Overview: Though historically, “remix” has been associated with mashups of audio, referring to alternate versions of songs, “remix” understood as a digital media practice is rhetorical and has important implications on composition pedagogy.
Keywords: Remix, digital environments, sample, mixed media, remix culture, mashups, digital media, participatory, copyright laws, rhetoric of remix, digital argument, remix as method, public sphere, agency, digital remix taxonomy, assemblage, reappropriation, redistribution, genre play, rhetorical situation, exigence
Historical Roots Most familiarity with the term “remix” derives from its initial emergence in the twentieth century within audio/music. The term was coined to describe “the process of making an alternate version of a song by manipulating the tracks contained on the multi-track master” (Borschke 17). However, as the term entered conversations about rhetoric within twenty-first century digital environments, it expanded to describe “a variety of sample-based and digitally manipulated music, video, text, and mixed media” (Borschke 17). Instead of implying deficiency of the original, remix in any form speaks “to the changing and evolving needs of dynamic systems…[as it is] an innovation in art, science, and pedagogy, and it is crucial that we are willing to remix what we created and/or inherited” (Ladson-Billings 76). Lev Manovich marks the turn of the century as the moment when people began to acknowledge and apply the term ‘remix’ in “other media besides music: visual projects, software, literary texts” (3). In 2007, he asserted that “we live in a ‘remix culture,’” tracing how the introduction of electronic music, pop visual culture (i.e. music videos), and software built a foundation for the World Wide Web to immerse us in a culture of remixes, previously referred to as “mashups” (Manovich 1, 5).
Theoretical Grounding Scholars in current conversations about remix often ground their work in or respond to Lawrence Lessig’s 2008 book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, in which he defines remix as “a digital media practice and expression made by copying, editing, and recombining pre-existing digital media” (Borschke 17). Commonly considered the scholar behind “remix culture,” despite its origins in prior conversations and practices, Lessig theorizes remix as “a form of individual expression… [as well as] a participatory mode of communication” (Borschke 17). His defense of remix is inspired by copyright wars, wars he does “not believe we should be waging,” in his realization that antiquated copyright laws criminalize and regulate freedom of expression within the rising practices of remix (Lessig xvi). To Lessig, remix is a “new old thing,” and he explains remix’s expanded definition as “referring to any reworking of already existing cultural work(s)” (Borschke 18; Manovich 2). Though Lessig sees remix as a tool affecting present generations, other scholarly works find origins and definitions of remix in historical examples too. For example, through Borschke’s rethinking of the rhetoric of remix, she proves its “long-standing contribution of use and users to media innovation and creativity,” shining a positive light on those who “dare to use their culture by reproducing it,” and extends Lessig’s notion that remix “is neither new nor digital” (24). Defining and recognizing remix in this diverse, inclusive way has opened doors for acknowledging its historical use outside of this generation’s digital world.
Application/Praxis Since broadening its definition to better represent both its current and historical use, a key move among composition scholars has been to situate remix in a rhetorical framework—that is, to try to understand the rhetoric of remix in our remix culture. Recent scholarly work has “positioned remix—as a concept, as a practice, as a genre, as a method—in wide and varied ways” (Edwards 42). For example, Virginia Kuhn’s “The Rhetoric of Remix” does not seek to theorize remix definitively, but rather “proposes a method for examining it as a digital argument” which along with other scholars’ representations, gives remix the ability to “make arguments, solve problems,and effect social change” (Kuhn 1.3; Edwards 42). In this positioning of remix as a method, Kuhn defines remix as “a digital utterance expressed across the registers of the verbal, the aural, and the visual” so that it can serve as “a form of digital argument that is crucial to the functioning of a vital public sphere” (1.5). Through this idea of remix as a method for digital argument, Kuhn hopes to establish agency and “make room for voices too often silenced” because they fall outside the categories of current remix theory by advocating for a digital remix taxonomy (3.4). Kuhn also recognizes the transformative nature of remix practices even though “the theory and history of remix is still the stuff of written texts” (5.3). Overall, Kuhn concludes that we must pay “careful attention to the way we name and theorize [remix,] for these acts also shape the digital discursive field and dictate whose stories get told and who is authorized to speak” (5.3).
These new understandings of remix’s power and history in composition are the exact notions that encouraged Dustin Edwards to develop a typology, by “outlining four varieties of remix--assemblage, reappropriation, redistribution, and genre play” to respond to our need to better understand and approach remix as a, if not ‘the,’ composing practice of the digital age (42). Proceeding from arguments made by Lessig and Kuhn, Edwards defines the practice of remix—"cutting, stitching, merging, and redeploying texts from one’s culture”—as something that is not new; he frames remix rhetorically by imagining the concept of imitation in the digital age, which can be used “as a pliable framework for understanding the rhetorical significance” (43). His typology is beneficial to another key scholarly conversation regarding remix: the implications of these new understandings of remix in rhetoric and composition on composition pedagogy and further research.
Implications Current conversations regarding the implications of the rhetoric of remix, and a necessary consideration for future composition research, must ask: how do we address remix with our future students? Taken together, the productive and pedagogical needs of remix require a theoretical framework, but a conclusive one remains impossible. Positioning remix rhetorically, however, provides students with a situation to which they can respond and helps them develop exigence and process as composers, and Edwards’ typology lends itself to how we make those rhetorical decisions (51). Defining and theorizing remix is an evolving process with implications for composition practices and pedagogy. Moving forward, as remix continues to transform practices of composition and digital rhetoric, compositionists must continue working toward a historical and theoretical understanding of remix by not only considering the meaning of remix, but more importantly, its uses (Manovich 7; Borschke 24). Only if we can continue to apply and understand remix in new ways can we attempt to consider what the future of remix at the turn of the next century or era may hold.
Borschke, Margie. "Rethinking the Rhetoric of Remix." Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 141, 2011, p. 17, www.journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1329878X1114100104?journalCode=miad.
Edwards, Dustin W. "Framing Remix Rhetorically: Toward a Typology of Transformative Work." Computers and Composition, vol. 39, 2016, pp. 41-54, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S875546151500095X.
Kuhn, Virginia. "The Rhetoric of Remix." Transformative Works and Cultures, vol. 9, 2012, journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/358.
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 84, no. 1, 2014, pp. 74-84, www.eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1034303.
Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Penguin Books, 2008.
Manovich, Lev. "What Comes After Remix." Remix Theory, 2007, www.remixtheory.net/?p=169.