CTP725: Week 12

Review: Remix & Hybridity Theory Background and Examples

New Music Hybrid Generators

Paul Miller (DJ Spooky) and classical cellist doing remix of Radiohead.

Modulations (1998): history of electronic music

rip: remix manifesto [website]

Examples and Case Studies

The long and storied history of Electronic Music

It seems fairly obvious to state that when most people talk about electronic music, they’re talking about synthesizers, vocoders, MIDIs and loops, but it’s important to note that the advent of electronic music can be seen through two different lenses. The first is to explore electronic musical instruments like the electric guitar. In this way, many of our favorite rock musicians could technically be viewed as working in electronic music. Needless to say, what most people think of when they think of electronic music is not Slash wailing away on a rockin guitar solo.

And our definitions of electronic music have changed through the decades (or centuries) too. Take the word of our guide through electronic music history, Ishkur - who helped identify the varying ways that electronic music has existed, grown, been challenged, and aided by technology through the years. We moved from credos of the futurists in Italy, to those ideas of the musique concrete, into Euro synth pop, to techno, to house, the list goes on and on (by Wiki’s count, to 18 genres of electronic music).

One of the most fickle, but most interesting examples of electronic musical technology originates from as early 1919 or 1920 - Leon Theremin created an instrument so bizarre, so unlike anything else and so unpredictable, that most folks literally didn’t know what to do with it, or how to incorporate it. But, if you look at the theremin as a strictly electronic instrument, or piece of musical technology, and I don’t truthfully know how else one WOULD characterize it, it’s pretty distinctive when it turns up in some unforgettable classics like this.

And while most would argue that the use of the theremin doesn’t make a piece of music “electronic” by today’s definition, it certainly adds character to groups like One Ring Zero, who are known for their brand of unique instrumentation, both electronic and accoustic, but also for their remixes or re-appropriations of text as lyrics (which are really consenting collaborations!) with literary fixtures like Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers. If you listen closely, I’m sure you can pick out the theremin in this track, Venus, from their most recent album, Planets - a 100 year celebration and revisiting of Gustav Holst’s work of the same name.

Perhaps most people would never have considered that the history of electronic music dates back to the 1920s, let alone the 1800s, but we see some huge strides as advances like the tape recorder and early computers and synthesizers (ones made by Moog primarily) come into play. It seems crazy, in this culture of remix and integrated technology that someone like Vladimir Ussachevsky was realizing the ramifications of recorded modifications in 1952, but he was. He stated that he “suddenly realized that the tape recorder could be treated as an instrument of sound transformation.”

While we’ve been educated about the lengthy history of electronic music at this point, most, even those scholars in the know wouldn’t argue that the late 70s and early 80s was really the period of time that marked a turning point in electronic music as a genre. The audio examples we could provide are no doubt endless. But a few groups laid the foundation for electronic music and several splinter genres such as techno. One such group is Kraftwerk. Their songs like The Robots bring the ideology of electronic music to the foreground. Listening to their outlandish tunes with clearly synthesized sounds and vocoded voices like __the Robots__ we are overtly aware of the electronic forces in play.

The Future of Electronic Music

Up to this point we’ve been mainly focusing on the background and theory behind electronic music, but now let’s look at where it’s going. In Chapter Two Sound Unbound, DJ Spooky describes music as “liquid architecture”, which is really interesting in the context of music at the vanguard of sound and composition – what the Wikipedia page of Electronic Music categories calls “experimental music” or “sound art”. Music that falls into this category employs “found sound”, which is the sounds that we might normally overlook, but certainly would never consider putting into music. With these tools, the musicians craft a work that yields a sonic landscape, a fully enveloping experience that transports the listener to another plane – similarly to what Yoko K mentioned was her goal when composing. The distinction from Yoko K, however, lies in this concept of found sound, a Rauschenberg-ian means of appropriating what the artist discovers in the world around them in order to create a work. In the tradition of postmodern and conceptual artists, these musicians record raw materials the some might find far too base pedestrian and incorporate them into their work.

A key example of this sort of music is “Noise”, a genre whose aural compositions are marked by dissonance and atonality – another example of the musician working from subject matter discarded by most others. Noise musicians aim at creating a “sound envelope” based on the industrial, digital, technological sounds that invade our daily life, such as white noise. I was particularly intrigued by Francois Martig and Philippe Petitgenêt’s __//NOISE-ette//__. This work is certainly not something I would listen to while driving around, as it masters the art of dissonance (in other words, it masters the art of making my roommates exit a room quickly.) What it most interesting about this work is that it deftly draws you into the composition, starting off with a ringing sound that’s all too recognizable for most of us. It’s that familiar high-pitched screech that brings us in, sustains us through as long as we can stand to listen to it, and sticks with us long after we shut it off. In the tradition of Raphael and other Renaissance masters who are known for having total control over the viewer’s eye, leading them around the picture plane, Francois Martig and Philippe Petitgenêt architect a “sound envelope” that completely takes over our aural sensation. In particular, this composition reflects relates to DJ Spooky’s musing on our thought patterns – he asks if there ever is a “blankness” to our thoughts. Just as Noise jumps from sound to sound, we jump from thought to thought, never really stopping. Some thoughts are pleasant and some are destructive, and sounds work in the same way, so if the only music out there were pleasant to our ears, we would be neglecting to represent a key part of the human condition. After all, my brief foray into Noise made me really appreciate my more melodic iTunes catalog so much more. With this discussion in mind, what does the concept of “sound envelope mean to you?

Moving along to an entirely different topic, “Making sense of noise”, Ian Simmons’ interview with Jacques Attali in nth position, raises further questions that are pertinent to our discussion. Attali talks for a bit about globalization and the role music could play therein. For many people, music does have a power greater than just the result of few notes played at the same time. After exploring many different mystical sects of Judaism and Christianity, Bob Dylan famously said that the only way he can understand spirituality is through music. Similarly, Attali notes that noise “is a form of violence: noise hurts. Music is noise in order, noise with sense. Music is, therefore, a metaphor for the taming of violence, a metaphor for the role of religion and, later on, the role of civilization.” While this grand statement seems to put a lot of responsibility on music’s shoulders, I do think that it speaks to a particular phenomenon as we move into the 21st century and the world gets smaller. Due to the availability of digital media across the world, attaining music from different cultures is easier than it ever has been. I remember back to our first day of class, when a few people mentioned they were listening to a specific culture’s music or a group from a non-Western country at the time. Do we then think that music could play a key role in helping to solve world problems? What if we sold Haitian music, instead of getting a bunch of American musicians to rehash an __80s song__? If we used music to flush out a culture, to make it relatable and interesting, would more people feel accountable for its success?

The future of multimedia and multiculural hybridization

If we look at re-appropriation and remixing as Spooky does, we are brought back to one of the earliest debates in our class. When is something stolen and when is something creatively co-authored? As Spooky discussed in his interview Remixing the Matrix, the more preferred term in internet circles is creative co-authorship. But does this co-authorship require both parties to fully know and and consent to such a collaboration? While it is easier than ever with the advent of current technologies and networks to share in the process of creating a “collective memory”, it’s still a struggle to get everyone to agree to the same rules. Is there a way to do this? To agree that some credit should be given for an original idea or kernel - that sparked the new vector?As Yoko K commented last week, perhaps it’s just easier to create your own sounds, and your own songs, much less complicated legally...

Or perhaps the future just entails more in-person collaborations - more integrated sharing as soundscapes or full multimedia experiences are evolving and being shaped. Take DJ Spooky’s mulitmedia experience, “Terra Nova: The Antarctica Suite.”

This experience blends several elements to creat a multimedia, multicultural hybridization. It combines startling facts and figures about the current climate issues we face, music, both live and electronic, and photographic images and graphs to depict a full story. With this piece, Spooky reaches beyond the idea of a sound envelope, into an audiovisual envelope complete with thought provoking and perhaps even shocking imagery when comparing a historical evolution of the earth’s surface, juxtaposed with a an ever evolving sound collaboration. I am sure that in creating this experience Spooky worked collaboratively, and with due outreach to other artists, to further his idealized vision of creative co-authorship. Nevertheless, the struggles of copyright law within the music industry create denser walls to break through when tirelessly working toward this collaborative end.

-Jess Perlman & Liz Kneuer

Zachary Allard

In the last year or so, there has been a fascinating new sub-genre percolating in the indie scene. I’m not entirely sure what the technical term (or even if there is one) for this new “sub-sub genre” as we call it in class. Some description with examples is the best way to describe it. This “sub-genre” combines R&B influences (to one degree or another) into the vastly different sound of dub and electronica. This is an excellent example of the dynamism that remix brings to art.

There are three superb examples of this recent movement: How to Dress Well, James Blake, and The Weeknd.

How to Dress Well’s song, “Lover’s start” is a good example. It’s dreamy and electronic with dub influences along with the sultry influx of R&B.

James Blake has made quite a splash in the indie scene with his sound that is like Burial meets R. Kelly.

Having just released their mixtape, The Weeknd is making noise as well. Coming out of nowhere a few weeks ago, they mix the sexy tones of R&B with the clinical distance of dub and electronica. It’s brilliant.

“What you Need”

For those interested, here's my post from last week. It's my own sort of screed about the primacy of remix to art.
Musicians have long understood the primacy of remix in creating “new” (whatever that means) art. But, since the emergence of hip-hop, electronica, Reggae, and other genres that are rooted heart and soul in remix, the conversation has become more prominent at the very least. Many, many musicians create vibrant “original” musical artifacts using only samples of other works in a unique way. This is, of course, nothing new. Mozart appropriated ideas and the like from other musicians he was familiar with. However, only in the last several decades has the importance of this “inter-work” debt been acknowledged. Sampling and remix has become an accepted and (more importantly) expected way of producing new texts. This widespread cultural acceptance has (and continues to), in fact, led to the creation of newer, dynamic artists and genres of music that rely on remixing for their creative lifeblood. To put it simply, the acceptance of remix within music has strengthened and broadened the medium into places it had not been before. The importance of such “remixing” is not limited to music. Shakespeare used old plots and legends and plays to spin the greatest canon of any single author. Over eighty percent of Academy Award winners for Best Picture are adaptations (see: The Kings, Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, etc.). Classical painters used the same motifs and allusions for centuries. And, poets have been writing Persephone poems for generations. This idea of sampling has been crucial to every medium across time. Like Isaac Newton, great artists, “stand on the shoulders of giants.” However in literature, theatre, poetry, etc., there is less of an open and accepting conversation surrounding “remix” than there is within music. There are no novels entirely configured from pre-existing works (though that is shifting with books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). The other arts need their equivalent to hip-hop to push them out of their fallacious “orginality” comfort zone. This has happened more in painting with the advent of the Pop Artists like Andy Warhol. But, the other arts need this sampling culture to become accepted and expected to create new genres.

by Alicia Dillon

“Art making and art interpreting are fundamentally (constitutively) “appropriative” as acts that require assuming, subsuming, and referencing prior and concurrent expressions.”

Yoko K’s performance last week evoked another classically trained artist who is currently utilizing electronic remix in her music.

Zoe Keating

A classically trained cellist, Keating’s music occupies the space of both classical as well as contemporary; simultaneously challenging ideas of “classical” music while pushing and defining the boundaries of the electronic genre. The work of Yoko K and Keating prove that more and more, electronic becomes a tool through which compositions, notes, and wavelengths are read; in producing a text, the computer mediated medium evolves to occupy a space which is increasingly without definition. Possibly more so than other contemporary art practices, music is steeped in classical tradition; and a musician's engagement with tradition has the ability to activate, challenge, and comment on ideas of standards within the medium.

In addition to the work of Keating, I would like to mention Bonobo.

An band with heavy Jazz influence who utilizes electronic remixing, as part of a new album Bonobo started a contest where fans could enter music for a chance to have it remixed (by Bonobo).

Lastly, in dealing directly with remix, the idea of a “cover” is particularly interesting.

Cat Power

I chose the sample above from her covers album, simply because it is most likely the most well known (though all Cat Power’s choices are mainstream hits from a bygone era of rock). With covers comes a constant revealing of possibilities, simultaneously activating the original’s je ne sais quoi while calling into question the possibilities for subtle alterations.



Here are my comments from last week ....

I feel as if music is the easiest medium for allowing us to conceptualize the ReMIX. Last semester, taking the Remix Culture course with Prof. Osborn demonstrated to me all the place s that the remix can go, but in our very first class session, music examples were the most readily available in all of our minds. I remember growing up and seeing the word attached to singles by Puff Daddy and Missy Elliot. More artists were always featured on the remixed song than the original. The beats were usually faster. There was marked difference. And it was this difference that came through in sound that I have since attributed to the remix. And there was usually a rap verse or two.

This is probably not the best example, but it's a music remix that was fresh on my mind:


Here's the original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSnHTRZ6PSg

Hearing Yoko K.’s lecture/performance at the TED talk was interesting to use as a springboard for this week's discussion. Her description of her work seems to rely heavily on added value through synthesis. The idea of hardware and humans combining to make these haunting sounds. These amalgamations of audio. Very calculated, but very natural at the same time.

I can appreciate the exploration of that dichotomy on Rip! A Remix ManifestoI think that some degree of oversight might be useful to manage all the digital era reproductions and appropriations going on, but standardization sounds harsh and impractical. How can erratic cultural ruminations like these be regulated in way that doesn't limit users to only being consumers?

external image artworks-000001198160-aw7b1o-original.jpg?5fb6c47

Remix and mashup are both enormous as the genres begin to expand with technology and more and more artists enter the genre. I spoke to a remix/mashup artist a few months ago about his musical inclinations and background, and honestly it's almost a completely different skillset than just technological mastery. Creating a good remix or mash up is very difficult these days, but it's a genre that moves much faster than the natural progression, as there is a novelty and freshness that comes with innovative methodology, rather than "sounding good." Case in point would be the plethora of Charlie Sheen remixes in the past week.

After reading through this week's and last week's post, I really agree with a lot of the points that my fellow classmates have been making about music being democratized and gaining a larger, wider array of technical usages, capabilities as well as increased accessibility. Not only is the physical aspect of music-making becoming much more ubiquitous and accessible, the public reception for music, due in part to artists bombing social media, is becoming more and more diverse as musicians are able to find their audience.

Here's a little musical inspiration:

OFWGKTA songwriter and member, Frank Ocean, combining a little old school rock and the newer generation of R&B/hip hop. Really great amalgamation of sound on this track.

Lian Han

an Angolan album … well, not quite

The opportunities opened up though the digital revolution for musical collaboration are immense (indeed, an intricate part of the Copernican Revolution of remix culture). Take, for example, a musical project involving the collaboration of artists across time and place, namely Los Angeles, Charlottesville (VA), Portugal, United Kingdom, Cape Verde, and Angola. The project, unnamed as of yet, is the brainchild of Nastio Mosquito, an Angolan poet/musician/painter/videographer/performance artist. The idea: an expression of the Angolan experience, not as isolated block residing within the boundaries of state, but instead an Angola that is culturally and economically porous, globalizing, changing, emerging, reimagining itself post-civil war and post-digital revolution (“leapfrogging development”). His collaborators occupy different areas within music: hip-hop, glitch, Portuguese Fado, Angolan folk and dance music. The project has the distinct sound of the avant-garde—vocal wailing, distortion, jarring rhythms and textures—as well as west coast hip-hop beats, but it is also, somehow, distinctly Angolan. And that is the point: Angola is an active participant in the world of remix culture; it is not, does not want to, be an observer. So we recognize the hybrid nature of the music while also recognizing that it is saying something about the shifting elements within Angola itself. The possibility of digital collaboration reflects Nastio's perspective of optimism and hope. It is an assertion that Angola does not exist in isolation from other cultures, that it is a moving configuration, constantly hybridizing, interacting, in dialogue with 'others', and these themes are expressed in the project itself.

So, there is no question that the digital revolution has changed the sound of music in Angola, but no project goes without a hitch, and digital projects—at least in this case—are no different. For example, not having all the collaborators in one space (other than the digital) can make it hard to remain “on the same page”. In other words, order for the project to work (in that it succeeds in being a “good” work of art), there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between collaborators, and sometimes the digital does not succeed in bridging the gulf in time and place.

Unfortunately, the project referred to above is still in the works, and is not available for listening! However, I have some footage of Nastio in the Cape Verde studio.

Working on vocals for the project in Cape Verde, February 2011

I will be adding more to this wiki shortly.


Loops and Warbles
A creatve example of looping used in live performance is seen in the following KT Tunstall clip. The Thom Yorke "The Eraser" video demonstrates how remix, even of one's own work (or band's work) can create something entirely new. The piano loop Yorke used for the clip was actually recorded previously by Johnny Greenwood.