1976), and provides the top search results on Google. The principle behind this project is to evaluate how the terms Williams considered important in order to understand culture and society in the middle of the twentieth century currently flow on the Web.

View Keywords: A Remix of Culture and Society

 

“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.

CULTURE AND REMIX
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.

Extended, Selective and Reflexive Remixes, Art 415, SoVA @ Penn State

During the Fall Semester of 2015 I am teaching principles of remix for image music and text for Art 415: Integrating Media in the School of Visual Arts (SoVA), Penn State. The students went through eight weeks of sound experimentation that led to three versions of a composition of their own. The students worked with pre-existing samples, ambient sounds they recorded, as well as melodies they developed on their own. The assignments leading up to their first major project were developed based on a conversational approach, meaning that I would provide weekly guidelines for experimental projects based on what they produced for each week. This process led to the development of the three basic forms of remix: the extended, the selective and the reflexive. I share their work below in an order that encapsulates their overall approach. The first and last pieces by D’Emidio and Weinman explore melody over rhythm, while the second and third by O’Halloran and Netzer focus more on ambient noise as abstract melodic rhythm. The students veered to these approaches on their own. I look forward to what they will now produce with image and text.

Christine D’Emidio, Project 1, Extended, Selective, Reflexive Remixes

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Im/material Regeneration by Eduardo Navas

seismographicft

The following text was published in August of 2015 in the publication Seismographic Sounds: Visions of a New World, which accompanies a traveling exhibition with the same title.  More information can be found at http://norient.com/en/events/seismographic-sounds/

The book can be ordered at: http://norient.com/stories/book/

I would like to thank Theresa Beyer and Thomas Burkhalter for the opportunity to share an update on my definitions of Remix. This text is a short version of a much longer essay to be released in the future.

Download a PDF version of this text.

Remix/ Archive
Im/material Regeneration
Remix is at play in all areas of contemporary culture. Text, image and sound become easily accessible data that can be re-combined at will. Remix in music consisted of the reinterpretation of pre-existing songs by way of sampling. Today the copying/sampling of not just sound but all material from infinite sources challenges the «spectacular aura» of the pre-recorded original in order to claim autonomy.

By Eduardo Navas

Cultural production has entered a stage in which archived digital material can potentially be used at will; just like people combine words to create sentences, in contemporary times, people with the use of digital tools are able to create unique works made with splices of other pre-recorded materials. Due to the ubiquitous action of cut/copy & paste, output is at an ever-increasing speed. This process is possible because what is digitally produced in art and music, for instance, becomes part of an archive, particularly a database. The archived material begins to function like building blocks, optimized to be infinitely combined. 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. (more…)

Nike Remixed, by Pau Figueres

Image: Nike Swoosh installation in front of the Palmer Museum at Penn State.

Pau Figueres,Visiting Scholar in the School of Visual Arts (SoVA) at Penn State, installed a Nike swoosh composed of rocks in front of the Palmer Museum. It was a pleasure to host him and work with him in his research on remix and anti-consumerism during his Spring 2015 residency. A brief article of his installation and research was featured on the SoVA website. I quote part of it below:

(Read the complete story)

During spring 2015, SoVA hosted Pau Figueres, a visiting scholar/artist from Bilbao, Spain. Pau was working on a project, Remix and Sampling of Mass Media and Advertising in Visual Art: Aesthetics and the Problematics of Anti-Consumerism Critique, with New Media faculty member Eduardo Navas. While here, as part of his research, Pau staged a temporary ‘intervention’ of an ephemeral art piece in the form of the iconic Nike ‘swoosh’ that was placed in the Palmer Museum of Art plaza. His temporary installation brought to mind the malleability of the power of the commercial icon—an inference about how pebbles are eroded from river flow, yet the stones also shape the course of the river.

[…]

(Read the complete story)

 

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

MinimaMoP2LongShot

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

Pictoplasma: White Noise, Eduardo Navas Interviewed on Remix and Sampling

Figure 1: “Do You Want Fries with that?” by  Ian Stevenson

The following is an interview conducted for the exhibition Pictoplasma: White Noise, curated by Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler, which took place at La Casa Encendida, Madrid Spain from May 23, to September 8, 2013. I was asked questions on how remix functions in art practice,  if there is a difference between remix and sampling, among other issues that the concept of remixing raises with digital and non-digital forms of production. This interview was released as part of a print publication that complemented the exhibit, but it was not made available online. I am now making it public because my answers raise issues that I have not discussed in other texts or interviews.   I thank Lars and Peter for their interest in my views on the subject of remix.

 

———–

Pictoplasma – Remix is what we all do now: cut/copy and paste. You have defined remix culture as the creative exchange of information made possible by digital technologies. Can one only speak of remix in cultural production if it is digital? Or if digital is not a prerequisite, how are analogue remixes embedded into digital culture? What is the difference between remixing and quoting or referencing?

E. Navas – First it should be noted that the concept of remixing is specific to contemporary times. Not everything is a remix – this is hard for me to say given that I was a DJ for almost 15 years (and would love to make such an overreaching claim), but it is precisely because I DJed for so long that I know that remixing is a very specific act. Having said that, the principles of remixing, or remix as discourse, have become important across culture, and this is why remix culture is so popular today, especially when discussing creativity as endorsed by Creative Commons.

When looking back in history you will notice that as a concept for daily creativity, remix was not that popular until remixing became a driving force in music, particularly in disco and hip hop. This means that the concept of remix is popular today not because anyone in particular decided to talk about it to promote some sort of organized movement, but rather because culture as a whole began to use the term to describe the type of creative production that is possible with contemporary technology. The reality is that remix is synonymous with the digital because it was the digital that made the concrete act of taking actual samples from recordings to then manipulate them into something new, while leaving the sampled source intact. This was not the case with collages, which were created by cutting out from images or photographs to create new compositions. In collages the”‘sampled” material was destroyed because it was cut out, but with digital technology, the sampled source is left intact, this was done before in photography, of course, starting in the 19th century. When you take a photograph you are sampling from real life, but the subject of your photograph remains untouched. People at this time, however, did not think about this as an act of sampling, but of recording. But in fact early photography was sampling from real life.

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