Reading: Remix and remixability



Brian Jungen - prototypes for new understanding. Aboriginal masks made with deconstructed Nike shoes
Brian Jungen – prototypes for new understanding. Aboriginal masks made with deconstructed Nike shoes

PDF Manovich – Remixing and remixability

This is a short essay by Lev Manovich a prominent media theorist. Read it and write some thoughts in the comments section below. Here are some starting points:

* We live in a ‘remix’ culture. Are there limits to remixing? Can anything be remixed with anything? Shall there be an ethics of remixing?

* Can you think of some non-digital artist (besides DJs) using sampling and remixing as core strategy in their practice?

* Can you imagine a form of remix that doesn’t exist now but may exist in 5, 10 or 20 years?

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16 comments

  1. bescott

    *Can you imagine a form of remix that doesn’t exist now but may exist in 5, 10 or 20 years?*

    tl;dr Considering “games” to be more than the media they contain, and sampling / remixing them as such could lead into artistically uncharted territory.

    As game development becomes a more personal medium (as tools, assets, code, etc proliferate) we could very easily see remixes of games. At some level, this is already happening, as new game designers look to previous works for *general* inspiration. Such a remix should not be conflated with the specific sampling and remixing found in music production, where the composer uses the original source, directly in his new creation. As far as I’m aware, this is not happening on any grand scale in the game industry, as most direct usages of code and assets are kept in-house, and are put towards making sequels to existing works. Once we have a sturdy enough foundation of games which are memorable, open sourced, and indie-developed, we might begin to see true, non-modular remixes of games. To continue the music analogy, whereas a song might contain high-pitched Jackson-5 samples amidst new beats and compositions, these new works could contain non-granular sections of other games, beyond the simple reuse of particular sound effects or game mechanics.

    A game remixed like this could sample multiple previous games, use “legos” from each (i.e., combining the gameplay aspects of two different games, using the visual aesthetic of some other game), or even encapsulate sections of other games in their entirety. Until such remixes are developed, however, we can only guess at their ramifications.

  2. Jack Taylor

    As much as I like the idea of a “web of data” rather than a “web of documents”
    as Manovich describes I find her vision problematic for a few reasons.
    I definitely appreciate the fact that image / file sharing is becoming a reality
    and that information is traded and “remixed” at a rapid pace but I take issue with
    the fact that there has become a seemingly rampant lack of respect for the original
    creator of a work. I think that the originator of a program / image / etc…
    deserves credit and even compensation in some cases (mostly in the case of physical
    artworks – not necessarily digital ones). Since digital works are so often made to
    be consumed for free, it is important that the creator get credit in order to
    capitalize on creation in some way. In Manovich’s proposed “web of data” I feel
    that the original creators of works would hardely be recognized if at all.

  3. Michael Quinn

    Manovich discusses how sharing of intellectual influence, methods, and media have shaped human culture throughout history. He denotes a distinct change at this period in history, where an explosion of intermingling between ideas comes naturally to creators and consumers of media. He suggested that the key factor of this change is the nature of modularity in information and production. In the past, products were created as finished wholes by single entities, and their modularity was defined by the closed circuit of information circulated throughout the industries and between exclusive parties related to the product. He suggests that artists and produces in the last hundred years or so have specifically acted against this trend, using appropriation as a medium in and of itself. He illustrated now, however, through the evolution of this trend, ALL production has become commodified, not only through the actions of the produces, but also the consumers. With massive information sharing, compartmentalizing, modifying, and repurposing that came with digital communication, the consumers of media have been able to reconstruct it as never before. This trend, in turn, has influenced producers to think with reconstruction in mind. To think of their production not simply as a means to a single end result, but as a process of remix, modification, information sharing and restructuring. This unprecedented shift toward totally diversification of all media substance has created a cultural world of absurdity the likes of which we cannot comprehend. And it is beautiful.

  4. jasonm2

    I agree that this “cultural remixing” is virtually limitless given the perpetual advancement of technology. Our forms of communication are only increasing, paving the virtual highway on which ideas and cultures can traverse. The article mentions that eventually music won’t be the only thing that is publicly remixed, which I think could raise some ethical problems. From an economical standpoint, the person with the original idea would be screwed over since all of his peers simply stole his idea and made it better. If this cultural remixing were to become very globalized, there would need to be more regulations put in place. Aside from DJs some other simpler forms of sampling and remixing could be food. In the United States, especially, people are coming from countries and cultures across the world. It has become evident that the American culture is actually a combination of all these varied cultures, which inevitably translates into its cuisine (Tex-Mex, for example, is a popular “remix” of Texan and Mexican cuisine). As the global pollution increases and environmental issues grow, I would imagine that different countries in the near future would have to begin to “remix” various ideas of global preservation, working off of each other’s ideas in an effort to save the Earth.

  5. Chris

    Manovich’s way of describing modularity as a sort of infinite rabbit-hole very clearly relates to the infinity of The Web today. The vastness of his argument suggests that there really are no limits to this process of remix and recycle. Furthermore, he neglects to discuss the ethics behind this phenomenon purposefully, as his focus is on the strength and importance of cultural modularity. In other words, I think he takes ethics and morals behind appropriation and remixing as assumption to the argument, as in: do it right.

  6. ndesmorn

    I understand and agree that we live and have been living in a remix culture.

    Almost all forms of work that I have seen, ranging from music to game design,

    have had some sort of previous inspiration that they have based their work upon.

    It’s interesting to wonder if people might run out of ideas in certain areas, but

    I believe there are no limits to remixing. There are vast amounts of ways to

    change and build upon something, so much that its virtually limitless. For

    example, in music, producers can remix songs with many options. They can change

    notes, tempo, style, volume, or samplings. They could take parts and combine them

    with their own styles. Or they can entirely try to write a song on their own. But

    chances are they would take on the style or base their work upon another artist.

    The possibilities are simply too vast to be considered limited. In my opinion, ethics have always been apart of remixing. It seems most humans instinctively have the ideology that stealing work from another person is wrong. Thus, copyright claims are made, plagiarism is monitored, and similarities are criticized. Ethics are already apart of our currency. Another artist that may use sampling and remixing in practice are architects. Perhaps an architect wants to design a new building but is having trouble coming up with a design for a certain part of the building. The architect might borrow or be inspired by another architect’s work that he/she admires. It happens all the time; it’s quite difficult not to build something without another work in mind. I’m not sure if there can be another form of remixing because the definition covers all areas. Unless the definition is changed to include a ‘new’ type of remixing, then no I can’t see how remixing can have a different form.

  7. alisale

    * We live in a ‘remix’ culture. Are there limits to remixing? Can anything be remixed with anything? Shall there be an ethics of remixing?

    While some “remixing” could be extremely helpful in the creative sphere, I feel like there would be an increasing number of implications associated with copyright. Also, can one call a “remixed” work his own if it’s created from little pieces of other people’s work (especially if little pieces are anonymous and open sourced)? I think there should be limits to how much and what can one remix; too much freedom to remix would also inhibit creativity.

    Some existing platforms for content sharing require you to submit your own work in order to gain access to content of others’. I believe this approach to be one of the ways to set fair limits to remixing, while promoting creation of the original content.

  8. garamk

    As long as humanity continues collecting and recording history, the ever growing bank of information will give birth to unlimited forms of remix culture. I believe that environment is what makes people, and environment in turn is created by predecessors. As time goes by, the methods of remixing will only increase in diversity. However, for modularity to be meaningful, there must also be a line in remixing, one very similar to that of copyright. The list of components must be made known by people who come across the remixed product.

  9. gsunder

    What this essay made me think most about what Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” which was written at a time where mass production of art through prints, records, etc was starting to become prominent in the average person’s life (this would be the 1940’s). As a critical theory it discusses the idea of the reproduction versus the original–and idea which Manovich touches on using the term modularity. He discusses the “aura”–or the wonder in response to something unique and that appears divine–in the context of art, arguing that with mechanical reproduction the reproduction becomes almost more real that the original causing the aura (which belongs only to the original)…and he ends up relating this fictional aura as being the source of the politicization and elitism of art–which technological advances directly counter by diminishing the “aura”. And to some degree, the significance of the original seems to be somewhat lost (respected maybe) in this excitement on the age of Tumblr/etc. And the ethics of remixing fit in with this feeling that cultures are meant to organically flow and form, and while the original product has its place, we can put it into perspective and honor growth without indulging in a need to preserve the old. And I think we can learn a lot by trying to see where remixes have come from, and that definitely is important for critically thinking about what we consumes, but we don’t need to artificially assign value to things that don’t connect with people as much as the new product

  10. Kate Werth

    Manovich’s writing communicates the idea that remixing combined with the use of technology allows the rapid generation of layered and complex ideas, identities, and creations. Due to the vast expansion of the internet, it is possible for anything to be remixed with anything. Once you create something in today’s culture, you essentially must expect that someone else will remix your creation or copy elements in their own work. This can create a fine line between remixing and plagiarism. I think remixing is ethical as long as something notable is changed from the original, as to avoid exact replication. Nearly every artist today uses a ton of samplings (conscious and sub-consciously) in the creation of their own work. Remixing will continue to grow and effect nearly every area of visual culture until everything is a remix of something. I think it is more interesting to think about if there is anything after remixing, as in what will happen when people get tired of endlessly editing and replicating past works? Will it be possible for humans to create completely new visuals?

  11. Matthew Constant

    The fact the modularity permeates our culture to the extent that it does means that remixing and the use of pre-existing material to create separate original material is completely viable. From a fine art perspective, the concept of remixing has already been used in practice for many years (pop art, dada collages, etc) across a broad array of concepts. One notable example was Andy Warhol, whose process of creating art stemmed from the use of existing icons and media. Another was Robert Rauschenberg, whose combine paintings often featured images and pictures from other sources. Design and music too have continued to prosper under this culture of complete “remixability”. The freedom to remix and repurpose content is at this point inherent in our culture, and is fueled by mass communication and media that were made possible by the technological advances (computers, internet, cell phones, etc) we now find to be a daily part of our lives. So it follows that the development of an ethical code on what can and can not be remixed already exists, and we quite clearly see that nothing is off limits. The usefulness and logic of modulation and remixing is already established and is only more likely to expand to other mediums. With the modulation and standardization of more and more aspects of life, it is completely plausible that the ability to customize and remix will rise to new levels, and will occur more and more through average individuals rather than companies and professionals. For example it is plausible that even the physical living spaces will be modulated and standardized, allowing them to be easily changed by individual inhabitants without the need for reconstruction or professional help. Everything from the walls to the decor will be completely adjustable as well as exchangeable with other living spaces.

  12. Josh Archer

    In Lev Manovich’s essay he discuses the shear abundance of information at our finger tips online. With all this information there comes the set backs of intellectual property and identity issues. Without properly addressing the these formalities of law concerning property of both identity and information, I believe that the full capacity of the internets creative power will never be reached. Manovich preposes ideas about the future of remixing media and data but fails to recognize that the development of such forms will require a drastic shift in policy towards sharing and modify media and mentality of the people who believe in intellectual property of any sort.

  13. lingdonh

    * We live in a ‘remix’ culture. Are there limits to remixing? Can anything be remixed with anything? Shall there be an ethics of remixing?

    I believe remixing should never be limited as long as the remix is placed into a new context or given a new meaning, even if it is only slightly modified, or even exactly the same.

    * Can you think of some non-digital artist (besides DJs) using sampling and remixing as core strategy in their practice?

    I remember seeing Marcel Duchamp and other Dadaists’ works, which are mainly assemblies and collages of ready-made pieces.

    * Can you imagine a form of remix that doesn’t exist now but may exist in 5, 10 or 20 years?

    There might one day be remixes of essays that consists of paragraphs of existing essays, but so combined that gives a whole new argument or meaning.

  14. Taisha Vargas

    * We live in a ‘remix’ culture. Are there limits to remixing? Can anything be remixed with anything? Shall there be an ethics of remixing?

    The first limit that came to mind when reading this essay is the moment the ‘new’ author of the material comes in and erases the original owner of the content in which he/she remixed with. This sort of erasing can play out in several ways. For example, cultural appropriation comes into. We have been seeing countless of times which big clothing companies take away the cultural context behind a certain aesthetic from a different culture, maybe adds in an obscure difference and then relabels it to be ‘their own’. There is also the fact that it is easy to erase and not give credit to the original owner of the digital content in question. For example, plagiarizing is an issue across the board, from academia to posts on social media sites such as Tumblr. So on the surface, having an ethics of remixing should be outlined but this sort of regulation of digital content opens up a realm of other topics such as censorship and ‘who will be the internet police’? There is also potential on discuss the value of remixing in the sense of monetary value. If we place these sort of rules and place money value on intellectual property to the point where money now is able to hinder the transfer of information, will our growth as a society slow down?

    * Can you think of some non-digital artist (besides DJs) using sampling and remixing as core strategy in their practice?

    Engineers/Programmers are encouraged to extract certain aspects of ‘already solved’ problems as a foundation to build on and eventually include a creative approach to a problem. However, the industry is fueled by money in the sense that we are trying to design a product that can make a company money (and this is speaking outside of academia). It would be nice if other engineering companies was able to make their information public and shared to accelerate innovation (think Tesla).

    * Can you imagine a form of remix that doesn’t exist now but may exist in 5, 10 or 20 years?

    Genetics…

  15. aeedward

    Remixing as it exists today doesn’t seem to pose limits to what can and cannot be deconstructed and combined. Even the most jarring combinations of trifling images, songs, and text become humorous because of their lack of continuity. There are compilations of images and videos with titles such as “Cannot be explained” or ” [blank] with unfitting music” that go viral because of the absurdity that lies in remixing the contents of its subject matter. Though there is opposition and abrasion, cultural icons are appropriated by dominant/non-menber cultures and integrated into a mainstream aesthetic. Various artists from fine arts to culinary even try to recreate existing forms and recipes from seemingly miscellaneous or what would seem as an apotheosis to the original subject matter. This is seen in the Mona Lisa recreated in every medium from chalk to legos to hair and haute couture cuisine recreated with fast food ingredients. The only taboo that hangs around remixing seems to be when credit is stolen. The current ethics, at least online seem apathetic to a lack of credit or source material, but when something is blatantly claimed as the original work of the remixer and the original work’s are easily identifiable there is great backlash. People actively call out others for stealing content or not remixing adequately enough to claim any ownership of the work. this is seen from the Fine arts sphere to the comment sections of Instagram.

    Many other hobbies/occupations could be seen as photo-remixers. The building of model vehicles and buildings seems to qualify since it is the basic re-imaginations of existing objects with small variances of color, arrangement, and scale. Scrap-booking is the rearrangement and editing of photos, keepsakes, memory, and perspective. And journalism and research has become almost completely remixing. With essential tomes and tomes of pre-existing research and journalism that are drawn on for the creation of modern news media, wether it supports or refutes previous information, most of this field consists of secondary source material. And even primary sources are hand picked and cut and edited to present the most eccentric and attention grabbing live footage and interviews. So very little is actually the pure original content.

  16. krclark

    *There are limits to remixing as Manovich mentions in the third paragraph, however, the line drawn between plagiarism and remixing is very blurred. If one’s tribute to say a Van Gogh painting is just the “Starry Night” with a few dots added, what makes that person’s remix less quality than another’s? I say that, yes, anything can be remixed with anything else, but ethically if one is to take credit for it it should have a new standing, a new message it puts across, or a noticeable difference or alteration making it stand apart from its parent.

    *Technically all artists sample to one extent or another. Andy Warhol used mainly other brands and trademarks in his works to comment on mass production. Tara Donovan is famous for using recycled materials to create surreal sculptures.

    *Although this is sort of science-fictiony, cloning or genetically producing new kinds of humans is kind of a far-fetched yet still a form of remixing.
    IN other fields when copyrights are less restrictive remixes of sculptures or paintings may be available without legal issue. Taking real pieces of other artworks and creating something new may be possible.

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