Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

Here’s the entire film via UbuWeb

In “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative” John Oswald disguises the technologies that are changing the way we see piracy. As I read this essay I couldn’t help but think of the fact that this essay was written in 1985. In 85 I was a young child and totally obsessed groups like Eric B & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, and Public Enemy. The hip-hop music of that time was heavily sample driven music and now from this class I realize what has caused the death of the music I loved as a child. If I start to think of some of the best albums of that time (Bestie Boys “Paul’s Boutique”) I know that albums like that will never made again because I would be too expensive to get all the rights for the samples. I also see that the main difference now is that they stopped going after the artist for a cut of their new art form and started going after their fans.

This essay makes me sad because the optimism that Oswald has that laws will change with the growth of technology.But here we are over twenty years latter and it has not happened. It has only escalated to turning ordinary every day people into criminals for downloading or sharing the music that they love. I agree with Oswald that music is pounded into or heads without our consent yet, if we happen to take it in and use it we are wrong. I also agree with the idea that someone owning a sequence of note is just ridiculous.

On a completely different note I just say a mash-up on the Oscars. I will try to find it and post it on the blog.


I was under the impression that Chopin and co. are out of copyright. Oooh, publishers…

In the article by Doctorow he attempts to show how complex our current copyright problems are. He talks about far wages for artist paid by government and how this would never work. With this I agree because as much as I would love to be guaranteed an income to many people would jump at this opportunity to quite their jobs and write music and paint.

He also talked about the “Berne Convention” and how the nations that used this where breaking their own laws by allowing blanketed licensing for music to radio stations, karaoke bars, and hairdressers. Then Doctorow went on to talk about the old trying to stifle the new from TV going after the cable companies, then the cable companies going after the VCR and how they always seem to use the defense of no one will buy what they can get for free.

Then he talked about the industries of fashion and architecture having very few copyright protections yet they still seem to be attracting new people into the fields. This to me means that a lack of copyright protection does not stop creative people for creating.

Doctorow suggest the possibility of charging an annual fee in exchange for unlimited downloads when purchasing a MP3 player and rationing out the money to the artists by how many songs of their were downloaded that year. Though I am glad to see that someone is trying to think of way to fix the problem I do not believe this is a viable solution. The reason that I don’t like this idea is because the money will go through the labels before getting to the artist and who to say that it will ever fairly reach the hands of the artists.

In conclusion I think Doctorow is trying to give possible solutions to an impossible problem. The biggest problem is that there are just no good answers. Yes artist should have the right to protect the art and have an incentive to continue creating new art but they shouldn’t have the right to get in the way of others that are attempting to do the same. This is the problem. Both sides are right and wrong.

It is just to complicated a problem to fix without starting over and rewrite the laws. But this leads to another set of problems. As long as we have a system that is set up where the ones with the money and power are the ones who get to right the laws, we the people will never get the true freedom of expression we deserve.


So… There were two articles in the “Files” section of the blog. I replied to both of them, but I’m not even sure if I was supposed to do that. Oh well, here were my thoughts on both of them:

Response to “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
by: Walter Benjamin (1935)

The very first paragraph in this essay consisted of a quote which made me conceptualize what the purpose of art is when it stands in the present moment, and also as a factor for anticipating, or predicting the future state of the world. ”Cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power” (1). Art making is a part of the current moment, the only way it can advance is if we embrace the new art movements. The world moves through art phases as it has in the past. When the ancient Roman’s began building their empire, artists and architects were ambitious to create structures that could defy any previous civilization’s. Actually, the Romans are a good example in presenting this concept of “remix culture”, as their foundation for all their knowledge of sculpting, painting, and building derived from ancient Greece. The structure of the Roman temple Pantheon used many of the same elements that the Greek temple Parthenon had. Innovation, based on the desire to make something different, or more complex then it ever was originally designed to be.

On the second page of this article, a bold yet thought provoking statement caught my attention, it read “The eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw” (2). This way of looking at photography, makes it seem as if photography as a single medium can act as a more accurate, precise capturing method of a vision rather than taking the time, perhaps weeks or months, to create the image or vision by singly illustrating it. Not to say there are many elements that can be represented in a painting, that can’t necessarily be taken in a photograph of a real life moment in time. While photography is quick, and provides a sort of instant satisfaction for the photographer, painting takes a more controlling approach, where the artist makes all the decisions to create and present their final work. Modifying the image from it’s original source is another element which revolutionized/recontextualized photography, in a way that allowed photographers to acquire the same system that painters used, and by using image modification programs like Adobe’s Photoshop, and other consumer-accessible products, a photograph could be remastered into, perhaps, the artist’s original vision.

As referenced to in the fourth page, art seems to change when the world around it is undergoing massive changes, “social transformations”, and an embarking on the current contemporary movement. The social impact on art, for or against it, is a driving force to define the purpose of a current art phenomenon, or cult movement. Even in contemporary times today, as contemporary artists, we tend to see history as something unrelatable, or irrelevant in relation or application to our own art. This in fact, is a position that could never be true, even if we don’t think about it or realize it. Actually, if you think about history in, not just an archive of dates and significant art movements through time, but really imagining what it was like to see/make artworks at the current time/era, most art held a cultural significance which paved the way for one movement in time to morph or transform into another. When the thought process behind art-making advances, it should not be resisted. Any idea could be valid, big or small, it could spark or revolutionize either an invention or innovation.

As a personal reflection to the statements at the bottom of page 6, I think photography, at least in its most raw state, is hard to compare to the artistic value of painting. I guess in my mind, I’m referencing old paintings from perhaps Medieval to Renaissance style. Photography is hard to compare to these paintings for it often times lacks an artist’s individual vision to depict a composition, color choices, environmental distinctions, and human appearance and emotiveness. There is a fullness of vision that emits from a particular original painting, whereas in photography, a viewer may see a photograph as a reflection of a single instant. While both types of art can be enjoyed, there are differences in which they are perceived by the viewer.

I guess my response got a bit disconnected when I began reading about acting and film, I wasn’t sure how that fit in the mixture which was being discussed prior. In the sections that followed, “XII” seemed to resume some of the previous opinions at the beginning of the article. As Benjamin discusses the role of reproduction and society’s reaction to it, He makes some very different distinctions between viewing art and the significance it sustains when it is reproduced for the masses. When reactions from the public come into play of art-making, an artist begins to predetermine, even before creating his work, how the audience will respond to it.

Section “XIII” alludes to written works, books or stories which are translated, and exported as feature films. In this context, re-interpreting someone’s original vision from a written work and making that visual is certainly a trait of a remixing mentality. As a director, film becomes your means of translation, which also becomes a stage to presenting what information you choose to include, exclude, expand, distort, or completely recontextualize. At the highest platform of modifications that a director could make, you could suddenly find that you’re interpretation of another’s work is becoming more of yours than theirs. “The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses. There is something compelling about taking a viewer through your lens, almost as if you are giving them instructions on what to look at, and potentially, what to receive and feel. Although, many viewers of films today tend to create a bias against film adaptations due to a devotion to the original text.

Actually, taking note of the year this article was written, it seemed to suggest some points that still stand relative today. However, technology has advanced tremendously, and computers have aroused bountiful resources for new-age art-making, the main message behind originality against innovation and reinterpreting is still a polarizing topic as Benjamin states. As long as technology continues to advance, and as long as people’s minds advance with it, people will continue to utilize the powers that they can acquire, as the computer becomes their personal medium to express their visions and declarations of what art really is.

2nd Response: “What do we want copyright to do?”
by: Cory Doctorow

I thought it was interesting how Doctorow brings up the concept of copyrighting’s significance in relation to the production of art in today. When he mentions that copyright is “a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators,” this somehow struck me as a strong point that copyright supporters can rightfully declare. However, while copyright might act as a filter for the truest, most original artists, it does shut doors to people with ideas to modify that content which is copyrighted.

The issue between defying copyright for personal purposes and defying copyright for potential commercial purposes is very different. There are times when something such as a personal project, can escalade into popular culture, but it all depends on the way one proceeds with their projects. Sources, such as YouTube, encourage that you are uploading your own original material, but we as a culture today know that almost 99% of YouTube videos derive from unoriginal source material, such as TV segments, re-uploaded music videos, etc.

Doctorow almost references instant gratification alongside guilt as a factor to copyright encounters. When he mentions YouTube in comparison to being solely devoted to a movie theater, it’s almost as if the impactive power and domination that YouTube has over our culture is something we can’t imagine living without. To resist something that is so accessible at our very homes is hard to bargain, but Doctorow does try to see the issue from both sides, but I think in the end, he sees the progression of a defiant cultural movement towards copyright is growing as technology progresses, so the future and the significance of it is left unknown and undefinable.

-Nicole R.

As I read through this article, I took notes/thoughts along the way, which sort of fall in order of appearance.

My first thought regarding Lethem’s mentioning of movies and their use of appropriation, was the use of music accenting a movie. Actually, music can sometimes play a crucial role to a movie as it commonly succeeds to add an atmosphere to the experience with a strong emotional grab. If a movie chooses to use a song that was prior created to the production of the movie, they often try to apply this song as an alluring aesthetic to the events that occur in the story so. A clear example I thought of off the top of my head was the soundtrack to the movie “A Clockwork Orange”, where director and producer Stanley Kubrick choose to blend contemporary instruments of the era with classical compositions written by famous composers. This obviously was a vision that Kubrick saw to add a significance of emotion to the movie, and because of such a selection, it obviously had an impact on the cinematic world.

Moving further along in the essay, the topic of Jazz and Blues music were presented. When we listen to Blues and Jazz music, often we sort of sink into the sounds because of our familiarity with the loose direction of both genres. Most of the time, Blues and Jazz music maintain an openness throughout their play. If anything, we as listeners can picture such compositions going on and on, infinitely, because of the act of improvisation.  Musicians grab from any sound or source that can blend or transition into another realm of the song so that they can keep the melody going.

Two lines really struck my attention later on:

“Most artists are awakened by the work of a master.”

“Inhaling the memory of an act never experienced.”

Both lines seemed to compliment one another in a way of describing inspiration as a powerful, perhaps unstoppable force. There are certain stages of absorbing inspiration, and it can also depend how engulfed and true you are to the original source material.

I also thought is was interesting when Lethem dated back to Walt Disney, and his first published character Steamboat Willie who came to life after Buster Keaton’s act of Steamboat Bill Jr. in the 1920′s. This was an obvious representation of a parody; however, the cartoon gained popularity because of the audience’s prior familiarity to Buster Keaton’s act. The new art of animation allowed the possibility to insert more imaginative ideas because of the capabilities of cartooning vs. real life. Walt Disney probably saw Steamboat Wilie as, what we call today, a “demo”; or a pre-interlude to his future career as an animator.

Reading further along, the mentioning of YouTube culture caught my attention. It undoubtedly has become an open-source pool which viewers take on sub-cultural roles remixing music tracks, putting videos to music, or just re-arranging a music video, reinterpreting something that is well known to the world and filtering it through your own perception as a viewer. You could then possibly declare yourself as an artist, but this statement could be widely objected to amongst the rest of the world’s standards.

The allowance of open-source and hacking culture provides artists with a new hope to bring their remixing ideas to life instead of being restricted to create them by an authoritative demand.

To me, I draw the line somewhere with appropriation. If I sense an overly abstracting nature from an artist’s delivery, then I see their use of appropriation as an insult. Before winter break began, there was a show at the Art Institute Museum’s Modern Wing, which I found myself troubled to understand and appreciate due to the crudeness of the artist’s choice to messily cut and paste photos of male models from Japanese magazines to blank surfaces, and then around them, applying illustrative lines, and smears of colored paint. To me, this was hard to declare a professional status, or even deserving of a large gallery space. The message wasn’t clear, and the evidence and absurdness of directly applying magazine cut outs to a surface did not suit the concept of “remixing” per se, but rather embraced the bare bones act of thievery from a publication.

Re-envisioning is the key to remixing or remastering. It’s a responsibility, once you have the original source in your hands, to do something of your own will with it.

However, the allowance of modifications done to that original source provokes a scale of judgement amongst viewers and listeners.

Also, the idea of “commodity” and tainting of a previous work of art is something of the artist’s choice, and perhaps, their own prejudgement. Remix culture branches in a couple different directions. Either one could adoringly admire the original creation of an artist and want to use their ideas as an ode to their utter genius, or one could think to remix or recontextualize a past artwork and give it a whole different meaning, most likely insulting or distorting the artist’s original vision.

Anyway, these were some of the thoughts I had through reading this article. If the act of appropriation is becoming a more common theme in the art world, I think it may open up to new categories that maybe none of us have even imagined yet ourselves. There is a lot of exploration to be done through this new culture in which we refer to as “New Media Art”, but the resonance of the past will forever remain, and evidence of it is hard to eliminate through the culture of remixing.

-Nicole R.

documentary about the copyright issues in early hip hop. Watch the full film on hulu:

Graffiti + Break Dancing + Grandmaster Flash doing his thing in his kitchen… this is hip hop. (from the film Wild Style)

The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel

Hey  y’all it’s Brad here to tell you about a band from Australia called The Avalanches. They released an album way back in 2000 called Since I Left You, which was comprised of obscure and weird vinyl record samples.

I think the album as a whole is really good, the songs you should listen to first, however, are the title track and ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’


Frontier Psychiatrist

Since I Left You

For this album, since they grabbed from 3500 really really obscure records of all kinds (Audiobooks, Speeches, Sound Effects, Soundtracks, etc.) it was not a big deal in 2000, when they were prepping the album for release. Not a lot of artists worked entirely with samples. It was never intended for a wide release, so they didn’t bother to clear any samples at all. So they released it, and it was very well received at the time, winning four ARIA Music Awards (whatever those are- thanks wikipedia) and was well reviewed (Heads up it’s a p4k link). I think you would all like it. It’s real good. (Good +)

Other exciting news: since the release of Since I Left You, The Avalanches have been busily working in secret on another album. It’s been over eleven years now, with little update on the progress of this album. However, through posts on their site they’ve said that they’re clearing samples for a new album.

Clearing samples? I don’t know how I feel about that. It seems like such an unnecessary step to take for a band like The Avalanches. With the copyright/remix climate like it is now, with artists like Girl Talk and other mashups completely just taking popular samples and doing what they want with them, what’s the point of licensing a couple thousand obscure samples? Just an interesting thought, it seems like a strange step to take (I also just want to hear the album sooner but hey I’m not them)

But really, this band is the shit, you should check out those videos cause they rule. Buy the album or steal it or whatever haha. GOOD LUCK.