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The Three Basic Forms of Remix: a Point of Entry, by Eduardo Navas

Image source:
Layout by Ludmil Trenkov
Duchamp source: Art History Birmington
Levine source: Artnet

(This text has been recently added to the section titled Remix Defined
to expand my general definition of Remix.)

The following summary is a copy and paste collage (a
type of literary remix) of my lectures and preliminary
writings since 2005. My definition of Remix was first
introduced in one of my most recent texts: Turbulence:
Remixes + Bonus Beats, commissioned by . Many of
the ideas I entertain in the text for Turbulence were first discussed
in various presentations during the Summer of 2006. (See the list
of places here plus an earlier version of my definition of Remix Below, the section titled ³remixes²
takes parts from the section by the same name in the Turbulence text,
and the section titled ³remix defined² consists of excerpts of my
definitions which have been revised for an upcoming text soon to
be released in English and Spanish by Telefonica in Buenos Aires,
Argentina. The full text will be released online once it is officially


To understand Remix as a cultural phenomenon, we must first define
it in music. A music remix, in general, is a reinterpretation of
a pre-existing song, meaning that the ³aura² of the original will
be dominant in the remixed version. Of course some of the most
challenging remixes can question this generalization. But based on
its history, it can be stated that there are three types of remixes.
The first remix is extended, that is a longer version of the original
song containing long instrumental sections making it more mixable for
the club DJ. The first known disco song to be extended to ten minutes
is ³Ten Percent,² by Double Exposure, remixed by Walter Gibbons in

Image source: Vinyl Masterpiece

The second remix is selective; it consists of adding or subtracting
material from the original song. This is the type of remix which
made DJs popular producers in the music mainstream. One of the most
successful selective remixes is Eric B. & Rakim¹s ³Paid in Full,²
remixed by Coldcut in 1987. [2] In this case Coldcut produced two
remixes, the most popular version not only extended the original
recording, following the tradition of the club mix (like Gibbons), but
it also contained new sections as well as new sounds, while others
were subtracted, always keeping the ³essence² of the song intact.

Image source: Rate Your Music

The third remix is reflexive; it allegorizes and extends the aesthetic
of sampling, where the remixed version challenges the aura of the
original and claims autonomy even when it carries the name of the
original; material is added or deleted, but the original tracks are
largely left intact to be recognizable. An example of this is Mad
Professor¹s famous dub/trip hop album No Protection, which is a remix
of Massive Attack¹s Protection. In this case both albums, the original
and the remixed versions, are considered works on their own, yet
the remixed version is completely dependent on Massive¹s original
production for validation.[3] The fact that both albums were released
at the same time in 1994 further complicates Mad Professor¹s allegory.
This complexity lies in the fact that Mad Professor¹s production is
part of the tradition of Jamaica¹s dub, where the term ³version²
was often used to refer to ³remixes² which due to their extensive
manipulation in the studio pushed for allegorical autonomy.[4]

Image source: Last FM

Allegory is often deconstructed in more advanced remixes following
this third form, and quickly moves to be a reflexive exercise that at
times leads to a ³remix² in which the only thing that is recognizable
from the original is the title. But, to be clear‹no matter what‹the
remix will always rely on the authority of the original song. When
this activity is extended to culture at large, the remix is in the end
a re-mix‹that is a rearrangement of something already recognizable;
it functions at a second level: a meta-level. This implies that
the originality of the remix is non-existent, therefore it must
acknowledge its source of validation self-reflexively. In brief,
the remix when extended as a cultural practice is a second mix of
something pre-existent; the material that is mixed at least for a
second time must be recognized otherwise it could be misunderstood as
something new, and it would become plagiarism. Without a history, the
remix cannot be Remix.[5]

The extended, selective and reflexive remixes can quickly crossover
and blur their own definitions. Based on a materialist historical
analysis, it can be noted that DJs became invested in remixes which
inherited a rich practice of appropriation that had been at play in
culture at large for many decades. Below are brief definitions with
visual examples.


Extended Remixes 

The Extended Remix was an early form of remix in which DJs from
New York City became invested. On close examination this was a
reaction against the status quo, where everything was made as brief as
possible, from radio songs to novels. I argue that due to this, the
extended remix is not found in mass culture prior to this period.

The Disco DJs, going against the grain, actually extended music
compositions to make them more danceable. They took 3 to 4 minute
compositions that would be friendly to radio play, and extended them
as long as 10 minutes.[6] In the seventies this was quite radical
because in fact, it is the summary of long material that is constantly
privileged in the mainstream‹which is true even today. The reason
behind this tendency has to do in part with the efficiency that
popular culture demands. That is, everything is optimized to be
quickly delivered and consumed by as many people as possible. An
obvious example of this tendency from history is the popularity of
publications like Reader¹s Digest, which offers condensed versions of
books as well as stories for people who want to be informed but do
not have the time to read the original material, which is often more
extensive. [7]

Image source: E Bay

Another recent activity that is now emerging on the web is the
two-minute ³replay² available for TV shows like ³Studio 60 on the
Sunset Strip.²[8] If you missed the show when it aired, you can spend
just two minutes online catching up on the plot; in essence, this
is a more efficient version of Reader¹s Digest for TV delivered to
your Internet doorstep. This two-minute replay is also called ³video
highlights.² At the same time, this optimization of information allows
entire programs to be uploaded by average consumers in short segments
to community websites like Youtube, which in the end function as
promotion for TV media.[9]

Image source: Youtube

Selective Remixes

For the Selective Remix the DJ takes and adds parts to the original
composition, while leaving its spectacular aura intact. An example
from art history in which key codes of the Selective Remix are at
play is Marcel Duchamp¹s Fountain (1917); [10] this work consists
of an untouched urinal (save for a traditional artist signature) to
reinforce the question, what is art? And codes of a second level
remix on Duchamp can be found in Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp)
by Sherrie Levine who, in 1991, questioned Duchamp as a privileged
male artist and his urinal as art, leaving intact Duchamp¹s aura as
an artist but not the Urinal¹s spectacular aura as a mass produced
object. [11] In both of these cases there is subtraction and addition
(selectively­hence the term, Selective Remixes).

Image source:
Layout by Ludmil Trenkov
Duchamp source: Art History Birmington
Levine source: Artnet

A second example where key codes of the Selective Remix are at play
can be found in DJ culture itself. Notice how the CD remixer gains
authority by allegorizing the turntable. In this case the Technics
1210 functions similarly to Duchamp¹s urinal: the basic turntable
designed for listening was appropriated by the DJ to mix and scratch
music live; it was used as an actual musical instrument, and Duchamp
appropriated a urinal to recontextualize it as art. It is crucial to
note that the necessity for precision in performance by turntablists
led to developing a specialized turntable that could withstand
physical abuse, while for Duchamp, it was enough to leave the urinal
intact, save for the artist¹s signature (R. Mutt). Then the Technics
SL-DZ 1200 similarly to Levine¹s urinal, selectively allegorizes
and appropriates elements from the Technics 1210 turntable; in this
instance the critical elements that validate the turntable in DJ
Culture are not only left intact, but in fact celebrated.

Images source: Panasonic Europe

Reflexive Remixes

The Reflexive Remix differs in various ways from the Selective Remix;
it directly allegorizes and extends the aesthetic of sampling as
practiced in the music studio by seventies DJs, where the remixed
version challenges the aura of the original and claims autonomy
even when it carries the original¹s name. In culture at large, the
Reflexive Remix takes parts from different sources and mixes them
aiming for autonomy. The spectacular aura of the original(s), whether
fully recognizable or not must remain a vital part if the remix is
to find cultural acceptance. This strategy demands that the viewer
reflect on the meaning of the work and its sources-even when knowing
the origin may not be possible.

An example from art history in which the codes of the Reflexive Remix
are at play is the work of John Heartfield, who takes material out of
context to create social commentary. His Photo-montages like Adolf the
Superman: Swallows Gold and Spouts Junk[12] and Hurrah, the Butter is
All Gone,[13] question the very subject that gives them the power to
comment. In the former, Hitler, as the title connotes, is presented
swallowing gold and is questioned as a leader of Germany; while in the
latter, a German family is having dinner, eating military weapons,
thus the stability of the home is questioned due to German politics.
In his case, the spectacular aura of the source image (like in the
second remix) is left intact-but only to be questioned along with
everything else: we believe the image but question it at the same time
due to the dual transparency of a montage and the realism expected of
a photo-image; the work then gains access to social commentary based
on the combination of recognizable images.

Image source:
Layout by Ludmil Trenkov

Another example from art history where the codes of the reflexive
remix can be found is the work of Hannah Hoch. Her collages blur
the origin of the images she appropriates; the result is open-ended
propositions. Her work often questions notions of identity and gender
roles. Yet, even when it is not clear where the material comes from,
her work is still fully dependent on an allegorical recognition of
such forms in culture at large in order to attain meaning. This is
the case in pieces like Grotesque [14] and Tamar. [15] Although
they were made 30 years apart, both decontextualze the objects they
appropriate. Here we have body parts of men and women remixed to
create a collage of de-gendered figures. The authority of the image
lies in the acknowledgment of each fragment individually, and a
specific social commentary like the one found in Heartfield¹s work is
no longer at play; instead, each individual fragment in Hoch¹s work
needs to hold on to its cultural code in order to create meaning,
although with a much more open-ended position.

Image source:
Layout by Ludmil Trenkov
Tamar source (left): yellowbellywebdesign
Grotesque source (right): Adam Art Gallery

For Heartfield and Hoch the subject which gives the work of art its
authority is actually questioned; the result is a friction, a tension
that demands that the viewers reconsider everything in front of them.
This is what makes their art powerful.

An example of the Reflexive Remix in culture at large is Wikipedia.
The entries to the online encyclopedia are constantly revised and
updated by different contributors; when a controversial entry is made,
a discussion ensues and a posting is placed at the top of the site
explaining the current state of debate.

Image source:

Another example is Youtube, a community site, which like Wikipedia
is driven by the community. If a video is offensive or deemed
inappropriate the community will let Youtube staff know immediately.
Youtube also has a complex tie in with the corporate media, in which
copyright infringement is always present, and it is quite common
that when a corporation finds it to their benefit, they demand their
material to be removed if it was posted without permission. This
opens the door to the complexiies brought about by the creative
possibilities of ³free culture² and ³remix culture.² For a detailed
analysis of how the Selective and Extended Remixes are at play in new
media art, please read the section ³Remixes² in Turbulence: Remixes +
Bonus Beats.

There are many other examples from art history and popular culture
which can be presented. Neo-dada material by Robert Rauschenberg,
Jasper Johns and their contemporaries can be connected to the
reflexive remix, while work by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein can be
related to the Selective Remix. The Extended Remix, however remains
unusual, except in the club remixes and art projects. The reasons for
this are constantly entertained in

In conclusion, what is crucial at the moment is understanding how
different acts of appropriation throughout history, such as the
ones revisited above, enable us to entertain Remix as part of the
consumer/producer model currently at play in culture.

[1] Brewster, 178-79.

[2] Paid in full was actually a B side release meant to complement ³Move the
Crowd.² Eric B. & Rakim, ³Paid in Full,² Re-mix engineer: Derek B., Produced
by Eric B. & Rakim, Island Records, 1987.

[3] Ulf Poschardt, DJ Culture (London: Quartet Books, 1995), 297.

[4] Dick Hebdige, Cut ŒN¹ Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music,
(London: Comedia, 1987), 12-16.

[5] DJ producers who sampled during the eighties found themselves having to
acknowledge History by complying with the law; see the landmark law-suit
against Biz Markie in Brewster, 246.

[6] Brewster, 178-79.

[7] Reader¹s Digest, , (October, 2006).

[8] ³Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,², September 2006,

[9] The 2007 Grammys can be seen in pieces almost in its entirety. See
³Grammys 2007,² 2007 (April 15, 2007),

[10] For an online reproduction of the famous Richard Stieglitz photograph
visit: ³Fountain²Art History
Birmington, , (November

[11] For an online reproduction of Levine¹s appropriation visit ³Sherrie
Levine,² Artnet,, (October,

[12] For an image of Heartfield¹s Superman, see:,, (October,

[13] For an image of Heartfield¹s Butter¹s all Gone, see,
(October, 2006).

[14] For an image of Grotesque visit Adam Art Galleryöch-l
g.html, (October, 2006).

[15] For an image of Tamar ,visit ³Hannah Höch: ŒDompteuse(Tamar)¹,²öch/dompu.html, (October, 2006). 

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