the remix metaphor in intermedia


Merce's Isosurface (Excerpt) from Golan Levin on Vimeo.

Above is a stunning example of data visualization by Golan Levin. It is a realization of data transcribed with a motion capture system of Merce Cunningham's body performing, presumably culled and edited by the OpenEnded Group. The meta-notation consists of an invitation to re-purpose the data into new digital forms, for an exhibition / performance at MIT over the next few days. More information on the event here.

I am interested in the use of the 'remix' metaphor, which could be stated either as an alternative to the metaphor I'm currently exploring -- notation -- or as a kind of subset. I am inclined to believe the latter-- that notative practices encompass remix practices.

The reason we can take a remix to be a form of re-realization is that a recorded artifact can be taken to be a transcriptive notation. This conceit has important results, and I would sum those up with the notion of a homolog / analog axis-- a 'concreteness' parameter. To say that a recording of an event is a notation of the event is to say that the notation bears a concrete relationship to its realization. To remix this recording, then, is to re-realize this notation.

The remix metaphor is something I have a bit of experience with in my own practice. As a computer musician, often the only notations I have to work with are concrete. This notative modality, as any other, comes with a unique set of semiotic assets and liabilities. The remix favors certain levels of meanings and deprecates others. Despite the fact that this tendency is universal and there is no escape, we can problematize it in the hopes of enriching the practice.

In my experience, the biggest issue that comes with the remix is that it deprecates the hierarchical aspects of its remixed. This is because of the flattening out of the dimensionality inherent in the recording process. Yes, one may have access to, say, the vocal multis of a recorded work, or one can isolate those parts in order to drop them into new material, but the remix metaphor requires the direct manipulation of the material comprising the remixed. Even if remix practice is re-evaluated in terms of intermedia, as in the above example, the underlying compositional motives, overarching social context, or specific technical implementation are not sufficient conditions for a remix.

For example, there exists the distinction between the cover and the remix, where a cover implies other restrictions on form, but the source of that material becomes unfixed. If one were to supply a piece comprising entirely new material that bears formal similarity to a component of a previous piece, then one has participated in an act of quoting. All of these modes may be distinct subsets of notational practice, if that practice is re-evaluated in terms of intermedia.

Of course, Golan's remix of Merce and OpenEnded Group is still very much a remix. And still very much awesome.

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