What is remixing and why does it matter?
If we can accept the basic premise that “remixing” marks a return to the prior work of an audibly recorded performance, then it simply follows that remixing was born in the process of making recorded sound possible(the late 1870’s). However, in order to return to a performance in the performer’s absence and reproduce their material without the need for them to re-perform the action, you render possible the option of adding to any given piece, a process which could entail surrounding a solo with more instrumentation, or using the technology at hand to make a given piece playback differently(i.e. sound manipulation). Either of these methods then, can legitimately be considered remixing, yet some producers/artists may consider minor adjustments to simple sound parameters like volume and amplitude for specific parts of an ensemble to be “Studio Editing”, rather than remixing which is then reserved for a more transformative rendering of previously recorded material. The distinction however, between “Studio Editing” to properly produce a record and the creative liberties offered by “Remixing”, focuses more on minor technical differences than practical similarity, when really both practices already inform and overlap with one another.
Although the record player has been around since the late 1800’s, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that dj’s began to innovate the technology, also when ‘remixing’ arguably first became a cultural phenomena. Although there were surely earlier examples of individuals experimenting with the record player and developing recording technology to change and adapt recorded work, it wasn’t until the 60’s that Dj’s began overlapping certain aspects of similar genres of music and similar tempos over one another in order to suit social gatherings bringing multiple musical cultures into similar venues on the same occasion (In Jamaica, remixing developed alongside reggae). At this point, remixing didn’t yet lend itself to the billions of people it does today, but the perception toward the recorded work of the artist became more flexible in terms of public exposure, as familiar tunes played with slight variations and without the original performers present to improvise themselves.
Keeping the music fresh and relevant to the audience has always been a responsibility of the Dj, but the technological evolution, or digital revolution if you prefer, that has resulted in popular icons like Daft Punk, can be read to have started as early as the 70’s and 80’s as reworking recorded music became a potential method of performance itself. In this way, the turntable innovations which emerged alongside the birth of Hip-Hop exponentially expanded the slight variations one might have noticed in the 60’s by turning the remix into a live event, and ultimately in conjunction with an ‘MC’, a concert. As an essential aspect of Hip_Hop, the Dj’s performance is for all intents and purposes the performance of a remix itself, where the dj could coordinates overlaps, pauses, and loops previously recorded works, classically vinyl, as a basis for the dance, poetry, and art of Hip-Hop. Ultimately, the cultural forum realized by Hip-Hop was in part enabled by the compositional orchestration of cultural recognized material recycled in turning the turntable itself into an improvisational instrument for remix.
Today we have all become somewhat naturally digitized, and whereas the pioneers of Hip-Hop had to literally rewire the turntable for it to become a live instrument, inventing new mechanisms to adapt recorded work on the fly and building equipment by hand, before composing the vinyl improv which became a trademark still heard on contemporary Hip-Hop records, software programming has turned the tables once more providing the potential for the personal computer to be the dj’s prosthesis by converting the former hardware to a compact on screen interface, exponentially expanding what can be done to a prior work and who can do itwith precise immediacy. To sum all of this up, in the late 1800’s only a highly trained technical expert could adjust the sound of a musicians work after the recording was done, as opposed to the contemporary world of remix culture where nearly anyone with access to a personal computer and an internet connection may remix at will. This availability subverts the music industry’s regulation of popular music by destabilizing the “hard copy” of any “finished work” on such a massive level, that record companies have become conflicted between their reliance on remixing to expand markets and their desire to limit the loopholes where music is still shared freely. What has perhaps become most strikingly beautiful about remix culture is that it doesn’t just apply to hip-hop or any genre or subculture awaiting exploitation, it is about people responding to music with a contribution of their own, and having the ability to have a say in their culture and create new meaning from former inspiration. The widespread availability of remixing tools has undoubtedly democratized the relationship between producers, consumers, distributors, and artists alike and while remixing tools have a history beginning in the world of music, digital technologies have also expanded the availability to remix video, and edit still images as well.
For those potentially interested, here is a list of sites providing some basic remix tech:
“A remix is a song that has been edited or completely recreated to sound different
from the original version. For example, the pitch of the singers' voice or the tempo
might be changed, it might be made shorter or longer, or it might have the voice
duplicated to create a duet.”