‘the disposable nature of culture’: a remix

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Reflecting on remixing:

I was extremely wary of working with video at first. I generally like “shorter” forms of communication. My attempts at lengthy fiction writing often become repetitive or forced. I instead like to focus on poems, where I can agonize over all 40 words in great detail. In the world of “creative writing,” I view fiction as the longer alternative to poetry (even though I understand that fiction can be short and poetry can be long). In the “photographic” world, I was under the impression that the single image is to a poem as a video is to a novel. A video is made up of thousands of frames of images. I would consider myself a photographer, and because of the amount of time and work I put into creating one photograph, the idea of creating a video terrified me. I was not sure if I could possibly create a meaning through video because I feared it would come out the way I viewed my fiction- repetitive and boring. I could not stress out and perfect every frame of the video, and was afraid I would not be able to complete a video that was even considered “decent.”

After deciding on a concept for my video and choosing a song that I felt would lend itself well to the medium, I mapped out each slight change in the song, from where the bass note changed to where vocals kicked in. I began to add clips into iMovie, where I was composing my video, and it hit me. This isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. It is actually fun. There was something very satistying about watching the clips change “on beat” with the music. I could control small elements of the video without the process being overwhelming.

The best part of composing with the video, I soon found, was that there was a lot of “experience” associated with the final product that a regular written text could not deliver. The combination of sound and visual elements was able to create a deeper meaning than I would have been able to create with words alone. There are more subtleties that come into play when using video to compose, as opposed to alphabetic text. For example, a totally different message is sent when a clip is focused on for a length of time, as opposed to being shuffled into a more choppy sequence of multiple clips. The same images are shown, but the length of time demands attention. The viewer’s eyes don’t scan over the clip the way they do when reading something quickly; the viewer is forced to focus on the intended clip. This clip, then, has meaning based upon the amount of time spent on it in relationship to the other clips, what other clips are cut to and from before and after this specific clip, and its location in time with the song.

Using music in conjunction with the images added so much more to my ability to compose. In a song, there are already enough variables that create mutiple layers of meaning. Composers use of certain cadences evoke certain ideas (for example, in most popular music, ending a song with movement from the dominant (V) chord to the root (I) chord (the “authentic cadence”) is considered a feeling of “completion,” while ending a song the opposite way, with a half cadence (I to V) is evocative of a question because it does not sound final. All of this happens in the movement from one chord to the other. It is a very short amount of time, maybe just a few seconds, and it changes the entire meaning of the end of the song. I took a lot of theory classes when I was younger, and composing the simplest, one page 4 voice piece took forever to perfect. Take into account that most “popular” songs are generally 3 to 5 minutes long, and have so many variables (time, key) that changing the way that the song is performed or even the lyrical content can result in millions of possibilites for one specific song.

The intricacies of a song become even more complex when coupled with images. An artist may intend to convey one message when composing a song, but the introduction of video clips can underscore meanings that were perhaps already present in the song, but not as prevelant. It can alter meaning altogether, as well, and create new forms of meaning in the song. The lyrics, written in a traditional meaning, become almost elastic as they stretch to fit the meaning of the video. They can become important because they are juxtaposed with images that contrast their meaning, or they can echo the sentiments presented in the video clips that accompany them. Because I did not compose the song I used, I had to slightly alter the meaning of it based upon my choice of video clips.

Part of what else amazed me about composing with video was that I did not create any of the pieces myself. I didn’t need to. Usually, I would feel strange about this. Even in my collage work, I felt as if I some of the pieces needed to be created by me, otherwise it was not completely “mine.” However, while creating this video, I did not need to create every piece of video or the music I included to create meaning. I altered their existing meanings and created a new meaning through my choices in combination, by mashing them up. I guess, in a way, that this is similar to all other types of composition. I have never made up words, musical notes, or the subjects I take pictures of. The creation comes from arrangement. Composition is not about genesis, or written text specifically, but instead based upon choice. It returns to a concept that we explored last semester in Writing for Electronic Communities (#wecf11)- “what is writing?” We (the group I had worked with) had deduced that writing was a “’visual code’ for thought,” (“visual code” borrowed from Winsor (2008)), a way to communicate ideas, whether it be through text messages, status updates, or uploads of images.To communicate or write effectively, however, is dictated by the choices we make in order to convey those thoughts. Remix has changed the way I look at composition, which is now, to me, a two part process. First is the internal- the thought, the idea itself. The externalization of the idea, the communication of the idea, and how effectively that is done is the result of the deliberate choices of the composer.

What I am doing in this remix:

I chose Built to Spill’s “Liar,” a reflective song that contains movement (in the form of rhythm and guitar hooks), but is not loud, and features “clean” guitar, rather than anything overly distorted.

The first 20 seconds of the song have no percussion and move very slowly. Here, I chose to first feature tv channels changing quickly, and then extremely meditative clips- the sun passing over a house and a young girl examining a crayon, which then focuses on her eye and the crayon. The tv channels are meant to explain that idea consumption (in this case, the “ideas” are the tv shows) are moved through very quickly. This is juxtaposed with the image of the sun moving over the house (to represent the passage of time) and the young girl, because the girl is appreciating an idea in depth over a length of time.

When the rest of the song comes in, I incorporate a lot of clips of factories and goods being mass-produced. The crayons reappear, this time in the factory where there are many of them, as well as light bulbs, beakers, and an automatic knitter. I wanted this to show that ideas are being created very quickly (which is not necessarily a bad thing). I also added in the boy with the red balloon because he mimics the same innocence as the girl with the crayon in the beginning. These children are not creating idea after idea, and instead enjoying the one that they have. This is in the middle of all of the “creation of ideas” clips to remind the viewer that it is still possible to hold on to an idea, even though there are many different ones being created in our culture.

I also chose archival clips from a film called “Refuse Problem,” which shows how American’s constant purchasing and consumption of food creates more waste. From this video, I took images of a woman purchasing food items from a store at a fast pace, in order to reinforce the idea that the “ideas” being created in the factories were to be “consumed.” “Refuse Problem” also yielded great clips of excess food being disposed of in garbage cans that get bigger each time they are shown. I used these clips in between those of the “creation” clips as well, because they show what is to happen to the ideas and creations that make up our culture.

At the transition into the chorus, there is a clip of the red balloon from earlier being popped. The clip is supposed to represent that the rest of the world is not receiving and processing the “idea” of the balloon thoroughly, or giving it the time it deserves. The remix then moves on to different images of landfills. Some are from the archival footage, while one is of a landfill where old computer monitors and other technologies are burning.

While I do understand the remix is “nonlinear” in most ways, I also kept in mind that “each piece of video footage must also operate syntagmatically — i.e., the footage will eventually be read in a linear fashion as the footage is literally ‘strung together'” (Edwards & Tryon, 2009). I was very careful to introduce ideas in a way that made sense. For example, I introduce the boy with the red balloon first, and then the image of the balloon being popped. If the balloon had not been introduced as something “significant,” it would not mattered as much to the viewer that it had been popped. The balloons returns later on in the video as well, to further cement their importance. They appear again, first, as a number of colorful balloons, representative of one being able to embrace many ideas without the ideas becoming repetitive (they are varied in color) and with the proper amount of time dedicated to each one (the clip is slowed down, and the balloons are displayed at a quiet point in the song.) The last “linear” clip of the balloons is displayed at the very end, when the boy who had had the red balloon is happily playing with all of the balloons and floats away. The “floating away” when all of the balloons come together is a positive result of being able to embrace and combine many ideas. It shows what happens to culture when ideas are focused on and not disposed of- culture moves places. It grows and changes.

The significance of the boy with the red balloon, is strengthened through the repeated clips of the teens from “The Virgin Suicides” and the girl with the crayon. The clips are meant to come together to represent a greater idea of innocence and respect for ideas. The teenagers are listening to records over the phone, “experiencing” a song. Today, the record itself could be considered more “cumbersome” than a portable iPod, or streaming the song online. A record, however, is representative of the song itself. It is a tangible representation of music. Not only are the teenagers listening to records, they are doing so over the phone, which shows that they are taking time to give the experience of a song to each other. The record and phone show that the song, a type of idea, has greater meaning to the teenagers in the clip, and is not simply streamed and disposed of after listening.

The girl with the crayon is of similar significance. In the clip she is originally from, she is happily coloring and then begins to imagine where the crayon she is using came from. The clip then shifts to a crayon factory. I changed the meaning of the crayon factory by juxtaposing it with the images of the other factories and the landfills. The factory becomes a mass producer of crayons, so that crayons have no value. The girl featured in the beginning becomes more important because she continues to color with a single crayon that matters to her.

Works Cited
Edwards, R., and Tryon, C. (2009). Political video mashups as allegories of citizen empowerment. First Monday, 14(10).
Winsor, D. (1992). What counts as writing? an argument from engineers’ practice. JAC Online Journal, 12(2).

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This entry was written by picturesofmeghan and published on May 6, 2012 at 11:19 pm. It’s filed under Mashup, meghan's posts, Remix, rproj. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “‘the disposable nature of culture’: a remix

  1. Wonderful, Meghan! I love how you’ve incorporated the split screens from the Virgin Suicides in the end. Excellent reflections, as well. I’m going to ask future students to map out their songs as you indicated you’ve done. (I don’t see Winsor cited in the text. Did it get left out?)

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