The refix is in (for now).

Refix? Yeah. Here's a fun example of a refix that follows-through on ETUC and movie remixing:

DJ Food's Raiding the 20th Century - an audio-history of the cut-up. It's a bit of a listen, but I highly recommend checking both versions - the original mix is brilliant, and the refix is true genius.

Methods of refixing in sound recording date back to Musique concrète and through early forms of sampling and dub:

Tzara, Burroughs and Gysin called it the cut-up;
Zappa called his version xenocrany;
John Oswald dubbed it Plunderphonics;
Double Dee and Steinski considered their examples "lessons";
Pop Will Eat Itself said it all in their name.

Though not the first to use it, DJ Food is onto something with the term refix. For the time being, it is a remix of the term remix - and therefore may be a better word for this discussion. Technically, I'm refixing my blog by linking to previous posts to create a richer context for this particular post and to reinforce the themes behind this entire blog.

The refix not a new tactic. It's just a new word for an old trick. We have always reappropriated cultural capital, legally or otherwise, to re-tell stories (personal experiences) within individual and institutional worldviews.

Think of all the "classic" art that is little more than a commissioned depiction of a royal family imposed on biblical or mythological scenes - notably, without the permission or consent of those who wrote the Bible. Those Bible stories are largely based on previous mythology and folklore, but "fixed" enough to support Christianity's insidious patriarchy and supplant Pagan belief systems. These refixes are traditionally maintained as classic art because they've been hanging on museum walls for centuries - but apply the same tactic to modern media and you are asking for a cease and desist order, lawsuit or worse. (That's because our permission culture is all f'd up, and our courts can't clearly define fair use.)

The refix tactic reaches into all niches of culture, not just the traditional, classic arts: ricers, bikers and gearheads refer to it as Kustom Kulture; writers know it by several names, portmanteau perhaps the most exotic of them; gamers know it in the form of cheats, mods and even machinema; programmers and hackers may consider it open source; one day soon we will refix our own genetic codes under the ideals of democratic transhumanism.

It will no doubt be outdated in a matter of months, but for now the refix is in.


A Letter to Wal*Mart Dance Party-People:

Kids, no anarchist spends so much effort trying to make a big-box store look like a fun time. You've practically produced three spec advertisements for Wal*Mart and Target here, playing up to cliches and ultimately showing that you (suburban alterna-kids, nu-metal heads and army brats) enjoy yourselves at the big-box stores in your town.

Don't get me wrong - I'm sure you all had a great time at Wal*Mart. But you are neither anarchists nor punks just because you wear black, mohawks and tatoos into big-box retailers (and dance to mainstream pop music, and film what amount to guerila promo videos for said retailers).

Wal*Mart and Target both have big corporate marketing departments, public relations agencies, branding consultants and advertising agencies that are very pleased with you all right now, for giving them inadvertent "viral" marketing (about which they can now say "the kids think we're cool enough to have a dance party here") - even if the sales clerks turned your party off.


RE-Remixing movies

This PSFK post reminded me of a Mike Meyers film-sampling effort that was talked about a few years back but has yet to materialize. Now Xeni Jardin has Steven Soderbergh talking about this allegedly "new" approach...

But film and video remixing isn't a new idea. Films ranging from Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid to Kung Pow: Enter the Fist have already dabbled in this territory. And these barely compare to the complexity of Emergency Broadcast Network's work. (Remember U2's ZooTV? That was video remixing.)

Steven Soderbergh implies that it's as simple as recutting and rescoring your own film. Meyers seemed to be taking more of a mash-up approach (much like we see in the other examples listed above). Both count, technically, as remixes (a vague term that is too often co-opted and over-used for the sake of sounding hip). But neither is a new revolution in film-making (or re-making)...

It's been forty years since Woody Allen "remixed" new dialogue into International Secret Police: Key of Keys - which would become What's Up, Tiger Lilly? - it just wasn't called "remixing" then.


Cooking with social currency

Douglas Rushkoff recently posted an excerpt about social currency from his forthcoming book. He first wrote about the idea a few years ago, and ran with it as the theme for this latest book.

A term like "social currency" can help explain a bigger idea like the meme, and Rushkoff's analogy about how we listen to the telling of jokes starts getting at the meat (which, I'm fairly certain, is lurking somewhere in that new book):

Observe yourself the next time you’re listening to a joke. You may start by listening to the joke for the humor - because you really want the belly laugh at the end. But chances are, a few sentences in, you will find yourself not only listening, but attempting to remember its whole sequence. You’ll do this tentatively at first, until you’ve decided whether or not it's really a good joke. And if it is, you'll commit the entire thing to memory - maybe even with a personalized variation, or a mental note to yourself to fix that racist part. This is because the joke is a gift - it's a form of social currency that you’ll be able to take with you to the next party.

This is a lot like an example of the two ways memes spread, which I seem to recall from Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. I don't have the book with me, so I'll go on as if this was in fact where I got this (it may have been Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene): memes are ideas - regardless of "good" or "bad" - that spread via imitation. Memes are the building-blocks of culture; culture is based on imitation. There are two basic ways we imitate, and you can think of them around this example of an apple pie: when you have a great piece of apple pie, you can either experiement with various ingredients in an attempt to arrive at the same pie by trial and error, or you can just get the recipe.

Imitate the result or imitate the recipe - these are the transactions made with social currency (I prefer to refer to it as cultural currency, but this is mere semantics).

In Rushkoff's terms, you listen to the joke for humor (the pie) at first, then attempt to remember its whole sequence (the recipe) -- so you can retell it (spread the meme, as it were). Consider for a moment the cheap imitations of the world, which attempt to copy the product without respect for the recipe. The recipe is worth more, culturally-speaking, because it does more to preserve the fidelity, fecundity and longevity of future results.



It takes a fair amount of restraint for me to keep from posting music reviews on this blog, but some artists are thematically right-on with my intentions for PYLB...

Coldcut are back with a new single, "Every Thing is Under Control", featuring Jon Spencer and Mike Ladd. No shit.

It's only on iTunes Music Store now, and will be in stores November 14. There's a video online already. The track is promising... guitar and vocals from Spencer, politically charged rap from Ladd, all cut up sharp like only Coldcut do. Can't wait for their first new album in eight years, Sound Mirrors, due early 2006.


Crazy like a Fawkes

I'm in London for work this week, and arrived just in time for Guy Fawkes Night. Having only a cursory knowledge of the origin of this holiday, I felt I had to do a little research...

For those of you not familiar with the occasion, it is a celebration of the capture of Britain's most notorious traitor, Guy Fawkes. This frustrated military man - whose biography bears several resemblances to that of a more recent American - and his cohorts planned to blow up Parliament (Roman Catholics trying to disrupt Protestant rule with an act of domestic terrorism).

So how does England commemorate the foiling of The Gunpowder Plot? She co-opts the explosive approach Fawkes took... setting off fireworks, bonfires and flaming effigies of the Pope for a night. Okay, the Pope part doesn't happen so much anymore, as Catholics now celebrate the holiday, too. But the holiday was originally set to celebrate the saving of the King and to instill violent anti-Catholic sentiment.

All this drove me to the point that prompted this post:

When you get down to it, practically every recorded incident of terrorism revolves around the fundamental inseparability of a Church and a State. So are we ultimately fooling ourselves when we believe the two can operate independently of each other?


What to do with Chicago's water tanks...

According to the Trib, the Chicago Architectural Club recently announced winners of a contest seeking ideas for what to do with the city's rooftop water tanks. There are some very cool ideas, my favorite is the winning idea from Rahman Polk (PDF), which uses the tanks to harness wind power and support a city-wide Wi-fi network (an idea that's got some people talking already). Let's hope the best ideas prevail.