[iDC] The Remix discussion

Al Larsen alarsen at buffalo.edu
Sat Apr 15 12:04:36 EDT 2006

I see an impulse to try to draw these histories of influence. But the
way things actually transpire seems more complex. I see a history of
people responding to combinations of social and technological
situations. The innovations happen many places at once. Sometimes the
participants are in "artistic conversation" with each other... other
times that connection comes later and is made by others.  

The issuing of 45 rpm records in stereo and mono versions starting in
1958 seems significant, and was not much of an artistic statement at
all. Suddenly there would be two versions of the same product for sale
in the shop. Eventually record companies issue the single with a mono
mix on one side and a stereo mix on the other: stereo FM stations and
home hi-fis could play the stereo side, AM stations and older record
players needed a mono track. The kids, they just want to hear "Sugar,
Sugar" they're not much concerned that they're getting two mixes of the
same song or that they are being subtly ushered into an era of mutable

In Digital Culture Charlie Gere draws a history from Cage and
Stockhausen to the Velvet Underground and Kraftwerk and, from there,
straight to techno, sampling and etc. This drove me nuts.  I can't
really separate the modern proliferation of sampling, looping, and
sequencing in contemporary music from hip-hop and Jamaican DJ and dub
styles. (And I actually see from his recent post to this list that Gere
recognizes this history as well...)

The thing is, it's not a straight history. Was King Tubby or Lee Perry
following Cage? Does Musique Concrete figure in? I am going to guess no.
They were responding to their own social and technological contexts. You
can't really draw a line of influence from Cage to Perry.  You can
eventually draw several lines from Jamaican DJ and dub to early hip-hop,
from Jamaican DJ and dub to UK post-punk underground music though. In
the late seventies and early eighties you see the circuit starting to be
completed in different places and ways... in the US, Afrika Bambaata
samples Kraftwerk for "Planet Rock," in the UK Cabaret Voltaire issues
singles pulling machine noise together with secondhand dub sense.  

When I set my students loose with Photoshop I know they will want to
start jamming together photographic source material. Because they should
leave the course with more than a few keystroke shortcuts I prep them
with a variety of relevant approaches. It's easy to say Max Ernst comes
back from World War I and invents collage. But this discounts a whole
range of explorations of recombining the signs and images of industrial
production which were taking place in other arenas. For instance, quilts
made from the play of mass-produced textiles. We look at Surrealist
collage, Dada, the Quilters of Gee's Bend, Romare Bearden, needlepoint.
The issues relevant to digital collage, montage, compositing are
explored in many different ways and in many different places, even
before the digital tools have actually come into being.

Quoting Danny Butt <db at dannybutt.net>:

> I agree with Paul, but I think the problems of Lev-ish formalism are 
> even evident within white media theory. The "remix" of the techno  
> artist and the hip-hop artist are not the same thing - they spring  
> from radically (and, somewhat, racially) heterogeneous contexts, even
> as artists use remixing to traverse these contexts (perhaps like  
> Paul). Ultimately, from my POV, if we generalise anything about the 
> value of the remix it lies in a reconfiguration of those contexts,  
> and the results/effects are at least partially oriented toward those 
> responsible for maintaining those contexts.  Where, contextually, is 
> new media formalism located, in what social context? To me, it just 
> seems to be appropriating "culture" for, who?, Euro-academics and  
> those who share cultural capital on new media mailing lists? A few  
> battles with rival crews could be in order to sharpen the game.
> We need an anthropology of new media theory in the worst way. If only
> to "prove" the ethno-cultural construction of the scene, which I  
> think we already know. Calling Lev's formalism "intentionally  
> provocative" only papers over the ruptures that need to be levered  
> open further if new media theory is going to develop real
> "openness".
> Danny


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