The Art of Remixing

As a person who thrives on creativity and original thought, the idea of remixing always bothered me. A remix implies that there are no new ideas, that a story will remain essentially the same, and the only thing which will differ is the materials used and the format which the story is presented in. In my time, I have only seen a handful of successful remixes. Their success can probably be attributed to the level of commitment they have to the initial story. I have found, and many would agree, that the best remixes come from those who retain the story so that it is just recognizable enough — nothing more, nothing less.

“I have found, and many would agree, that the best remixes come from those who retain the story so that it is just recognizable enough.”

A good example of this would be a book I read in my early high school years. I have a love for classics, and in particular, The Secret Garden. When I heard of a new book which retold the favorite tale, I jumped on it immediately and hoped for the best. Though I cannot remember the name of the book now, I will tell you that it was written in a way which made the reader reflect on the nostalgia of the old story, but also added to the original content in a fresh and interesting way. As I plunged ahead in the book, I found myself stringing together the classic from new concepts. Pegging the symbolism from one novel to the next was quite amusing, and for this reason, I do think remixes have the potential to be successful.

L.H.O.O.Q. A remix of the Mona Lisa done by Marcel Duchamp.

However, there is a pretty fine line between giving justice to an original and adding new material that distinguishes an artwork from its past self. The amount of material added is essentially what distinguishes a remix as either a ripoff or a spinoff. Marcel Duchamp has tried his hand at more than a few remixes in his time, and his experience goes to show just how difficult it is to please an audience that knows when a piece has clearly been remixed. Perhaps Duchamp’s most famous attempt at remixing is his 1919 L.H.O.O.Q. In essence, the piece is a replica of the Mona Lisa with a few obvious changes.

The thought process which lead up to the piece’s construction came from Duchamp’s concept of readymades. Readymades by definition are just like they sound. They are objects that have been constructed elsewhere and are then taken and altered according to an artist’s taste. Like a remix, readymades challenge viewers to consider what constitutes as art and additionally question how much effort and originality has to be put into a piece to qualify it as such.

While there is no clear answer to these questions, there are plagiarism and copyright laws which can guide artists in the do’s and don’ts of remixing. Direct copying can help beginners learn from the masters, but it ultimately limits an individual from developing their full potential. In order to successfully remix and succeed in life, there has to be an equal amount of imitation and self-exploration. This is why personal stories are so impactful. Though the experiences we share might be similar, our individual thought processes and decisions are unique and separate from anything else anyone may have.

Thanks to this concept, I no longer get discouraged by the prospect of remixing. Yes, it may be hard to be unique, especially since many of us do share the same core values and inner desires. However, maybe the point of remixing is not originality. Maybe it is about relevance and impact, and that is why we keep coming back to the same old stories and why we keep adding our own special flairs time and time again.