Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Renewable Tradition II

In the essay In My Own Recognizance, Ronald Sukenick writes:
Collage and cutup are ways of interrupting the continuity of the controlling discourse - mosaic is a way of renewing discourse.
Was he being axiomatic?

Remixologists absolutely love remixing axiomatic truths. We look at it as an alchemy of emotions extracted into the "truth serum of the moment" (what did I just say?).

If I were to remix the above, on the fly I would write:
Remixology is a (de)constructive way of intervening or hacking into the transmission of traditional media discourse and empowers artists to renew all discourse.
Sukenick's reference to the "cut-up" method above reminds me of Burroughs in an interview from the book The Job:
You can cut the mutter line of the mass media and put altered mutter line out in the streets with a tape recorder [...] For example, prepare cut/ups of the ugliest reactionary statements you can find and surround them with the ugliest pictures. Now give it the drool, slobber, animal-noise treatment and put it out on the mutter line with recorders [...] An article in New Scientist June 4, 1970, page 470, titled "Electronic Arts of Noncommunication" by Richard C. French gives the clue for more precise technical instructions.
(New Scientist, I would like you to meet Contemporary Remixologist. "Discuss among yourselves...")

Spurred on by the article mentioned above, Burroughs uses his own voice as source material for an on-the-fly remixological method that will crack language wide open so that it can spill its demon leakage and the artist-writer, moving with Bruce Lee styled forward momentum, can storm the reality studio. Burroughs's version of remixology is meant to hack the propaganda machine that churns out deterministic language patterns, produces complacency, and encourages slavish behavior toward the Master Authoritarians feeding us their oligarchic dreck from the "end of that long newspaper spoon" (now modified into everything from Faux News Channel to Facebook Fakeout Culture).

Burroughs demonstrates to us how he plays the pre-Internet remixologist circa 1960:
[...] I took a short passage of my recorded voice and cut it into intervals of one twenty-fourth of a second on movie tape -- (movie tape is larger and easier to splice) -- and rearranged the order of the 24th second intervals of recorded speech. The original words are quite unintelligible but new words emerge. The voice is still there and you can immediately recognize the speaker. Also the tone of voice remains. If the tone is friendly, hostile, sexual, poetic, sarcastic, lifeless, despairing, this will be apparent in the altered sequence.
American Pragmatism at its best. An embodied praxis where the vocal intonations of the artist are used as source material to discover new facts (It was Burroughs who once riffed "A paranoid is someone who has all the facts at their disposal.")

Burroughs eventually calls this kind of cut/up audio-writing experiment scrambling. The DJ scratches, The VJ scrubs, the net artist /computer programmer hacks, and the literary provocateur Burroughs, back in the 60s, scrambles. Source Material Everywhere. Burroughs: "Pick a card, any card."

Burroughs then charts out an imaginary large festival of scramblers working with A/V devices who would hack into entertainment products since "in fact entertainment is the most promising field for cut/up techniques. Imagine a pop festival like Phun City..." and before you know it, he's drawing up a blueprint for a live A/V Hackfest that "lays down a grid of sound over the whole festival." The jam session would not be with a list of performers on stage playing before the crowd. In Burroughs festival, the crowd of players itself would be the event and it would take place ad hoc in this massive field of play (literally "car park, a camping area, a rock auditorium, a village with booths and cinema, a large wooded area."). Everyone would be equipped with tape players, video recorders, prepared and unprepared source material, projection screens, etc.

Fast-forward to 2007 and Burroughs' Phun City Project is already happening in Virtual Reality Land via mash-up culture and under the guise of freeform remixology that leads to the creation of postproduction artworks that are now being released over the networks by the digital personas who create them. And that brings us back to scratch one, that is: "How does a contemporary remixologist create measurable value so that one style of scramble/cutup/mash-up attracts more lucre? Or does value in this instance have nothing to do with lucre? Is it more about remixological potential, that is, is the work's value to be found in the amount of remixological material it lends itself to? (Lends itself to what? Which would lead to what? Self-doubt or self-debt?) Could the value be found in the prophetic qualities of the performance? Or is prophecy mediumistic and if that's the case, what's more mediumistic, the artist that remixes or the medium that performs a function? One in the same? (Self-doubt / self-debt -- but don't think about it, just play it as it lays, as long as it feels write).

That is to say, (borrowing lingo from the jazz scene) -- how do you account for remixological chops?

In a recent post, I touched upon the phenomenon known as economy of motion:
"Grounding out" is part of daily practice and, in my case, I try to perform my version of "physical well-being" with as little waste as possible. This means I must sustain my optimum "economy of motion" -- something athletes, particularly runners, are aware of, as is Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee. Interestingly enough, though, it's damn near impossible to physically train yourself to ground out with optimum economy of motion (unless you're Lance Armstrong in which case you can improve your efficiency 1% a year over seven years). In general, fluid economy of motion is most likely something that you are born with, the with in this case being not just physical advantage but possibly intuitive or unconscious advantage too (though that's just my projection -- there is no scientific data available to prove the point).


Moving or remixologically inhabiting narrative space within an economy of motion is moving away from what's always gaining on you. In an ideal world, how you move (how you remix your body-image) will translate into measurable value.
But using something like the economy of motion to measure the value of different remixological styles is still a science in development. Sukenick, for example, spent the last years of his life suffering from inclusion body myositis. He was virtually unable to move, and yet he continued to defy death by talking to his computer. His computer was loaded with voice-recognition software and as he would improvise his story by speaking slowly and softly into the microphone, the machine would translate his spoken words as best it could. He would watch the words "move" on screen and every now and then the machine would put the wrong word up. He would just keep "moving" with it and riff on the error as if it were a live jazz set, seeing where the supposed miscue could (re)direct him. These last stories he wrote ("Running on Empty," "77," etc.) were like dropping hallucinogenic word bombs from a place beyond this life we are all familiar with and were doing things stylistically that were part Ron on his feet and part Ron frozen in immobility. In his final novel, Last Fall, a memoir-fiction that remixes his emotional response to the attacks of 9-11 that happened right outside the window to his 26th floor apartment in Battery Park City, the fluid persona that narrates the story speaks of the inability to "experience coincidence." Translation: the electrical potential in his creative unconscious is still flaring, sending a signal that anticipates the present so that an instantaneous movement will coincide with the electrical charge spurred inside the brain -- but the body does not respond, and so what we normally take for granted as body-timing (and intuitive forms of movement like proprioception) become impossible to experience. For example, I don't even have to think about typing these keys on my laptop as I "zone-out" and compose my next entry. My creative unconscious does this for me and the body responds. It's a kind of postproduction luxury, something that is built-in or comes with my operating system. But for Sukenick, toward the end of his life, this was not the case at all. The unconscious signal to twitter fingers over a magic keyboard so as to remix emotional alchemy in the form of innovative fiction or daring narratological rhetoric was no longer working. In his novel, he refers to this as no longer being able to experience coincidence.

The idea of "co-" as a necessary prefix, one that informs all acts of creative composition, is at the heart of remixology (for another literary precursor who also tapped into this emerging "element of style," see Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch and his idea of the reader as a co-conspirator). When we think of "co-" we think of "together; joint; jointly; mutually: Partner or associate in an activity." In Sukenick's case, and this would be worth studying from a variety of interdisciplinary angles, when it comes to his persona's inability to "experience coincidence," who is the partner that is no longer participating in the creative activity, and who is the partner that is, against all odds, attempting to hack the system?

Sukenick, from the same essay above:
Gone is the aura of elite snobbism that once surrounded the avant-garde. Instead of a movement the avant-garde has become a matter of idiosyncratic practitioners interested in innovation.

You can't dictate style. What would the right style be?
Perhaps measuring the value of different remixological styles has something to do with context. In addition to foregrounding the necessity of employing the sensory illogic of "co-" into new media writing strategies, an emerging "elements of style" for electronic writing would also need to take into account various media contexts which would then ironically reveal how fluid these "electronic elements" really are, especially when compared to the fixed apparatus we generally associate with print literacy. Contemporary remixological practice is a creative space where the sensory illogic of "co-" rules and an efflorescence of styles blooms, where the radical departure from writing about something to writing with something comes to the fore and challenges everything we know about more traditional scholarly and literary text productions. Print works from the likes of Lautréamont, Jacques Derrida, Raymond Federman, Kathy Acker, Julio Cortazar, Madeline Gins, and Sukenick, to name just a few, anticipate the coming of the writerly "co-" (and in saying "writerly" I am reminded of Barthes too, who I now "co-produce" that last sentence with). By enabling "co-" to become our primary element of style, we charge the art of remixology to return to "serious writing" of all stripes its (on the verge of being) lost relevance.

But is it really about placing the renewable tradition in its proper media context? There is something about writing in context that agitates me. I immediately feel compelled to ask, "Is there a tyranny of context that overwhelms the historical moment a work gets created in? Ideology aside, what does it mean to succumb to the new media apparatus and embrace ones own poetic intuition while hyperimprovsationally performing acts of multi-media 'writing' over the network? Does not the body itself provide an 'aesthetic context' for the creative work to filter itself through so that it may then locate whatever distribution mechanism the work necessitates for its eventual delivery? If that were true (and who is to say it is? not me!), then how could this 'delivery mechanism' become more of an embedded channeling process that is inmixed with the work itself so that one can no longer separate the one from the other, the creative work from the channel, the filter from the remixologist, the context from the style, the unconscious readiness potential from the act of creativity?"

That is to say, what does it mean to experience coincidence? (Or is it more about "market timing"? Scary thought, but just as likely.)

The list of "co-" postproductions by artists and writers creating with the renewable tradition is long. The novelist and screenwriter Terry Southern took this writing with process to its stylistic extreme when, as a young man, he began literally writing out, by hand, the works of Edgar Allen Poe. For the work Society of the Spectacle (A Digital Remix), the art-collective I belong to, DJRABBI, took Debord's original scrambling of propaganda noise from the days of May 68, and detourned the detour. The Yes Men remixologically inhabited the World Trade Organization website and birthed the site which then fed into many remixological performances (see the The Yes Men movie for their collaborative "cut and paste as you go" methodology).

The renewable tradition is part of an open source lifestyle practice and is available to all. As Burroughs writes:
Cut-ups are for everyone. Anybody can make cut ups. It is experimental in the sense of being something to do. Right here write now.
Sukenick, in his novel 98.6, reformulates the Mosaic law and writes:
The law of mosaics, a way of dealing with parts in the absence of wholes.
Professor VJ also accesses all available source material and seeks out an energy space that renews both cut-up and mosaic, a performative flow of action:
where what’s being conducted “feels write” – as in: I’m feeling my way into writing and in feeling am becoming something altogether different than I was when I was cruising down that last digressionary tract...

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