The Age of the Remix

I mentioned ‘mash-ups’ last week. It’s a term that seems to have only gained traction in the past year. To me it seems to mean something halfway between ‘collaboration’ and ‘remix’. I don’t know what it means to other people.
We live in the age of the Remix. Sure, sampling and cover versions have been around for decades. Simple, honest plagarism has been around even longer. But it is the current era, one of cheap recording technology and limitless storage space for content, that the Remix and the mash-up will come to dominate.
The most popular video clip on the Internet is not a famous speech, a TV moment, or even One Night In Paris. Instead, it is footage of a plump kid wielding a broom, pretending it is a light-sabre. In one sense, he was not really pretending – The clip is so ubiquitous because thousands of people have added special effects to the footage, giving the anonymous hero a proper Jedi weapon (one suspects that the video was originally made for just such a purpose). Filming something and adding special effects is technically a remix. When we see unadulterated video, we call it “raw” footage, which suggests the idea that it is incomplete and un-evolved. Only when it has been mixed does it take on a clear and proper meaning.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy the music of Will Oldham is his propensity to remix his own songs. Hearing an old tune sung in a new style forces you to think about how the original was put together. The differences between the two renditions bring out the best of both. This is also true of artist Tommy Perman’s project Chinese Whispers, where the mix that was remixed was remixed was remixed, by an ever-expanding group of producers. Real World Records run a similar ongoing project too, again facilitated by the Internet and accessible production software that simply was not available five or six years ago.
Tommy Perman is a member of the FOUND collective. A couple of years ago, they thought up an excellent tag-line to promote their ‘Stop Look Listen’ exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy: Remix Our Poster. The results were quirky and highly entertaining. What the FOUND exhibition shows us is that an initial thought can take different people on very different journeys. The pleasure lies not in seeing one aesthetically pleasing image… but in seeing dozens. It is delightful to see how varied are the thought processes of our fellow human beings. When it comes to lateral thinking, human imagination expands into infinite dimesions. The idea of the remix gets better with each new pathway.
A more recent example is the Layer Tennis Tournament, currently in progress over at the Coudal Partners site. One artist remixes another artist’s work. The remix is then remixed once more by the first player (using Photoshop layers)… and so the ‘volleys’ continue. Last week, illustrator Kevin Cornell took on designer Shaun Inman. The individual images they created are very pretty, but it is the juxtaposition of two different minds that makes it entertaining.
The Remix allows dialogue between many minds, not the monologue of a single person sharing their experience with us. Technologies, which we humans have invented and perfected over the past generation, increasingly allow this kind of art to arise and develop. And why not? Human thoughts overlap, and our art should too.


From a good review of Waves (and British Theatre in general), courtesy of Ben Brantley in the New York Times.

At a time when the theater is often regarded as the quaint elderly relation of the art forms, it’s a pleasure to the see this alleged invalid flexing its muscles, turning cartwheels and generally showing off to the tune of “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Adaptation, at its best, is not mimicry; it’s rejuvenation.

7 Replies to “The Age of the Remix”

  1. I agree that mashups and remixes are a terrific form of expression. These forms have generated things that are sometimes better than the original, and also in some cases have eroded the barrier between art producer and art consumer.
    However, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that this method of creation is without risk, or accepted wholeheartedly throughout society.
    Two quick references:
    This article talks about the limitations of Creative Commons (widely seen as an excellent way to license content to be remixed and used by others). CC is terrific but as this article points out, it may not be a panacea –
    This news piece talks about recent attempts by recording industry giants to get “anti-piracy education” introduced in primary schools, because they’ve given up on trying to reach teenagers with the anti-piracy (anti-piracy = anti-mashup and anti-remix) message –
    Just some food for thought. MK

  2. I see where you’re coming from, but to me, “mash-up” is a particular subset of the category Remix. To me, its meaning is more specific than remix, closer to “hybrid”, because its beauty/genius rather depends on at least one of the constituent products already being part of the cultural vocabulary of the audience/consumer.
    If you “remix” two hithertoo unknown products (or minds), then what is novel about the result is lost in the fact that the whole thing is novel. So, a Lennon-McCartney song is a collaboration, but it is not a mash-up.

  3. “Mashup” has been in use since at least 2001, if not earlier.
    The first mashup to get widespread recognition was “A Stroke of Genie-us” by Freelance Hellraiser, which combined “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera with “Hard to Explain” by the Strokes.

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