What does the art of remixing ones life sound like?

Is there a rhythm science that artists can turn to as a way of articulating how their body (as instrument) plays (with) the world, the Source Material Everywhere?

What does it means for a contemporary artist/theorist to remix their thoughts, actions, and artworks into a time-based media performance composed primarily of sound artifacts?

In the early Twentieth Century, Futurist and Dadaist poets began experimenting with an innovative form of poetry that was meant to be heard and experienced on a level outside of the protocols of traditional meaning. Their tactical media performances replaced recognizable words with what at times came across as bombastic, absurd or nonsensical sounds.  F. T. Marinetti’s “Dune, parole in libertà” (1914), Hugo Ball’s “Karawane” (1916) and “Gadji beri bimba” (1916) , Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate, and Tristan Tzara’s “L’amiral Cherche Une Maison à Louer”  (1916) are examples of this early work.

John Cage’s experimental compositions have had an enormous impact on the development of sound art.  His compositional use of found objects, altered instruments, recording and looping, and indeterminacy have changed the landscape of sound in art.  His piece “4′ 33″”, a piece in which the musician sits in silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds allowing the audience to listen to the ambient and incidental sound in the room, has made a particularly strong impact on the history of sound art.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, members of the Fluxus movement, a movement started by students of John Cage, continued to experiment with sound and its possibilities in art.  Particular pieces of note are Yoko Ono’s “Toilet Piece,” (1971), Robert Watts’ “Interview,” (1963), and Wolf Vostell’s “Elektronischer de-coll.age. Happening raum,” (1968).

In 1983, William Hellerman curated a show at The Sculpture Center in New York City entitled Sound/Art.  The show included work by artists such as Carolee Schneeman, Vito Acconci, Bill and Mary Buchen, and Richard Lerman.  This event marks the first time the term “Sound Art” was used and is generally considered the beginning of Sound Art as an identifiable genre in contemporary art.

There are many wonderful sounds artists, past and present, who have experimented with remix methods in the composition of their sound art. Although this basic introduction cannot even begin to scrape the surface of the abundance of remixological sound art practices that could be weaved into the history of avant-garde art and literature, there are some general attitudes and methods that contemporary remix artists regularly turn to as part of their sound art aesthetic. As Bernard Schütze writes in his online essay, “Samples from the Heap”:

Mix, mix again, remix: copyleft, cut ‘n’ paste, digital jumble, cross-fade, dub, tweak the knob, drop the needle, spin, merge, morph, bootleg, pirate, plagiarize, enrich, sample, break down, reassemble, multiply input source, merge output, decompose, recompose, erase borders, remix again. These are among many of the possible actions involved in what can be broadly labeled ‘remix culture’ – an umbrella term which covers a wide array of creative stances and initiatives, such as: plunderphonics,, recombinant culture, open source, compostmodernism, mash-ups, cut-ups, bastard pop, covers, mixology, peer to peer, creative commons, “surf, sample, manipulate”, and uploadphonix.

Schütze continues:

As this plethora of activities indicates, we are clearly living in a remix culture: a culture that is constantly renewing, manipulating, and modifying already mediated and mixed cultural material. A distinction must be made, however, between lucrative mainstream cultural ‘remixes’ which are protected under copyright, and the remix methods of more marginal underground artistic practices and approaches. One could argue that mainstream culture has little to do with the remix as an open process – it is a ‘remake’ culture that thrives on an endless parade of rehashes, repackaging, and repeats that do nothing more than recirculate the old in a new guise.

This distinction is crucial and worth investigating in any course or class focused on contemporary remix practices. If we look at some of the most popular online works of remix art, we can see how artists who sidestep the mainstream media rehash and remake packaging process are able to build their own large-scale audiences of feedback and support.

In Net Art 2.0, we discuss the work of audio-visual remix artists such as Kutiman, but a classic example of a digital audio mash-up is DJ Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album. The Grey Album remixed the vocals from Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album. Soon after sending out about 3,000 promo copies out, DJ Danger Mouse was soon served with a cease-and-desist notice from EMI, who owns the rights to the White Album master. Danger Mouse complied with EMI’s order, but Stay Free! (sponsors of the Illegal Art Exhibit) and other fans and activists who Grey Tuesday).

In “Raiding the 20th Century,” the sound collective known as DJ Food brilliantly use remixed sound samples from 20th century sound art to narrate the rich and deep history and theory of sound experiments that employ affiliated practices of remix, appropriation, cut-up, and tape looping. In this work, freely available at, the artists literally practice what they preach and reinvent our notion of theory as form, audio narralogue, and remix writing.

A Group Exercise in Sound Art:

This project is called Webspinna (hat tip to DJRABBI collaborator Trace Reddell for the initiating the concept). The performance takes place on a single laptop that is connected to a set of stereo speakers. There is no need for data projection since this is a sound-only piece.

Prepare the entire class (preferably under fifteen students) to spend a week listening to the Web. Have them locate sounds on various art, sound, archival, and commercial web sites that they can later remix in a live performance. As they find sounds that may be useful for their live performance, they are to save a list of URLSs (web addresses) that they can add to a page of links that they can easily access over the Net (most students put their list of Web links in a blog entry titled “Webspinna”).

The general rules of this otherwise structured improvisation is that each student is required to perform an original five-seven minute set where they remix the sounds of the Web they have specifically linked to. The performance itself is sustained and layered by way of opening new tabs in the browser. Any sounds from any Web page will keep playing on the laptop whether you have that particular tab open or not, so this is how to achieve a layered remix effect.

Each performer is required to leave the stage after their five-seven minutes are up. Before leaving the stage, they are to leave one looping sound playing continuously on the laptop (it has to loop so that there is always sound playing while the next performer comes on stage). The page on the laptop screen that each performer leaves should be opened to the tab that lists their Web links so that the next performer can easily plug in their URL and open up the page with their own links and immediately begin launching new tabs and triggering new sounds from the Web and keep the live sound performance going.

You may want to record these sound performances and then use the collective soundtrack as yet more source material for a follow-up video remix project.

Questions for the discussion after the group performance:

1) What was it like spending a week focused on listening to the Web? Did it change your relationship to the Net as an archive of sounds?

2) Where did you find your sound source material and what was it about your selections that you found particularly useful for your remix?

3) Looking back at the performance, what did you learn and how might you apply what you learned to future remix projects?

4) In remixthebook, Amerika discusses the artist as a postproduction medium. After participating in the group remix performance, can you remix any of Amerika’s text to better articulate what it means to be a contemporary remix artist who uses the Internet as an archive of digital source material?


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