Rethinking the Digital Remix: Mashups and the Metaphysics of Sound Recording
Critical evaluations of audio mash-ups and remixes tend to congregate around two poles. On the one hand, these often clever recombinations of recorded music are celebrated as innovative and creative interventions in the material of bland commodity culture. On the other hand, they are often reviled as derivative, inauthentic, and illegal because they do nothing more than appropriate and reconfigure the intellectual property of others. This essay does not side with either position but identifies and critiques the common understanding and fundamental assumptions that make these two, opposed positions possible in the first place. The investigation of this matter is divided into two main parts. The first considers the traditional understanding of technologically enabled reproduction and the often unquestioned value it invests in the concept of originality. It does so by beginning with a somewhat unlikely source, Plato's Phaedrus—a dialogue that, it is argued, originally articulates the original concept of originality that both determines and is reproduced in the theories and practices of sound recording. The second part of the essay demonstrates how the audio mash-up deliberately intervenes in this tradition, advancing a fundamental challenge to the original understanding and privilege of originality. In making this argument, however, the essay does not endeavor to position the mash-up as anything unique or innovative. Instead, it demonstrates how mash-ups, true to their thoroughly derivative nature, plunder, reuse, and remix anomalies that are already available in and constitutive of recorded music.