- Of Remixology: Ethics and Aesthetics After Remix by David J. Gunkel
The first thing to note is that this is an excellent book. Its content is interesting, cogent, lucid, and a valuable resource for understanding contemporary culture. All four of these aspects are not always present in academic books. In Of Remixology, David J. Gunkel addresses what remix means and the questions it raises about cultural verities that most people take for granted. In doing so, he creates a new philosophical space for articulating a cultural transition that may have begun over a century ago but has accelerated in recent years.
Throughout the book, Gunkel mixes, or remixes, philosophy from Socrates and Plato to Derrida and Deleuze with DJ Danger Mouse, Girl Talk, and Negativland— and this is only a partial list of his extensive range of resources. Although readers of Configurations can be expected to be interdisciplinary, it will be the rare person whose knowledge thoroughly spans these domains. In my case, I know much more about music history, technologies, and the history of collage than I do of philosophy. Nonetheless, I do have some passing familiarity with the philosophers he references, and to me he gets them right. Even better, his paraphrases of nuanced, complex philosophical points might be the best I have read anywhere. His musical knowledge is also spot on—although I have some quibbles (more on that later). Readers interested in contemporary music, copyright law, and post-stucturalist philosophy will definitely be interested in this book. But as I have been implying thus far, I would suggest that anyone interested in contemporary culture should read this book.
Remix is a term taken from contemporary technical music production that has expanded into other arts and technologies. Remix has much in common with other [End Page 129] forms of combining media, such as collage, cut-up, mashup, assemblage, sampling, and so forth, and most, if not all of Gunkel’s arguments and conclusions are equally applicable to all these terms. However, these and the numerous other relevant words each shade our understanding in subtly different ways. The first chapter of this book initially appears to be a long digression regarding the inherent difficulty of definition. In it, he addresses the origins and multiple definitions of remix and other closely related words from musical practice, such as mashup, bootleg, plunderphonics, sound collage, and numerous more. He also speaks to the way that other authors and practitioners have defined these words and their implications, only to conclude that “we have not identified the right term or even the best term by which to name and describe the object of investigation . . . all we have discovered is the seemingly inexhaustible problem with terminology” (p. 26). Both the apparent digression and his assessment of an intractable dilemma become a productive strategy that he repeats throughout the book. In each case, he draws the reader into recognizing that the “obstacle” comes from an “old” (literally thousands-of-years-old) mode of thought that is no longer relevant to current culture, and then carefully guides us toward an alternative understanding that usually escapes the obstacle by shifting the premise. He also regularly anticipates just what the reader’s next question will be and effectively answers it.
To old-school readers like myself, a remix was a legitimate practice where a band or musician would supply the isolated tracks of a specific song to a producer, who would then take those tracks and create a new version of the song that might, for example, be a longer dance version with a focus on the beat. (As I write this, I am listening to a new record by John Cale, where he has substantially remixed one of his own records from thirty-three years ago to startling effect.) However, over time, remixes began to be created that were not legally sanctioned by their corporate owners. DJs spinning records could also create “new” music by sequentially blending entirely different songs, and with digital technology small portions of songs could be sampled and recombined in...