This primer makes no claim to expertise or authoritative knowledge. Rather, it is a compilation of interesting cultural objects that partake in different, yet related, forms of “derivative” or “appropriative” creativity that could generally be defined as “remix.” Have a favorite video, audio recording, or other artifact not included in this primer? Leave a link in the comments!
So, you know those videos on YouTube of folks, alone with a webcam, showing off their mad guitar/drum/harmonica/vuvuzela skillz? Or those “learn how to play a guitar/drum/harmonica/vuvuzela videos? Israeli musician Kutiman took countless YouTube videos of just those sort, as well as other uploaded videos of musicians, singers and dancers, and mixed the video and audio into a seven track piece titled Thru-you. (All his sources are linked on the project’s website.) What I find particularly astonishing about this piece is the way in which Kutiman created a communities of artistry through his sampling. In the first track, “The Mother of All Funk Chords,” different videos are played against each other in such a way as to create a literal conversation between the videos. It is as though the viewer has stumbled across a trans-geographic and trans-temporal jam session.
One of the primary virtues of the remix genre is how it enables the creation of communities: both communities of remix artists and communities of artists whose work is being remixed. The chance that the original creators of Kutiman’s source material would have encountered each other is vanishingly small. For the most part, each source video is, in and of itself, a creative endpoint: a non-interactive, non-generative artifact. Thru-you spurns on that generatively and interactive potential by forcing the work into an active and creative conversation with its fellows. It informs the works and the creators that they are members of a community. Moreover, by painstakingly citing and linking to its source material, Thru-you enables its viewer to join the same creative community by revealing what were formerly final performances (the original source videos) as creative tools.
The next trio of videos inspired similar thoughts about the nature of community in remix culture, but of a slightly different nature. Honestly, the “Lisztomania” Bratpack phenomenon could fuel more analysis than I has space for here, but here goes. Here is what happened:
In May of 2009 the French alternative band Phoenix releases the album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. It’s pretty fabulous. “Lisztomania” it its first track.
Sometime after that (the timeline is muddled because the original video has been taken down) YouTube user avoidantconsumer (account currently suspended for TOU violations) posted this tribute video:
31 May 2009: YouTube user thepinkbismuth posts this “tribute to the tribute”:
18 November 2009: YouTube user chinorockwell posts this (at this point) tribute to a tribute to a tribute:
These videos are all part of the same community, joined together by virtue of the content they are producing, the conversation they are having (there are also several videos commenting on that conversation in and of itself). While the community typified by Thru-you is one of sources created/curated by an artist, the community here is one created by the remix artists themselves. By choosing to reinterpret the same content, they are declaring themselves part of the same community. The cost of entry to this community is a video camera and a YouTube account. Permission does not need to be asked to join the conversation (though, as we can see in the case of avoidantconsumer, active participation can be revoked by a specific third party).
Avoidantconsumer’s original work can be easily slide into the sub-genre of mashup: a derivative work meant to force a comparison or conflict between a small number of sources. In this case, we have the iconic imagery of John Hughes bratpack films from the 1980s against Phoenix’s hit song. So what, then, are all the subsequent videos? They are no longer only commenting on the source material, in fact, by their video performance they are obliterating half of it. Instead, the commentary is now on the commentary or as thepinkbismuth puts it, a “tribute to the tribute.” The source material has been transcended, the community and the conversation itself has become the focus and the primary virtue and joy for those involved.