Remix: The Archive (alt. Archive: The Remix)

ROSS RUDESCH HARLEY VS SODA_JERK

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article/interview/throwdown originally published in Photofile, August 2006.

Pixel Pirate II trailer can be found on YouTube

Artists have always been plugged into archives, whether it be for inspiration, research purposes, or raw material. The mutation of the archive through mechanical (then electronic) reproduction further accelerated this exchange. Armed with the technics of cut and copy, artists, photographers and filmmakers have been hard at it, purposefully manipulating and hacking the archive for their own strategic purposes. In doing so, they have dislocated archival material from its original intent (storage for posterity), re-animating popular culture in their own personalised style.

Since hip-hop, sample-based pop culture and its associated digital underground have exploded onto the scene. We could call this tendency Remix. The multi-authored entry on ‘Remix’ in Wikipedia reveals that this approach “points to ways of working with information on higher levels of organization, pulling together the efforts of others into a multilayered, multireferential whole which is much more than the sum of its parts”. Or to sample Paul Miller, this networked creativity could be thought of as “cybernetic jazz”.

It’s a conceptual bass-line that can be traced through the avant-garde filmmakers of the 20s, Situationist detournement of the 60s, Burrough’s cut-ups, 80s Metaphysical TV, contemporary VJ culture, open source and peer-to-peer networks. But as the audio-visual archive goes digital, much remains uncertain. Anxious questions are being asked by private corporations, public institutions and content-producing artists about what this will mean for archives. We don’t know the answer, but in the spirit of remix culture, we threw down an exchange. Over a number of email encounters, we battled it out over the stakes of remixing the archive in the bittorrent age.

ROSS RUDESCH HARLEY VS SODA_JERK

Ross Rudesch Harley is an artist and writer with more VHS, Video8, Hi8, audio cassettes, vinyl records, books, DVDs, Quicktime and MP3 files than can fit in his studio. Excerpts from his personalized back-catalogue appear early scratch videos and installations (Dead-End, Endless House, Beauty and the Beast, and Roadblock) and in sample-based soundtracks created for Cardoso Flea Circus videos and performances. In the 1990s he was editor of Art + Text , and director of TISEA. More recently he co-authored Aviopolis: A Book About Airports. He is currently senior lecturer in the School of Media Film and Theatre at the University of New South Wales.

Soda_Jerk (Dan and Dominique Angeloro) are two Sydney-based remix artists who work exclusively with found material. Their latest video project Pixel Pirate 2: Attack of the Astro Elvis Video Clone (2002-2006) is an hour long narrative remix video that is comprised entirely from samples pirated from over 200 existing film and music sources. This collaboration with Sydney artist Sam Smith is a sci-fi /biblical epic/ cheesy romance/ action flick that takes a swipe at copyright law.

VJ Battle: Remix the Archive

sj The concept engineer Kodwo Eshun has said that remixers are the sex organs of the sample; that by copying and consuming media we help it to multiply and disseminate. How do you feel about being dubbed the genitals of AV culture?

rrh Very pro-creative. There’s a lot of cultural bias against the cut-up techniques that find their way into contemporary art and pop culture. Samples are seen as easy rip-offs, and not as architectonic reconfigurations of the audio-visual culture we’re a part of. Sterile. But to me, the sampled image or sound contains the germ of an idea that comes from a particular cultural moment, and then quickly mutates into something new and wild maybe even scary. Think Craig Baldwin meets David Cronenberg channeling Debbie Harry in a Soda_Jerk feature.

sj Complete: The archive is to remix like ______is to ________
rrh Tape delay is to dub.
sj The high seas are to pirates.

rrh In your video work, The Phoenix Portal, (collaboration with Sam Smith, 2005) the River Phoenix of the film My Own Private Idaho time-jumps back to 1985 to visit his younger self in the film The Explorers. Is River Phoenix the only one in the world with access to Time Portals?

sj We believe video is a technology of time travel. When you rent a video or DVD you are essentially hiring a fragment of alternative space-time and creating a portal between this other-time and the present. And if you’ve seen the movie before, then those viewing time-zones are also switched on. For us, celebrity “childstars”have the potential to generate even more of a temporal mash-up because the passage of real time is inscribed on their bodies as they age over the years in front of the camera. Now jump-cut to a larger historical timeframe: would you say that the universal archive is shrinking or expanding?

rrh Ever since Vannevar Bush came up with the idea of a universal globally accessible library of everything that could be recorded, “dropped into Memex and there amplified”, the hyperlinked archive has been steadily expanding. Archives, collections, and holdings all used to be highly restricted in terms of physical access. Nowadays the expansion into the net is mind-boggling. But at the same time there is an unbelievable loss of material that you would have thought would be around forever. The BBC have lost thousands of episodes of television; webpages from 1997 are extinct. Digital archives are proliferating, but can they contain all of history? The network is already suffering from Alzheimer’s. Soon we might all suffer from a networked disorder that will seriously affect our ability to carry out daily activities. Is Soda_Jerk working to preserve a record of AV culture for future generations?

sj Yeah, there is a bent kind of historiography at work in remix culture. But we also like to think that the potential reality of time travel means that the remix artist is not only preserving a record of culture for future generations, but also for those of the past. And you? As an artist, how do you reconcile old-school and new-school sampling technologies or is there just one school?

rrh Old-school was more mechanical and new-school is more automated. In the 80s you could copy anything onto or off a tape. Now you can do the same with computers, but this time the code is digital, networked, amplified and searchable. As the Last Poets would say, “Automatic, pushbutton, remote-control, synthetic, genetics, command your soul”.

sj And do you think there should be an ethics concerning the way that the archive is used in the remix, or does anything go?

rrh Art should have as few restrictions as possible. Is there an ethic to breaking the rules (of aesthetics, originality and copyright)? I don’t think so. Ethics and legalities are for others to figure out. From an artist’s perspective, Lawrence Lessig and his crew do a pretty good job of this. But not as good as Coldcut do mashing whatever they can fit into their pixel-bending machines. So what about this idea of “hiring a fragment”of AV culture? Should anyone “own”the archive?

sj Once the archive becomes digital, the idea of ownership becomes quite a bogus concept. You should only “own”an archive in the sense of “girlfriend, you own it”(snaps), not in the sense of an exclusive claim on shared culture. As a remixer, you “own it”when you use the sample in a way that is worthwhile. Academics used to talk a lot about remixing as an “ironic gesture”– but that was before Alanis Morissette spoiled the concept of “Isn’t it Ironic?”for everyone. Do you find it a useful term or does it smell bad?

rrh Irony implies a knowing distance, as if the remixer is better than the material they reanimate. But scratch and appropriation are so much more complex and nuanced than that. In a 48 track remix, irony might be just one element alongside the rhythm track, bassline, melody, and all the rest that makes a cut. To me it’s more about knowledge and threading up connections between shared culture and audience. Irony let’s you circle around the initial source-work, but will never let you “touch”it. Which brings me to the last throwdown: Are you totally obsessive about collecting images and sounds [or just a little]?

sj The randomness of sampling means that you can’t help but develop a kind of obsessive gambling mentality. It’s addictive. Sometimes you might go through ten videos in a night without finding anything of use, and another time you might land a few gold samples in a period of minutes. If we faced up to the insane amounts of wasted time involved with sample-hunting, we’d never be able to go through with it. So instead, we endorse the delusion that the jackpot is always just about to drop.

Sidebars

Play List: Remixers

Ian Andrews
Martin Arnold
Bryan Boyce
Coldcut
Candice Breitz
Craig Baldwin
William Burroughs
Philip Brophy
David Hinton
Metaphysical TV Stars
Elizabeth McAlpine
Christian Marclay
Paul Miller
Rick + Megan Prelinger
Heather Stewart
QBert
John Zorn

Audio-visual Archive Sites

Archive.org
BBC archives
Flickr
Last.FM > the future of audio playlist management
iFilm viral video > ad hacks and trailer remixes
Selectparks.net > art that draws on video game culture.
Video Data Base (vdb.org)
Youtube.com > a free-to-air site that hosts any video content people care to post.

Archive Technics: Open Source & Remix Tools
Bittorrent
Limewire
Copyleft
Creative Commons
Digital Media Xchange
Wikipedia

Search Words:
Ad-hacking
Copyleft
creative commons
cut-ups
found footage
hacktivism
machinima
mash-ups
plunderphonics
re-edits
sampling
scratch video
trailer hacking
viding
VJing.