Two concepts I’ve been mulling over this week are “remixes” and “fan fiction.” Pretty mainstream, but also kind of radical when you think about it.
When my son Ben, part of the electronic music group The M Machine, first told me a few years ago that he was working on a remix of another artist’s song, I asked, do you have permission? Silly me. Yes, he said, they’re paying us to do it. Huh?
I associated this kind of thing with what we used to call mash-ups, like the Grey Album (Beatles White Album + Jay-Z’s Black Album = Danger Mouse’s Grey Album). But that was so 10 years ago.
The M Machine remixes the tracks of other artists in their own unique style, creating versions of songs that suit different dance genres; and it happens the other way around, too: other artists remix their songs (sometimes by invitation, sometimes not). In fact, The M Machine just released a whole album of remixes of their own songs, each produced by a different artist: Metropolis Remixed.
Unlike the one-of-a-kind nature of a Picasso painting or a Tolstoy novel, these digital creations seem to be made to be remade, with the artist’s blessing, as long as credit is given where credit it due. There is a difference between stealing and remixing; permission is the key.
The universal availability of ideas – the fluidity of creativity – seems new, but of course it isn’t. In a Ted Talk from 2004, Kirby Ferguson offers an entertaining demonstration of how songs are rooted through the ages in earlier songs… and, let’s face it, everything is a remix.
So, what about fan fiction? My daughter Betsey introduced fanfic to me. You know about obsessive fans: Think “trekkies.” These fans write stories about characters or places – from movies, TV, literature – that spin off from the original creations. They keep the fictional universe intact, so to speak, but take the characters wherever they want them to go.
Mostly you will find these stories on the Internet. The stories aren’t commercially published, although sometimes there’s a break-through to the other side. The fanfic communities online are enormous and passionate and prolific. (Google fan fiction and you’ll see)
But unlike the remixing world, there is an uneasy relationship between the original authors and the fanfic writers. You don’t find authors paying other writers to remix their original works as fan fiction…at least not yet.
Fan fiction isn’t the same as music remixing, but there are still intriguing similarities. Ideas float out there in the universe, how hard should we try to hold on to them, maintain “ownership” and integrity? Perhaps life is a remix, in every medium, and as Kirby Ferguson suggests, we should embrace it.
Remixing the Medium
Here’s what got me thinking about remixes. Two weeks ago, our family came together to honor my father, who had passed away earlier in the summer. We went to Cape Cod to scatter his ashes in places that were precious to him in his life. It was not sad. It was full of laughter, love, poems, songs, and poignant memories.
So, is it a stretch to think of this as a remix of sorts? A body is transformed, ashes are tossed into the sea, energy is redistributed, the medium is new. I feel that something creative will come of this remix. I will embrace it.