Steven Hammer, North Dakota State University
(Published: December 18, 2011)
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A special issue on the “rag and bone shop” of Marshall McLuhan’s career seemed to immediately invite an alternative and mixed media approach; several of McLuhan's texts veered away from traditional and linear arrangement, almost inviting one to hear the text. The Medium is the Massage fit that bill so well that McLuhan, Fiore, and John Simon collaborated on an audio recording of the groundbreaking work, and decades later Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, produced his own, shorter version.
In the wake of Simon and Spooky, I have undertaken a remix of McLuhan's perhaps less-known work, War and Peace in the Global Village (WPGV). I wanted to both present a remix that re-presented WPGV as a standalone McLuhan work and also suggest more recent manifestations of his central argument: that environments resulting from technological innovation create pain, resistance, and war. There are, of course, many contemporary manifestations of this observation; I selected issues including military technology, genetically-modified organisms, natural resource technology, free/permission culture, and social networking to very briefly and intermittently emerge as timely illustrations of the conflict that emerges from innovation. Additionally, McLuhan's analysis of some cultures as primitive and backward can certainly be read as implicitly racist and imperialist. Though he categorized his native Canada as one such country, this remix did seek to briefly problematize this rather simplified dichotomization by summoning images of “progressive” humans interacting with the “primitives.”
Yet above all, I wanted to enact violence on the media I selected for this remix, chopping McLuhan's text into even shorter "slogans," warping Napoleonic war marches and funeral marches and juxtaposing them with lo-fi drum machines and synthesizers, and then arranging all media in such a way as to create discomfort. This violence is not only illustrative of WPGV and McLuhan’s formulation of conflict and innovation, but it is also a necessary component of remix culture (or, as Mark Amerika articulates, “creative destruction,”) and a fundamental characteristic of sound. Sound, after all, is an invasive disruption of material, a vibratory invasion, an imposition of sonic waveforms on the senses of sometimes unconsenting perceivers. Throbbing Gristle and Sonic Youth made explicit what had been occurring all along in sonic discourse: innovation as a violent disrupter of old models of composition. In this vein of inquiry, we could easily perform a McLuhan-inspired reading of sonic history as a revolving door of innovation and reaction, technology and violence. That, however, is another line of questioning. For now, I simply wish to announce that I set out in this project to shape the audio track of this remix in such a way as to represent and interpret WPGV sonically, emphasizing warring paradigms rooted in and resulting from technological innovation.
Of course, much has been said about the nature of remix. Yet I am inclined to call on Mark Amerika’s work, remixthebook, as a way to frame the remix as a theory building pursuit of speculative play, and thus usefully (albeit dangerously) blurring the line between artist and theorist. McLuhan also blurred this line, and to a large extent elevated the position and work of the artist above others due to the artist’s ability to create anti-environments. And so in an Amerikanian state of perpetual postproduction, selecting, arranging, and manipulating data, the remix artist/scholar perpetually and intuitively theorizes, effectively becoming an instrument while participating with other instruments and media. Brian Eno recently echoed this sentiment in an Edge talk, suggesting that contemporary composers more closely resemble gardeners (collaborators) than architects (controllers). While this approach threatens dominant paradigms of authorship and scholarly identity (intentionality, authors-as-architects, etc.), it becomes an inevitable consideration as knowledge production continues to proliferate in digital spaces and media.
And proliferate it has. In a very recent special issue of Enculturation, titled Master Hands, A Video Mashup Round Table, remixers and respondents interrogated conventions of mashup and remix and various other issues surrounding such practices. In some regards, this remix obeyed these familiar genre conventions. I drew heavily from pre-1960 video and audio footage (Prelinger archives, most notably), a gesture that, according to Geoffrey Sirc, has become a trope of the genre. I also used rapid flashes of contemporary images and logos to evoke contemporary illustrations and juxtaposed those images with the vintage footage. I also made some departures from genre, however. Instead of calling on familiar sounds, music with which listeners felt an immediate and associative connection, either to exploit that association or undercut it somehow, I approached the sonic composition in one of two ways. I either used generic marches and sampled beats minimally, or I mutilated familiar songs excessively, often obscuring the source altogether. There is one exception, however. Some readers may recognize the final musical piece as Sousa’s The Liberty Bell March, as this piece was used in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Finally, I composed much of the music myself, using synthesizers and drum machines. This practice is not unheard of, yet the traditional remix typically relies heavily—if not exclusively—on the recall and repositioning of old and nostalgic media for new purposes.
I sampled extensively from creative commons media, and minimally from copyrighted material in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: Limitations on Exclusive Rights: Fair Use. While in this forum I may not need to define or justify fair use, it is an issue of paramount importance to remix practitioners, especially given the exigence created by the Protect IP Act and Stop Online Piracy Act, immediate examples of war in a global village driven by technological innovation. This remix utilized media in order to: comment on/critique media, illustrate arguments, initiate discussion, and create a new text via juxtaposition. The Center for Social Media’s “Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Online Video” suggest that these rationales lie within common interpretations of fair use.
Amerika, Mark. Remixthebook. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Print.
“Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video.” American University School of Communication Center for Social Media. June 2008. Web. 1 Dec. 2011.
McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. War and Peace in the Global Village. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.
The Medium is the Massage; with Marshall McLuhan.
Long-Playing Record 1968.
Produced by John Simon.
Conceived and co-ordinated by Jerome Agel.
Written by Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel.
Columbia CS 9501, CL2701.
Available at http://www.ubu.com/sound/mcluhan.html