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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15 comments

  1. Brandon

    • Manovich makes it very clear that social networking and internet communication are effective tools people use to borrow cultural forms and re-arrange them into new ideas. Because of how widely the internet is used today, the remixing of information is inevitable. Manovich likens the flow of information to the flow of water down a mountain. I think that even if the water were to inexplicably stop flowing; or in other words, if a stopper were to be put on the flow of information through society, people would still continue to remix existing cultural forms in their static puddle, borrowing and re-arranging them to form new artistic precedents (banal as they may be).
    • If you define “sampling” and “remixing” in ways that aren’t specific to digital means, it can be said that most analog artists employ sampling and remixing as their core strategy, especially artists who draw meaning from pop culture imagery and re-contextualize them to get new ideas across. When artists use existing imagery or information in their artworks, it’s generally safe to assume that they know the meanings of their references enough to manipulate them articulately.
    When an artist cuts out a picture of the Creature from the Black Lagoon from a magazine and pastes it into a collage, he knows that the elaborately designed creature isn’t his own creation. Instead, he stands on the shoulders of the giants who burped the monstrosity into existence. He borrows a piece of information and re-contextualizes it; remixes it, just as DJs do when they sample existing music to be incorporated into their own.

  2. ggsimmon

    In more of a stricter art context, I think there will always be debates about the ethics of remixing in terms of ownership and uniqueness – new iterations of work using borrowed material may leave original creators feeling discredited/infringed upon. However, I definitely think that all things are partially borrowed or accumulated when it comes to inspiration, and that “taking” is different from using certain elements, but then employing different processes and reworking. This could produce something that offers (perhaps) significantly new interpretations.
    In the general internet culture, it’s interesting to see how people pride themselves on curation, like the ability to make a good mixtape, or run a cohesive Tumblr blog. I think this shows that people are less concerned with “owning” things, and more interested in producing collections from a wide array of sources. I think it’s beneficial to have platforms where people can still display creativity without necessarily making the raw content itself. Culture reaches us through so many avenues of media that it can seem overwhelming, so we admire when people find the hidden gems or edit to what’s engrossing.

  3. Toby Donoghue

    I believe on a certain level humankind has engaged in a remix culture for as long as humans have existed and inhabited the earth, but as Manovich discusses, the creation of the internet has caused a dramatic increase in the amount of information that exists and the accessibility of such information. On the most basic level, Manovich discusses remixing and remixability as a system in which every cultural object is created from the innumerable building blocks and precedents that came before it, and once it reaches completion as its own object, it then becomes a precedent in itself that leads to the creation of something else. While this notion can be applied really complexly and specifically to the internet and new technologies and the way that information disseminates in this digital age, at its core remixing is piggybacking off of what has already been accomplished to accomplish something new (perhaps something better than the original object, a new perspective on the original object, an attempt at subverting the original object, etc.). In this way I don’t think that there can ever be a limit to our remix culture because at the smallest level remixing happens in our imaginations. We get inspired by the things we see and experience, absorb the media packaged information that surrounds us, gain awareness of the systems in place that set us free and restrict us, and all of this serves as the building blocks that form new ideas in our minds. I like to think that the brain is just constantly taking things in and mashing them around and trying to figure out what can come next to improve the things that don’t work or create things there is a need for, using media, pop culture, experience, interaction, and environment all as tools and bins of scraps to sample from.

    If discussing remix and remixability in the context of a visual art practice, there always arises the issue of copyright. Inspiration and stimulation is free, and any artist is free to view another artist’s work and be moved by it or relate to it, even appropriate it and utilize aspects of it for a new work that serves a different purpose that the original. The ethics of remix should only need to be considered if one tries to pass off the work of another as their own with the intent of claiming full ownership of it. Pop art as a movement I believe embodies the notion of a remix culture well, as you see artists like Warhol, Koons, and Lichtenstein sampling icons, logos, faces, images, and themes present in their society in ways that highlight the ever growing presence of pop culture in American life and sometimes highlighting the detriments and damages of a media-obsessed, capitalist-driven society.

  4. ldenegre

    Really fascinated by Manovich’s predictions of lego-like modularity for all cultural goods. I think in different categories this already somewhat happening, as he talked about with design elements, media tropes and music elements, but its hard for me to imagine these things being able to cross media boundaries. Can physical products really contain the same kind of copy/paste attributes, even less literally? I think 3D printing could definitely play an interesting role in this type of development, being able to share and mod different designs for all sorts of crazy things, all made not necessarily by the same material but the same process. I think some sort of standardization, if not in media or form but practice is necessary for ideas to effectively cross certain categorical boundaries. Manovich kind of said that we can just leave it up to computers to keep track of everything. This article was also written over 10 years ago! Its still pretty relevant to what is happening currently but I’m not sure anyone really uses RSS feeds anymore. I’m interested in what Manovich thinks of current trends of modularity and remixing, including 3D printing.

  5. kgonzale

    One large appeal in the modular/remixing world is that it opens up the opportunity for consumers and creators to customize their environment. It may be harsh to say that we are a selfish species but we are undeniably attracted to the sense of originality and attention we get from creating anything, which included remixed work.
    Remixablity also comes off as “lazy” in the way that certain remixes are created by someone else with just a sprinkle of originality. The small change allows the old work to serve a new purpose or welcome a new meaning. This is not to say that remixing is bad. It is very useful for communication because it easily helps creators to quickly put out information that is “fresh” in multiple forms not previously considered.

  6. Sarah Kim

    The fact that everything we use are connected and everyone is capable of remixing information in their own way to create something new constantly resembled our individual selves in a way. We are all byproducts of multiple cultural backgrounds and languages, media that we are constantly exposed to, and informations we have absorbed in different time and places. Combined with the unlimited diversity we have now in post-computer modularity and the thought process of thinking present as part of a possible future and our own remixed data which creates individuality, artists today are capable to combine more informations and experiment with broader ideas. But I do believe that as we are more exposed to this limitless connectivity and data, it is quite hard to create what is “original” and what is exactly original.

  7. rnayyar

    ~ I suppose there aren’t any limits to remixing. Not even Copyright, Trademarks, and patents can really stop anyone anymore. It’s absolutely possible to just hop onto YouTube and download a video through the browser and play around with it in Premiere or whatever you want. Even before YouTube, Limewire and Napster allowed people to download music. You can save images from Google and other websites. The internet basically prompts people to absorb information/media and play with it.

    ~Aside from the internet, remixing is still rampant among other art communities. Fashion and design frequently recycle ideas and constructions from the past and often combine elements that allow for certain concepts to be “updated” if that makes sense. Perhaps a fashion designer is inspired by grass growth on a collection of hills and incorporates grass seed in a fashion line. Does that count as remixing? 2D artists and sculptors definitely remix from each other and from pop-culture. Whether it’s collecting single words from magazines and pasting them in a different order to creating a deflated Jeff Koons balloon animal sculpture, fine arts definitely rely on remixing and using others’ ideas as a spring-board.

    ~I don’t really know if this counts but I think the concept of designer babies and gene editing could be considered “remixing”. Taking features that exist individually and combining them and revamping them in a personal manner doesn’t just apply to media. Science and medicine are inching closer and closer to the prospect of “remixing” the human genetic outcome and creating a customizable being.

  8. Aren

    -In my opinion, there are no limits in the art of remixing. Remixing cannot be hindered because the amount of material that can be remixed is basically endless. Since the Internet is a vast sea of information and media that artists consume, they will become inspired by what they see and incorporate it into their art. Any media can be remixed with another media; it’s up to the artist’s creativity to make the remix successful. Remixing should not be hindered or censored in anyway because, unlike plagiarism, it is not stealing work from creators. It is putting a personal twist on a creation (while giving them credit) and a form of expressing inspiration from a creation. I think that the art of remixing spawns new content by aiding upcoming artists who are finding their niche.
    ~The interior design industry is basically a lot of designers remixing basic furniture and warping them to fit their tastes and styles. For example, they take the basic structure of a chair (4 legs and a seat) and change the design to any style that they want while keeping the same basic structure of a chair.
    ~Remixes are unpredictable. Since new media and technology are developed rather quickly and unpredictably, remixes will also be developed quickly and unpredictably. 20 years ago, no one expected the original GameBoy to have 2 screens, one that is stereoscopic 3D and the other is a touch screen. Remixability depends on the availability of the source material and the technology that is available at the time

  9. smsyjuco

    Thus far, the remix culture we live in has found no limits. Nothing is held sacred, or out of reach of remixing – in fact, oftentimes objects held “sacred” hold new or controversial meaning when remixed. We find it valuable to continue to expound on ideas that have come before. It is often said that there are no original ideas, and everything grows out of something else. If we embrace that, and accept that our culture is not only obsessed, but very much tied to remixing things, anything can be remixed with anything. Anything should be remixed with anything, there should not be an ethics of this. If we begin to pick and choose (as if we, living in this culture, could accept any limits on this, which it subconsciously cannot) then we limit ourselves and our progress as people and as artists.
    I think a form of remix that exists only in its barest, shallowest stages right now is body modification. Aspects of it, like dyeing one’s hair, or tattoos, are surface-level and accepted in today’s society. Others, like surgical enhancement, are often relegated to either tabloid subjects or “horrifying” photos. But with our vain human obsession of ourselves and our appearances, in the future I believe that there will be a support for much more high-tech and advanced ways of changing how we present ourselves to the world, remixing our own features and sampling ideas from magazines or media to achieve a look we will be happy with.

  10. Annie

    I don’t believe there exist limits to remixing because not only the society is embracing remissibility in many ways but also because the amount of “materials” that can be found and used for remixing are so enormous that it can produces endless possibilities. Moreover, anything already remixed can also be treated as an other kind of building block again for other remixing. At this point, ethics of remixing doesn’t seem necessary anymore since it is the freedom of copy and pasting and reusing in remixing that made this process so efficient and so creative.
    We can defiantly see remixing in the fashion industry. It is not unusual to see elements, patterns or textures used in 10 or 20 years ago reappear in different ways in the latest fashion shows.
    I guess more remixing will be done on the “intangible”. For instance, though there already exists genetic modification, there will be probably many more newer forms of this kind of remixing happening in the future since it is like making possible the impossibles.

  11. rlawanta

    I believe there are no limits to remixing. Every single thing can, in one sense or another, be remixed to take a new form. These forms might be very similar or barely recognizable from the original. I do not think that we should put a limit/rules that govern remixing as it often produces a product that could be considered superior to the original. Take for example Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of All Along the Watchtower. Despite being a classic at this point in time, many people might not be aware that the song is a “remix” (strictly speaking it is a cover) of the original by Bob Dylan. To put it simply, it is the better loved, more iconic rendition of the song. Bob Dylan himself even adopted Hendrix’s style. The only rile that I think should be adhered to is acknowledging the original author.

    Remixing can be understood as the re-contextualization of objects/information. One such example could be as simple as collage based art. Take for instance Picasso and how he appropriated newspaper clippings and other objects to create a new composition that draws new meaning from the different elements that he has incorporated. A more contemporary example could be how Hollywood movies are cut and edited. One could find the concept of a movie being a remix as a foreign concept since many would consider movies to be the original content. However, raw footage is cut and edited into multiple versions to be screened to test audiences before the final cut of the movie is cut and released. In the rawest sense, these different iterations of raw footage could be as considered remixes.

    One way to conceptualize remixes that are yet to exist is to ask ourselves why these remixes don’t exist today. In my opinion, this might be caused by a lack of materials to remix or a lack of means to achieve such a remix. For example, one would probably find it challenging to find enough materials to make a remix of items that incorporate graphene as it is a recent and relatively scarce invention/item. Another example could be how technology and knowledge might be a limiting factor in extreme genetic modification/advanced cybernetic implants.

  12. cdmo

    In a time of great innovation where technology is constantly evolving, the idea of “remixing” is virtually limitless. The internet is expanding in an exponential rate with a constant influx of everything and anything, and people can take advantage of the this to create something completely unique. I felt that the author described this phenomenon very well by comparing this expansion to that of an ever growing river.
    While this may raise ethical concerns about the questionable products of such remixing, I strongly believe that there should be zero interference as people should be able to create whatever they want with what they find. However not all remixing happens in digital spaces, with one example being Banksy who uses recognizable imageries from pop culture and fictional works to create a unique style of street art.

  13. mreyes

    Remixability is not limitless ass it must adhere to the technology of the time. While, the article takes a celebratory stance on remixing and the modularity in culture and media, Manovich is clearly making a point about how new technology freed people to have easily accessible elements that are also easy to break down into chunks and then reassemble. Even if we put aside the vernacular remixing of media. Cultural remixing has always been limited to the technology of how information has past.

    In terms of the ethics of remixing, there is the clear ethical issue of using something that isn’t your own and then claiming to own it. The article describes remixing as taking pieces of different media and using them as building blocks as something new. In this description remixing is far from plagiarism. While this is fine in an ideal situation, in real life it can quickly become an exploitation of the original artist. There is a long history of large name music artists taking key elements of songs from lesser known music artists and neither crediting or paying the original artist. I do not necessarily believe there are defined black and white ethics of remixing, but neither do I believe it is void of ethical issues.

  14. anathani

    * There are definitely no limits to remixing anymore. Due to the nature of accessibility in our society, it is almost impossible to protect an original idea, structure, module of some sort with the exception of never sharing it (which is almost as unbelievable in our constant communicating culture today). To a degree almost anything can be remixed with anything, it is really only in the limit of our own mind to stop one from doing so. It would be nice to have some sort of ethics to remixing, and I believe copyrights and patents strive to protect our intellectual and physical property without it being appropriated, but after a certain point surveillance can only be so deep.

    * Almost any practice with the function of creating uses remixing and sampling to achieve their goal (i.e. engineers, chefs, fashion designers, etc.) All of these practices strive to make something new/better, and by doing so usually build on already existing knowledge and items.

    * One thing I find interesting is that remixing is (in some regards) very similar to customization. Everyone likes things their own way, we live in a very self-centric society and when things are suited to your needs, the better they are. I’m sure as we move along towards the future, almost everything will be customizable and manufacturable in an extremely short amount of time. We can already use the computer to customize our favorite kind of pizza (i.e. dominos.com) and have it delivered to us within at most an hour. I have a feeling that more things will be just as easily accessible and customizable as our pizza (or furniture, clothing, music, etc.)

  15. Shannon

    I think that remixing is extremely important to our culture. Things are constantly being edited, revised, and changed to create many versions of similar products. Remixing is necessary for innovation. I think that there should be some ethics to remixing, such as if an artist does not want their work to be used or edited they should have copyright protection on this work.

    Non digital artists who use collage are an example of remixers. They cut and paste different portions of different media to create a new product or story with these building blocks.

    I can imagine a future where people will be able to remix things like social media to create online personas that are completely customizable. They will be able to share their lives as much or as little as they want, remixing content across many platforms.

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