Remixing is Nothing New – And it’s always been Acceptable too

Watching Kirby Fergueson’s ‘Everything is a Remix‘, as well as his other videos, and reading Lessig’s book ‘Free Culture‘, one points seems to come up time and time again. Creators have always borrowed, or outright stolen from the ideas of others. Many of Ferguson’s suggestions came from musicians in the 1960s, and refer to cases where one musician has tried to sue another for copyright of the original work.

This reminded me of a lecture I had on popular music in my first year of my music degree. Our lecturer (the wonderful Tony Bennett) was an expert in Broadside Ballads of the 18th/19th Century. These were the popular songs of the time, written and distributed on songsheets for people to sing along to as home entertainment. Here’s an example of one.

Picture ‘Radical party election ballad, Glasgow, 1837’ from Glasgow University Library Special Collections Department http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/ephemera/political.html

The songsheet only contains the words – after all, most people couldn’t read music. Instead of trying to provide a new tune, the composer has used an older tune (“Blithe, Blithe and Happy are we”) which audiences would be familiar with, and written newer, and in this case more politically and culturally relevant words. This practice was extremely common, as it allowed Ballad writers to churn out literally hundreds of songs in a short space of time, which would have their day and then be replaced by a new popular song, which might be based on the same tune.

There are two notable things here – one is that in the 18th/19th century there were no copyright laws to prevent this. However the introduction of enforced copyright on music doesn’t seem to have had any check on music ‘stealing’ – plus parody of a song (so keeping the original music but changing the words) generally comes under the definition of ‘fair use’, so copyright doesn’t apply.

The other is that ‘Remixing’, that is, not stealing another’s work, or taking influences and inspirations from it to create your own, but clearly changing another piece of work, while owning up to it, has always been a big part of entertainment and art. As I pointed out before, it is common practice, people even come to expect it. I agree with the point made by Simon Reynolds in his article “You are Not a Switch: Recreativity and the Dismissal of Modern Genius”. Remixing has not replaced creativity and originality, instead it stands side-by-side with it as it always has done.

There are no ‘Bad’ Sounds…

…Only Inappropriate ones

I’ve been thinking a bit about audio quality lately, as I’ll shortly be doing quite a lot of recording for my audio applications module, and in particular about what makes a recording ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The ‘bad’ parts of recording of obvious – sounds that are too quiet, or distorted or have the dreaded ‘clip’. When I started learning about recording in the second year of my undergraduate degree, these were all big no nos. But then I started studying electro-acoustic music, which had entirely differently philosophy. In electro-acoustic music, every sound can have merit in the right context. For example, the sounds of clipping, used in the right way, result in this.

I’ve made a habit of keeping every sound I create, whether or not I needed it at the time. In my sound library I’ve got bangs on microphones, moments of white noise, ear-piercing squeals (usually from overloading pd patches).

Of course, these sounds aren’t pleasant on the ear, but in the field of sound effects, which I’ve doing a lot of lately, sometimes you need a sound to make the audience jump, or wince. Even if the sounds you’ve collected aren’t of high enough quality to be used, at the least they can serve as a guide for what you actually want.

So next time you make a sound that sounds terrible, maybe don’t press the delete button. It might not be the right sound for that moment, but it doesn’t make it a ‘wrong sound’.

In other (vaguely related) news, Adrian Moore and Dave Moore from The University of Sheffield have recently produced a free book called ‘Sonic Art: Recipes and Reasonings’ about how they create Electro-acoustic music. You can download it here, and while I am of course totally biased towards my former lecturers it is a great book!

Remix Style- Some Views on how Remix Culture has developed into High End Content

In the past week, we’ve been discussing Remix Culture in Social Technologies- how it’s now common practice to take established content (songs, videos etc.) and change it, or adapt it for homages/parodies.

I thought about this, and realised a good recent example would be the hit song by Korean pop Artist Psy- Gangnam Style.

Gangnam Style became popular in the UK via the the spread of the accompanying video via YouTube. As soon as the song became big, without looking for them I started noticing covers, new versions of the video etc, that were posted to the various websites and social platforms I use.

Here’s an example of a new version of the video that started appearing on multiple sites right after the song got big – ‘Oppan Navy Style.’ This version, a parody of the song called ‘Aussie Battler Style‘, was sent to me by a friend in Australia about two days later. And this one, which creates both a parody of the song and the video ‘Eton Style‘, has appeared repeatedly on my Facebook news feed in the past few days.

While there are probably thousands of new version of Gangnam Style on YouTube, these three are notable in that a lot of work has gone into this – people have spent time planning, choreographing and editing videos, writing and recording new lyrics etc. These are not big professional companies doing this, just groups of people with shared enthusiasm. And the enthusiasm and attention to detail has paid off, these are highly viewed videos.

Why do people do this? Well, you could be cynical and say that it is for the money (YouTube pays users who create videos with big views) or for the 15 minutes of fame. But then you consider how quickly popularity comes and goes online. In a few weeks, there will be a new big video with it’s own homages and parodies, and no-one will remember ‘Eton Style’ or ‘Navy Style’. I’d like to think people are really doing this for the fun of it. For the fun of using technology that’s now readily available to make the videos, and the excitement of knowing how many other people are watching it, spreading it and enjoying it. It must be kind of a rush to do that, even if it’s a once only thing.

I won’t be able to blog for a few days now (hence this weekend’s splurge) but when I get back, I’ll be watching Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson, and seeing whether his views on Remix culture change my own or confirm them.

The Perils and Pitfalls of Home Recording

During yesterday’s spotting section for ‘The Elephant’s Dream’ (see this blog post), a discussion of one particular sound effect came up several times – a typewriting robot which appears in the first scene of the clip. Two of our group, Rob and Paul, had found sounds in several sound libraries, but we agreed that it would be great to get our own typewriter, and I was pretty sure I knew where to find one…

Several phone calls and a day later I was hauling a large covered monstrosity from under my Grandmother’s spare bed. Ideally I would have loved to bring this to the University Studios to record in one of the live rooms, but it was soon clear that this wasn’t a option. The machine appeared to be made of solid cast iron and just getting it to the car was difficult. This was going to have to be recorded at home.

Although my current recording equipment is good enough, I soon ran into problems with actually setting it up. My PC and I live in a rather cramped room where it is hard to block out the hum of the computer fan, so I made the landing my ‘live room’. This meant a lot of running back and forth between microphone and computer to check levels (there is nothing worse than spending several minutes thinking you are making a great recording only to find that it has clipped horribly, or isn’t there at all), but probably due to sheer luck most of the sound came out fine. I experimented with mic positions, finding that they made a massive difference, and in the end I had a lot of fun, though bashing away at an old-fashioned typewriter is surprisingly hard – hooray for modern keyboards!

The biggest problem I had, (once I had solved the issues of noisy plumbing and inquisitive pets) came when I started to set up my microphone… and realised that I didn’t actually have a boom mic stand, just a normal upright stand. This had never been an issue before, but then I’d never really had to mic something closely on the floor before. I considered putting the typewriter on a chair, but I’d already dropped it on my foot once and didn’t wish to injure myself further. Makeshift measures were called for, as shown in this picture.

Makeshift boom – propping up the mic stand on a stack on books, then taping the cable so the microphone stayed in place.

I think I’ve learned a lot from this experience, mostly that I need a new mic stand, but also that with the right preparation I can potentially do a lot with my home set up, (the room sound didn’t make half as much difference as I expected) and I will probably continue experimenting. If I have a day to myself, I’ll move my PC downstairs. I have the feeling my house’s entrance hall might be a great recording space!

Lastly, a quick question for any audio experts out there. My Behringer Xynex 1202 mixer carries a warning that after switching off phantom power, the mixer should be left for a minute or so before unplugging the microphones. I’ve always dutifully followed this, but I’ve never heard it mentioned when working with bigger mixers. Is this a peculiarity of this mixer, or is it a good general rule to follow?

Followup to ‘Audio Post-Production Project- First Thoughts’. The Spotting Session

Yesterday my group met to discuss the film clip we had been given for our Audio Postproduction project, and to ‘spot’ the film, to go through it and figure out where the sounds should be going.

Throughout the week some of the people had already done great work with the film clip, putting together a sample audio track of sounds, particularly atmospheric sounds (‘atmos’) and also a cue sheet of points for sound effects.

Spotting Session in progress

One thing we needed to do was put together a list of foley points. Foley is defined by filmsound.org as ‘A sound effects technique for synchronous effects or live effects’ (there are more details in that link). Basically, rather than general sound effects, such as bird sound in a forest scene, it is sounds that are linked up directly to an onscreen action, such as footsteps. To be convincing, these need to be synchronised down to the exact frame, so we needed to go through the film slowly and carefully to find each point. Software such as Protools can record exact timings, but for some parts of the film we made our own list.

Here’s a sample of our cue list

0.0.16.19 Proog slaps Emo’s hands.

0.0.19.13 Emo backwards footstep.

0.0.22.13 arm movements Emo.

0.0.23.16 Proog picks up phone

0.0.33.0 Slams phone down

The timings are written hours:minutes:seconds:frames. The film is running at 25 frames/second.

Once this was done we discussed exactly what props would be needed for each scene – heavy objects, clothes etc. so that we could fix a date for recording these in the studio. We also discussed some sounds that might be harder to come by – one of these I will be discussing in my next post…

The Internet and Anonymity

These are some thoughts I wanted to share after reading this post about mIRCs and the creation of anonymous online identities, which was then briefly discussed in a Social Technologies lecture last week. Our lecturer mentioned that this was becoming less common online due to sites such as Facebook/Twitter which encourage authenticity. This creates a culture of people being more open online.
However I believe there are still cases of people adopting online personas in the world of online gaming, even outside of MMO games where a fictional avatar and role play aspects are encouraged (or deliberate RP forums and IRCs such as Gaia.) The nicknames adopted for online gaming are often carried on into related areas such as forums, until several different networks may know and recognise you by this name. Even people whom you have revealed your real name to might prefer to call you by your IGN (in-game name) or ‘handle.’

I’ve recently finished reading ‘Psychology of the Internet’ by Patricia Wallace, which explores the rise of online culture. One phenomena she highlighted is the loss of inhibition when talking under a nickname, which an lead to what she calls ‘extreme reactions’. Although the book was written over a decade ago one problem in online gaming which has become a very hot topic of late, a culture of institutionalised sexism which is only just being researched by people such as Anita Sarkeesian. This is something I’ve occasionally experienced, (I wonder if it is caused by the ‘group culture’ effects explained in Wallace’s book; much like peer bullying in children, people feel it is okay because ‘others do it’.) I should also mention that the not very gender specific handle I use for online gaming causes most people to assume I am male, even though in smaller communities with their own servers I am rarely participating in a particularly male-dominated culture.

Update on my Uncanny Valley Research and thoughts

I actually wrote today’s posts several days ago, but between an exciting but time-consuming video-editing job over the weekend followed by illness I haven’t had time to rewrite them properly and post them, so here goes.

I’ve been continuing with research on The Uncanny Valley, whilst David and I start to put together an appropriate survey on the subject, and I’ve turned up a fair amount of interesting information. Some books that I have read on animation only describe the concept in passing, and suggest that the only way around it is to create models with obviously cartoon-like features. While this does solve the problem it doesn’t advance animation as a field any.

Many articles describe a completely human appearance as the ‘holy grail’ of animation, and several techniques such as the Emily Project have attempted to overcome this using facial motion capture. (The process is explained here.) Others have gone for a hyper realism effect, which isn’t realist but is detailed enough to transcend the Uncanny dip and would probably be placed somewhere on the upward curve (This is just a guess, though I would like to use some examples in the survey and see what people think.) A good example is this demo clip ‘Agni’s Philosophy’ shown by Animation/Game company Square Enix at E3 2012.

I showed this clip to some of my family, and for the first few scenes of the short film they were convinced that it was live-action.
It shows what animation (especially for games) will be like in 5-6 years time, perhaps, though at present this kind of level probably won’t be possible due to the constraints of technology and the time needed to build this.