Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

RE: “Recycle It” by: Ed Halter

The examples that this essay showcases first were actually really interesting, as Halter describes their heavy reference to contemporary internet culture. The “787 Cliparts” stop-motion video was actually quite mesmerizing. Something we usually think is such a minimal, cheesy element in writing programs, is now somehow transformed into a captivating motion-based piece. The other example I thought was interesting was Vuc Cosic’s use of ascii code to render videos. It transforms what we commonly encounter when using ascii code, and turns the code itself into a medium for creating art.

It seems that, instead of oppressing the usage of unoriginal material, these new-wave artists who were/are releasing such contemporary content-driven pieces, really embraced the internet culture and all that it has to offer. In history, artists like Marcel Duchamp, and intellectuals like Walter Benjamin seemed to spark a pop cultural-submerging mindset and encourage its application to the art world for its ability to attract a wider audience.

Joseph Cornell’s montage of Rose Hobart, using the clips from ‘East of Borneo’ was certainly a technique that was rarely thought of at its time in the 1930′s. The idea of cutting up an existing film that was already considered a work of art on its own, was probably looked down upon by most viewers. Cornell was perhaps, thinking more about the experience his viewers would receive, and the emotional connection rather than their acknowledgement of what he had done with the original film. I think, that if you had never watched ‘East of Borneo’, and only watched Cornell’s ‘Rose Hobart’, you may feel something totally different from his film. In this sense, Cornell’s film is a perfect example of the concept of “recycling”, because of his tampering with entirely pre-existing material.

It seems, experimentation with film coincided with the desire to remix/recontextualize things that society was already so familiar with. New technologies also complemented, and excited artists, who could then accelerate their ideas and experiments, whether intended to be exported as experiments, or as works of art.

Overall, this article touches on many of the significant movements that impacted art through history. Since the early twentieth century, the concept of remixing has only grown stronger and clearer. It also became more customizable as technologies became more accessible to everyday consumers. Although this article doesn’t seem to project a specified standpoint, in terms of being for copyright or against it, it does provide a lot of historical facts, and that to me gave me the notion that Halter wanted to show that the remix culture is not a new phenomenon, and that it was desired by artists in the past.

RE: “The Use of Stolen Films” by: Guy Debord (1989)

Breifly scanning over ‘A User’s Guide to Détournement’, I came across a clear definition of the term that Debord seemed to want to defend. “détournement of an element which has no importance in itself and which thus draws all its meaning from the new context in which it has been placed.” Since, this seemed to be an element in which Debord intended to be felt in his own art, his rigidness to exploit it for what it really is was fell into the realm of the concept of “stolen films”.

In mentioning “stolen films” he claims that the message differs once a film is modified, and that message is now it the hands of the artist, otherwise, it is in the hands of the audience.

-Nicole R.

The first concept Oswald mentions, to plain and simply “reproduce sound”, is a mainstream, (and perhaps out of date) term which society interprets as their reaction to sounds they are exposed to in the actual worldwide media. Reproduction of such media allows a viewer/listener/interpreter to become a filter; however, the main dichotomy that perhaps the interpreter may or may not recognize is what this reproduction means to the original artist who created the work, and also, how the the public recognizes such modifications as: A.) A valid as a sort of ode to the original piece, or B.) Perhaps misleading, or straying too far from the original artist’s vision.

Further into the article, Oswald also brings up the mentality that original artists may view people who tamper with their, or others’ original public works as “the unblessed”. These one-sided solely (or as they may claim) “genuine” artists, haven’t quite convinced those a part of remixing culture that they are participating in a less significant or less meaningful movement to reconstruct previous works. These genuine artists are hard to 100% agree with. This being because, obviously such artists had to have had previous inspiration, and stylistic influences that impacted his/her own work. Not saying that the artist couldn’t produce an original melody of their own, but most likely what they create will branch off of sounds they are already familiar with. Inspiration is something that is universal, and it’s not natural to have that being restricted to play with, it’s how you claim to present your version of it, and how you choose to accredit the sources which you collected and used.

In 1976, “U.S. Copyright Act was revised to protect sound recordings in that country for the first time.” This seemed to be around the time where there was a defined yearning amongst society who were being bombarded with culture and media every day, to have their say for how they would express it, and recontextualize it. Once the issue was announced as an actual “Act”, it obviously was becoming an phenomenal idea which was hard to sustain amongst all people. It’s hard to say how much of a difference the government has to do with preventing people the liberty to express their interest in something they recognize as special, and inspirational. Whether or not that liberty turns into a personal project, or a subcultural phenomenon, is another concern which taps in to the concept of personal vs. external use.

Oswald then drops in the quotation: “recordings were not artistic creations.”

I don’t know what else to say about this quote, except that it pretty much stands as an outrageous statement to me. I mean, I suppose that it was an ambitiously defiant approach to mention when recording was first becoming mainstream, because nowadays, recordings are considered/oftentimes recognizable works of art. The art of recording has grown since technologies advanced. Instead of creating a song to perform over and over again, modern artists visualize how they can create a single perfect recording. In this sense, it gives a different way of looking at a song. It makes it seem more like a package, rather than a performance that may change slightly every time. The duration and the melody of a recording differs on a level of effecting the audio, than in contrast, presenting it raw.

The concept of the remix culture ties into the nature of mimicry. However the mimicking is blurred by the modifications that the remixer has made to the original source. Whether being declared only a remixer, or an artist who appropriates certain riffs of melodies, there is a direct drive that comes from the desire to pursue this replication.

I also found it fascinating to hear a bit from a historical perspective when Oswald mentions: the “mechanical manticores from the 19th century”. In referencing this, It projects that mimicry was a desire of past generations, only, the technology we are familiar with today could not be imagined in their time, so they had to work with the tools that were accessible to them, or invent new ones. It’s also amazing how the same idea can span back thousands of years in history, but the way these ideas were presented, if they were even ever pursued, was in the most popular medium of the time.

The more a listener can listen, and re-listen to a recording, the more familiar they become with it. This in response, can enthuse a listener to take the song/recording/melody in their own hands and interpret it in their own way. This concept is represented as Oswald says: “as producing and sound reproducing technology becomes more interactive, listeners are once again, if not invited, nonetheless encroaching upon creative territory.”

Towards the end of the article, the terms “fair use” and “fair dealing” are presented. This is sort of the middle ground of interpreting/modifying/recreating an original idea or source material. It seems like fair use is a term for personal usage of an original work, rather than exposing it to a public audience. It’s as if you created a video, reinacting a scene from a movie, or doing a cover of an already-made song, but never posting it anywhere on the internet, such as sites like YouTube.

As Oswald makes a concluding statement by saying that “there’s a certain amount of legal leeway for imitation.” I think that, in the end, a listener decides what their limitations are, nearly based on individual morals, which may be impacted by external forces, or more so driven by a personal prerogative.

-Nicole R

Reading through the article, the word cryptomnesia first interested me. I searched online and found the definition that it is a memory bias where one person though one came upon something new or original but actually is forgotten memory that one did not recognize. It is really common in the filed of art where people come up with similar ideas and one cannot be sure is it really plagiarism or cryptomnesia.

Due to some cultural differences, some of the examples I cannot relate and this may have effected how I understood the article a little bit. I first became aware of the difficulty of examples when the film The Lineup was introduced. Some of the examples really went over my head and even I research it I still cannot gain full understanding.

And people can grasp that it is plagiarism but what if the author never realize or recognize it and take his or her production as original? If there is to be a law written about plagiarism, what is the line between plagiarism, quotation, manipulation? When I come up with a new idea, I often write it down in my notebook and sometimes I found out that the new idea that I thought is new is already written and next to it I also wrote where I got the idea from. Should this be considered plagiarism or cryptomnesia?

This also kind of reminds me of learning history. Everybody tries to be original but once one find out the ideas are from history, how should one take it? My father tells me that no matter what, humans are foolish and that things and events just rotate. Even though it happens in different time periods and seem to show in different context and reasoning, events, things and ideas in history show up again and again and just make me think is there anything that is considered original? Everything seems to be a manipulation or quotation of anything possible and it is hard to prove it.

Take Disney cartoons for example. The one I totally find familiar is Mulan. It is taken from the Chinese folk tale Hua Mulan and gave it a twist to make the story more heroic and funny. In the original story, nobody found out that Mulan is a girl until she dressed into her own clothes when she returned home and approach her friends in the army. She never did something as heroic as going to the palace and saving the emperor. The only part taken from the original tale is that she did take her father’s place in the army and trained like all soldiers. This should be called manipulation or plagiarism, as some of the story comes from original ideas, some from the folk tale and some form traditional Chinese customs.

Plagiarism is so hard to identify and the issue of copyright never goes away.

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.

Hah. What an epic twist at the end. I tip my hypothetical plagiaristic hat to you, Mr. Lethem. Through out this entire essay I was thinking, yes, this guy makes some good points, but they are a bit lost because the entire structure is a bit nonsensical. But I completely forgive him, even though it makes commenting on the many points he makes (or is it really him that makes them?) a bit difficult.

Here is what was going on in my mind: Firstly, I liked that the MPAA “You wouldn’t steal a handbag advertisement!” ad was mentioned, because frankly, if I could download a car, I would do it. Secondly, I’m not entirely convinced with the gift economy theory as it applied to original work. A gift implies that I do not get anything tangible in return, which, in this consumer culture, means that there will be no economic incentive to create. In turn, it also means that if everything is a gift, the concept of “worth” will be eliminated, which means that there will be no distinction between what is good and what is bad. This does not present a good outcome. Finally, I feel like it’s just a matter of time until the old corporate Disney-esque generation will die out, and the newer generation that is more acquainted with remix culture will control the copyright patents, and will be more lenient with them.


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