Nothing is New

The expression remix may bring to mind the many Youtube mashup videos floating around in cyberspace, or perhaps an altered version of your favourite song, however the word remix, isn’t so much a word, as it is a necessity in cultural evolution.

Axel Bruns explains, “However complex, in its essence remix is, as Don Joyce described to me, ‘just collage.’” It is the art of collating together old elements, whether it is musically, or visually, to create something ‘new’. The sense of skepticism you are associating with the word ‘new’ right now is valid, for the entire suggestion of a remix culture demands that we question the notion of originality.

Henry Ford put it quite simplistically:

“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work … progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.”

Nothing is ever original, or fresh, and the chances of creating something entirely new only decrease with time. This is not a bad thing. As a people who have been bombarded daily with the strict business of patenting and copyright, we have submitted to the idea that creativity must come from within, and should we refer to, or build upon the work of those before us, we have essentially stolen. Yet thieves are not what we are! Everything that has ever been invented has drawn from its predecessors; the iPhone was not a sporadic invention that emerged from nothingness (as much as Jobs debated).

This video illustrates the point that multiple songs have an identical guitar melody. It is the same four chords repeated over and over, with the lyrics of 40 different songs layered on top. I believe it makes a statement that artists can sample from the works of those before them without ‘stealing’. In fact, remixing and sampling is integral in the creative process. Although the foundation is constant, what gets built on top is different and portrays a different meaning to that of a structure with the same foundation next to it.

Director, writer and editor Kirby Ferguson discusses the importance of remixing, referencing and reproducing. What Ferguson calls remixing, many call plagiarism. He endeavours to explain the necessity of remixing – anybody can do it, and it allows not only the artists, but the audience also, to actively engage with the content. It is a necessity in cultural evolution as it enables users to take a text, and as Andrew Whelan describes, intervene in the cultural or ideological flow.

As shown through the video, a little bit of tweaking here and there can transform the entire meaning of something. This is an example of détournement, something Andrew Whelan defined as derailment, or altering the direction of something. Through remixing, this serious, biblical based film has been made to appear as a contemporary comedy about a school student (Ten Things I Hate About You) – the meaning of the text has been reconstituted. Although in this case we assume it is just for amusement, remixing can be used to challenge the underlying messages of different texts or to enable others to engage in open discussion.

“As Johan Söderberg says, ‘To me, it is just like cooking. In your cupboard in your kitchen you have lots of different things and you try to connect different tastes together to create something interesting.’” (Lessig, 2008)

For further reference, please see below:

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2 responses to “Nothing is New”

  1. spreitzerrob says :

    That you are reading Lessig gives me much joy…and you are also referencing TED talks **sigh** super happy.

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