What is a remix, exactly?

I’ve had 5 people ask me that in the past week. It wasn’t a particularly busy week either. One guy was on the elevator, the other was a fellow member of an extra-curricular activity group. They were regular people who just didn’t know what it was.

So here it is: A remix is made when two elements are joined to form a new, different element with a different meaning. Kind of like a compound word (newstand, ladybug, ladyfinger, etc).

The word ‘remix’ is now used everywhere as a synonym for ‘combination’ to give things an edgy, hip connotation. It’s kind of like when everyone put the letter ‘i’ in front of their product to make it seem more youth-orientated. (Have you seen the iTwist, a new food-like product from KFC that encourages consumers to “remix” their value menu routine?)

In a new media context, a remix is the combination of two different pieces of media to form a new piece of media. For example, a voiceover and Hollywood movie can be remixed together to form a new video. Remix works best when the source materials are totally different from each other, like Romantic Comedies vs. Biblical Dramas, or when they comment on or critique the other.

Why is this important? We have greater access to technology that allows us to pick apart media and put it back together again in new and different and hilarious and very exciting ways. This means we can talk back, make fun of and critique the media using their own language.

What remix means for pop culture and Hollywood.

I’d be a fan of a lot more stuff if I didn’t have to constantly compromise my politics to be entertained. With remix, we can reedit tired narratives into more subversive ones or pay homage to the awesome narratives that do exist. We’re remixing to show, rather than just tell, what we want to see in pop culture and Hollywood. When we see work that represents our values and principles, it deepens our sense community, closing the gap between  critic and fan.

What remix means for feminism.

Remix and feminism go hand in hand. For young women and girls, it’s a way to take back our identities from corporate commodification and the use of appropriation in the remix process allows for images of woman and femininity to be rearticulated and redefined by the author. As a result, women become authors, resignifying the practices, discourses, and institutions on which oppression is based in real time.

What remix means for copyright.

Part of the fun of remix is that it allows us to use our collective Fair Use rights. Fair Use is the portion of copyright law constantly under threat by corporate content creators like Warner Brothers and MGM. They don’t want us to have access to their content but fortunately, under the law, we do for purposes of comment, critique, homage and education. By making more remixes, we consistently push the boundaries of ownership and threaten Corporate power. This is a really good thing. Why should the big companies own all of popular culture? Fair Use rights are like a muscle. If we don’t use them, we loose them.

“Mashups, remixes, subs, and online parodies are new and refreshing online phenomena, but they partake of an ancient tradition: the recycling of old culture to make new. In spite of our romantic cliches about the anguished lone creator, the entire history of cultural production from Aeschylus through Shakespeare to Clueless has shown that all creators stand, as Isaac Newton (and so many others) put it, “on the shoulders of giants.”

In fact, the cultural value of copying is so well established that it is written into the social bargain at the heart of copyright law. The bargain is this: we as a society give limited property rights to creators, to reward them for producing culture; at the same time, we give other creators the chance to use that same copyrighted material without permission or payment, in some circumstances. Without the second half of the bargain, we could all lose important new cultural work just because one person is arbitrary or greedy.” – Best Practices in Fair Use

What remix means for activism.

Remix allows us to dismantle precious brand identities that companies spend millions on in an effort to convince us that buying their product will make us happier, slimmer, prettier, richer, etc.

What do you think remix is or isn’t? And how do you describe it to other people who ask?

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17 comments on “What is a remix, exactly?

  1. Francesca Coppa says:

    This is a fantastic essay; I’m emailing this to all my students right now! <3

  2. DL says:

    This is a wonderful perusal, Elisa. I’ll definitely be passing it around to friends and my students as well. One tendency is to think of remix as a combination of two sources, but your work has often demonstrated that by recalibrating the content of a single source a great critique and alternative perspective can emerge. Under your influence, I had a fun time remixing just the ‘Bucket List’ into a different take on the film: http://www.archive.org/details/JackFallsForMorgantheBucketListRecut

    • True, a combination of 2 – or infinite – sources also works. As with most creative pursuites, it comes down to what you want to say. That’ll determine the number and the type of source. I’ll take a look at your new remix, thanks, DL!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for apprising the masses on your opinions about this topic.
    My question: why are you stating a limit of two sources?
    Isn’t the human brain capable of absorbing more?

    • That’s true, it certainly can be more than two sources. For example, I started out remixing with multiple sources, then paired down to just one source.
      The goal of this post was to explain what a remix was in simple terms. Theoretically, and in another post, one could argue that everything is a remix. Oh wait. Some guy already did that.

  4. Nelson says:

    I sometimes wonder how the hell I became remix artist, and then just instinctively know that there isn’t anything else for me to be. You follow where the work goes. Since birth, we’ve been inundated with all forms of media and pop culture – it’s inevitable that expression reflects it’s environment. Remixing video is the most efficient, and most powerful medium I have to articulate how my brain works.

    W&S is doing a panel at the Combine in Bloomington, IN on this exact topic, tentatively titled, “Video Bullets & Media Triage”. We’ll try to video it.

    • “Remixing video is the most efficient, and most powerful medium I have to articulate how my brain works.”

      Wiser comments rarely posted.

      Good luck @ Combine. Much love to W & S. Please do try to video & pass it along.

  5. Mikhail Koulikov says:

    Remix works best when the source materials are totally different from each other, like Romantic Comedies vs. Biblical Dramas, or when they comment on or critique the other.

    That’s nice, but it’s important to remember that remix does not have to be subversive or critical (in the sense of both criticism and critique). Just because a remix work does not have an obvious goal other than pure entertainment, a pure demonstration of the remixer’s technical skills, or a pure promotion of the source materials does not make it any less important.

  6. Bluebeep says:

    Awesome! Remixed everything it seems! I was researching remix for audio and came across a site that talked about how the term remix could be changed to rearrange when it comes to music. Here’s the site for anyone interested:
    http://www.rhythmic.ca/music-tutorials/tips-tricks-and-advice/articles/what-is-a-remix.html

    Time to remix some laundry! :)

  7. [...] my research I found a definition on the blog post by Elisa Kreisinger – A remix is made when two elements are joined to form a new or different element with a [...]

  8. [...] internet memes, which are typically composed of small units of cultural information. Essentially, a remix is made when two elements are joined to form a new, different element with a different meani… Remix is not something we do in addition to our everyday lives, it is the way we make sense of our [...]

  9. […] A remix is made when two elements are joined to form a new, different element with a different meani…. Today, remixing has been extended to other areas of culture, including; films and TV series. A great example of remixes being introduced to media is the TV series Glee. In each episode the characters perform remixes of show tunes and chart hits. Once these song covers are made, they are then released onto iTunes and albums are later produced to further their exposure. […]

  10. […] mashup, remix and collage to refer to any and all of these types of texts. PopCulturePirate has a brief description of remix and how it affects feminism and her art. Our media culture is saturated with sexist content and […]

  11. […] makes the existing materials become more abundant and variety. As Elisa Kreisinger has stated, “A voiceover and Hollywood movie can be remixed together to form a new video.”[5] Generally speaking, Remix could be defined as what Kirby Ferguson has mentioned in his video […]

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