“Some see the format and process of remix itself as ideological in nature and part of a larger cultural critique of ideas and assumptions about authorship or the ownership of art. For this reason, reworking parts of the existing music canon (e.g., a Beatles song, a Beethoven symphony) and re-envisioning it is seen as a political act.”
Music Remix in the Classroom, p. 31
This week, I was asked to read and respond to Chapters 2 & 3 of Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. While I read both, I am very much the kind of person who experiences great difficulty writing about topics that do not interest me. So it was with Chapter 3, which addressed podcasting. I’m sorry, but podcasting does absolutely nothing for me. That’s not to say that I doubt its capability to deliver diverse points of view to all corners of the world. I don’t. I also would not deny that the practice of podcasting can be extremely useful in classrooms. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with Shamburg’s assertion that “with podcasting, students can create original content as they ethically and effectively collect and remix the work of others and become participants in culture, politics, and society” (p. 68).
It’s just that, well, I’m a music guy.
I listen to music when I drive to work. I listen to music while I work. In fact, I am listening to music as I type these words (John Fahey’s The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick, in case you are wondering). Thus, I found Chapter 2, Erik Jacobson’s Music Remix in the Classroom, absolutely fascinating and am choosing to respond to it alone.
In his Chapter, Jacobson argues that the community that has gathered itself around the act of remixing music practices a method of artistic creation that is just as valid as the one employed by authors, playwrights, painters, and musicians. Remixing music is the act of appropriating someone else’s work to create your own. Jacobson argues that such appropriation is directly related to two important ideas that we hold about art. “First, it supports the idea that no work of art is created ex nihilo or “out of nothing.” Second, appropriation understood as a creative response to other work exemplifies the kind of conversations we see happening in other art forms. Art implies, either explicitly or implicitly, a commentary on other art (and the world)” (p.44).
For lovers of hip-hop, remixing is a familiar and beloved pastime. Skilled hip-hop DJs are even able to remix live via a technique known as "beat juggling." Simply put, beat juggling is when a DJ manipulates two copies of the same record in such a manner that he or she creates a new beat.
Here is an example (DJ Babu juggling Blind Alley by The Emotions; juggle begins at 0:58):
“Awesome, totally awesome!”
-Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
In all seriousness, though, I find Jacobson’s claim that remixing is an ideological, political act extremely important. In fact, I think that remixing as an ideology can be extended to the music industry itself. While record executives and a small minority of grossly overpaid musicians viewed the downfall of the traditional music industry as tragic, many independent musicians saw it as liberating. No more kowtowing to men in suits, many of whom couldn’t distinguish a B♭from an H ♯ (trick statement, the musical scale does not contain an H note). No more “selling out” to meet the demands of a fickle buying public. With the advent of social media and other web-based outlets, musicians can now independently distribute their music to their fans. They have turned the music industry on its ear, in effect, remixing it.
For someone who came of age in the “anti-establishment” 1990s, I find the democratization of music, whether it be in how it is created or how it is distributed, to be incredibly exciting. I also think that it is important to teach our students that they can now create their own music, via remixing or other means, and distribute it to the world at large. Music industry politics no longer matter (well, not as much). Their songs can be heard. Who knows? The next (fill in the blank with whatever musician you think is “hot” right now) may be sitting in your classroom.
Comments? Questions? Hot tips on new DJ mix tapes? Feel free to leave them below.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.