Remix artists and producers have it within them to make people a little agitated. An already perfect piece destroyed at the hands of some musical butcher; the thwarted artist whose meticulously well-designed soundscape has been trampled by a herd of braying cattle and, not forgetting, the poor label manager whose very way of life hangs in the balance.
The dichotomy is nothing new; those of us who train hard and invest our lives into the validation of whatever it is that gives us our perceived agency, are often offended or threatened by the introduction of new forms. Stravinsky caused uproar in 1913 at his avant-garde premiere of, Le Sacre du printemps, (The Rite of Spring). Dylan lost half of his following when he switched from acoustic to electric guitar and John cage bemused us all with his famous 4.33, whereby a pianist seats himself at the piano and plays absolutely nothing for 4.33 seconds.
The list goes on, and does not confine itself to the type of extreme examples cited above. How many of us wax lyrical on the relative merits of different musical genres, artists and bands or types of production techniques? It seems we all have an opinion and for the most part we think our way is the right way. I am trying to convince you now that the way of the remix artist is at least ok, but fear those staunch Adornian’s or Walter Benja-minions amongst you are unlikely to be swayed against the supposed authenticity of high-art over the popular. In-fact, I know my way is not the right way, it is simply a way.
I would argue, contentiously perhaps, that the practice of remixing is not solely a facet of contemporary society, but something that most musicians – and other professional’s – all inherently do to some degree. Whilst many of today’s muso’s and producers are critiqued for the direct sampling of others music, it is my suggestion that musicians have been doing this, albeit indirectly, since time immemorial. Consider the Beatles, for example, who have famously banned others from sampling their work, and yet, much of the harmonic content within their tracks relied on a reinterpretation of rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues. Namely, chords I, IV & V. But the Beatles were not alone in this; chords I, IV & V are the harmonic building blocks that the vast majority of Western music is based upon. From Bach to the Beatles and beyond…
So I am wondering who has the ownership on these sets of chords, because if, generally speaking, most of what has been produced since utilizes a rather select handful of chord relationships, then somebody, somewhere, is due a rather large royalty check!
I feel that there are two main objections taken with the remix artist; the first being the blatant, instead of concealed, reference to others work and any resulting monetary profit. In answer to this I would draw a comparison to academia and suggest that, at least with direct sampling an explicit reference is made to the original within the actual content, as opposed to those who attempt to make others work their own by paraphrasing without reference. With respect to any financial gain that a remix artist receives then you might consider that, for any commercial remix the original artist is paid for their sample and in some cases far more than he/she may have earned from their original release. Old tracks can be given a fresh look that appeals to a wider audience thus propagating the music of the original composer.
This leads us on to the second objection that some have, with the notion that remixes can dilute the original message of the composer; a ‘written as nature intended’ kind of approach. What I would say in defence is, when all is said and done, the original still remains; intact, as it was the day it was published and as ‘nature’ intended. Ultimately the choice remains firmly with you in whether you choose to listen to the original, the remix or both. If the original message has been lost in the remix, it will surely have been replaced with another message pertinent to those who listen and engage with it.
Being primarily a songwriter and then remix artist myself, I care very deeply about others music being mindful of the original beauty that has situated them as masterpieces of our cultural heritage. In my own endeavours I make every attempt to be sensitive to original works, but also wanted to illustrate the above points by showing how you can abstract out of the original so that few would recognize the derivative – unless I had not directly referenced it as being so [please see resource box for example links]. In other words, I are not trying to claim that what I produce is all of my own doing, but rather, like everybody else in this world, I am merely standing on the shoulders of giants.
Please follow these links to samples of my work.
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