Thoughts on Remixing

- Or In Which Emily Links You to Many Things -

I doubt I’ll ever pay someone to do a remix again, because there’s some amazing stuff just coming out of bedrooms.
- Trent Reznor

When I am displeased with how a genre is handling itself, I endeavor to write what I would like to see out of said genre. This, according to the video series Everything is a Remix, is remixing – the process of copying, transforming, and producing something new based on the work of others. In this instance, I am taking a genre, which has certain conventions and tropes associated with it, and reusing or transforming the tropes associated with that genre.

But what is the actual argument here? What is Kirby trying to say – because he certainly sounds negative. Well, that’s an issue of delivery, and we’ll return to that.

The point Kirby attempts to make over the course of four videos is that everything is the product of people accumulating ideas, playing around with them, and rereleasing those mashed-up and revamped ideas into the world as original products. This concept applies to music, movies, books, inventions, tv shows, and a myriad of other things that comprise our digital and physical culture. The problem is that American society has all but made remixing impossible by condemning copying.

Don’t get me wrong, simply reproducing someone else’s work without crediting the original creator is wrong (like, disgustingly wrong). However, as the remix videos point out, we learn by copying. Hell, that’s how genres become genres; someone writes a fringe story that doesn’t quite fit current conventions, someone else writes based on that fringe concept, and suddenly we have an All-Vampire young adult section at our local bookstores.

It is my belief that remixing – in it’s true, transformative role – fundamentally changes the concept behind the original work. It’s why the song The Warning by Nine Inch Nails sound completely different from The Warning [Stefan Goodchild Remix]. The remixed song conveys a different message; even though it contains the same lyrics, it tells a different story*. And if you change the story, you haven’t reproduced an exact copy. The story, for me (if you’ve been paying attention), is key to the ‘originality’ of something.

(As it happens, Nine Inch Nails runs an official remix site in which they release the tracks of all of their songs and encourage fans to remix to their hearts content. Trent Reznor has also released a nine-part album [four parts of which were free] to the world so that anyone could remix and change those tracks.)

I’m not going to get into an argument about copy right law here – though I want to, because copy right law is the most ridiculous thing – because Part 4 of Everything is a Remix makes the argument better than I can. What I will say is this – without remixes in music, we would have never had the ‘golden age’ of hip hop. We wouldn’t have an alternate interpretation of Year Zero (an album that went so far into storytelling, it created a universe). We wouldn’t have Star Wars or Star Trek or Stargate. Society would have missed out on countless books loosely based on life, on genre, on problems with fantasy.

Let the world remix, because we’re missing out on that kind of originality.

 

Take the Sky From Me

- Or Why Firefly is Different from Buffy, and How It’s Air Schedule Crippled It Narratively -

Aside from the obvious, Friefly demonstrates a departure from the narrative structure of Buffy. Starting from the episode Serenity, which is the canonical starting point for the series, viewers are thrown into the end of a war that serves as a backdrop and anchor into the setting that Mal and Zoe are a part of. Over the course of the episode, we are introduced to the well established crew – family – of the Serenity, rather than watching the crew form (as with the Scooby Gang in Buffy). All of this would be super overwhelming were it not for Simon, River, and Book, three passengers on the Serenity who get caught up in the crew’s antics. These three characters provide a relatable and stable (or unstable, in the case of River) anchoring point for views to get used to the banter, relationships, and conflicts common to Mal’s motley crew.

The way Firefly was aired, however, ruins this anchoring point.

Firefly’s first official episode, according to Fox, is The Train Job, which, in order of filming and production was the second episode. In this version, all viewers have in the way of anchoring is a short series of clips from the first episode narrated by Book, and even that doesn’t fully explain what the hell is happening. The bar fight does little to explain Mal all that much (though, he is a rather complex character, so not a whole lot of introductions are adequately going to explain Mal), or Zoe, or Jayne. Or Wash, for that matter. Simon and River are already established parts of this small community (though they are still outsiders) and Book is really…full of questions.

This, understandably, leaves the audience confused.

In any good work of fiction – book, television, movie, or otherwise – it is vital that you give the audience what I have been calling ‘anchors.’ These are concrete details about the setting, the main characters, or the plot that the reader can latch onto before they figure out how the universe they are entering works. In Firefly, the passengers Mal picks up are anchor characters – they are just as confused and out of their element as the audience is. When thrown into a show where the anchor characters have already been explained in an unaired pilot, the audience is left groping for a handhold and are let down. This causes them to abandon the story except for a few heroic cases (the original Browncoats).

To avoid turning this into a rant against Fox, I will end on this - Firefly is a weird story. It is a non-conventional mash up of the Sci-fi and Western genres and a mash up like that requires narrative anchors, or the story will never float. Joss seemed to have provided those anchors in Serenity, which where then not provided by the cable network. The situation surrounding this show is, of course, complicated, but some of the blame (I think) on why it failed is because the airing order and dates provided by the network ruined the narrative construction of the series.

Mind the Tech

- Or How To Properly Acknowledge Your Tech -

“Once [technology] becomes ‘woven into the fabric of daily life’ every once-new technology seems natural, and therefore somehow ‘inevitable,’ and it becomes tough to imagine living in the world without it.”

-Jodi Shipka

We’re back, ladies and gents, to talking about technologies and how they impact writing. Specifically, I would like to focus on the fact that we don’t really ‘see’ the technologies we take for granted, and how lecture-like this post is sounding.

Let’s change that.

So, while struggling perusing through Jodi Shipka’s book, Toward a Composition Made Whole, I was struck by the above quote. Do we really not notice the technologies we use once they become common place? Certainly, it does become harder to imagine a world without, say, desktop computers. But how can we not be fully aware of the technology we use and how it limits or improves the way we work?

Shipka provides a compelling example to back this statement up: If you were to call one of your friends, you likely would simply describe the event as “I called up El and screamed about space for an hour” (well, maybe not that dramatic, but, hey). You would not sit down and list out the reasons that call was made possible. For example, you likely would not say, “Thanks to electricity, phone lines, cables, a dial tone, ring tones,a numbered key pad, etc., coupled with the fact that the person I was calling and I are both fluent in the English language…” and both have an appreciation for space and functional knowledge of it’s basic structure, as well as both being invested in space, I was able to call El and scream about space for an hour.

So, quite literally, you would gel over the fact that electricity and technologies that go into phones helped you accomplish a task. In that sense, I do believe that we have a tendency to forget about the role of technology in our day to day lives. I do think it’s important to realize this, and maybe spend some time thinking about how each technology we take for granted affect our ability to function in the world we live in. I also agree with Shipka’s observation that, were we to take the time to think about how we use technology, and how it affects not only our writing, but how our bodies are involved in our writing, it can help us imagine new ways of thinking about ‘texts.’

There is one thing I disagree with, however, and that is the idea that technology completely fades into the background. Now, I am speaking mostly about writing ‘tools’ – pens, paper, word processors, mobile devices – and not the things that power them, so perhaps my idea is a tad limited. But I feel as though I am constantly reminded of how technology influences my writing. When I write with pen and paper, I am always aware that my chosen tool is slower and less precise than my word processor. When working with Microsoft Word (and, therefore, procrastinating on the internet), I feel as if I can’t write anything and am wasting my time. Perhaps I do not notice the tool itself, but I do recognize it’s effects; I think everyone, in some way, recognizes the effects of a tools they use when producing texts. Or, perhaps, I am simply optimistic about the amount I think about the technology in my life in relation to how others think about their own tools.

An Explanation

- Or Why Am I Here? -

Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, I had a blog called “What do I do With a BA in English,” and it was glorious. Granted, I was required to blog for the Honors program, but I legitimately enjoyed it. More recently, however, that blog is being required to be something it wasn’t supposed to be — a glorified inbox for seminar assignments. I firmly believe that blogging as an assignment sort of defeats the overall purpose of running a blog, so, here I am.

New title.

New layout.

Old tricks.

I will be using this blog to talk about writing, composition, video games, movies, and everything and anything else that catches my eye, because that is what I enjoy talking about. It is likely that I will also be relating most of it to one of my college courses this semester (Writing and Digital Media), in part because I must, but mostly because that class is exciting and new and freaking awesome.

So, welcome. I have been at this blogging thing for a while now. If you want to see a sampling, I’ve relocated my favorite posts from the old blog here. Have fun, and I’ll see you on the flip side.