Remix: Art Blooms in an Ecosystem

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I continue to be impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s open collaborative production company, hitRECord, which finished its first season as a television show on the Pivot network last spring and nabbed an Emmy!  You can watch the first episode in its entirety for free on YouTube:

The final episode in the series focused on patterns and remix, and I think the episode was amazing, moving, and  worth discussing in a little more depth here.

But before we delve into the more recent media about remix, think back to Laurence Lessig’s essential TED Talk on “Re-examining the Remix” and his definition of “cultural ecology” (click here to watch). Or you can watch the talk here:

Now watch  the trailer for JGL’s HitRECord episode on remix and patterns:

In the Patterns episode, JGL interviews Jay Smooth about art and remix and the interplay that happens in a creative “ecosystem” (think back to Lessig’s talk and the idea of “cultural ecology”).   Smooth says:

“Any artist creates art by drawing from their influences and inspirations and building those together into a new pattern that’s unique… We create art just like we create life, by combining my genetic pattern with yours to make a new pattern. Art cannot grow in a vacuum; it can only bloom in an ecosystem of other ideas to draw from.”

Art is life.  Patterns repeated in nature are repeated in life and art as well.  Check out Jason Silva’s video for TestTube on repetitive patterns in nature and technology:

In this TED Talk, Kirby Ferguson talks about how everything (creativity, art, life) is a remix because everything has been done before:

from Ferguson’s TED Talk:

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In art or music, when a familiar genetic pattern mutates and becomes a new pattern — let’s say a musician riffs on an older established tune — we have different expressions of art that  are built from what we had before, entirely new.  The familiarity is what hooks us.  The sincerity of the deviations in a new piece of art or story or music is what makes it authentic and unique to us.  Says JGL:

“So if everything is a remix, how can anything be considered original? Maybe the answer is that our idea of originality is a little bit of a myth… like Jay Smooth said: nothing’s created in a vacuum. Everything’s got its predecessors and influences. So for me I try to focus less on originality and more on sincerity. I don’t think it matters so much how many times the story’s been told. What matters is that you really mean it when you tell it again.”

JGL talks to Sean Lennon about “repetition, deviation, and patterns” here:

Kirby Ferguson’s TED Talk and the Patterns episode of HitRecord reminded me to look back at this article in Brainpickings about how even human memory is a creative remix, constantly finding patterns and rewriting them, deviating from one story to create a new one.  Every time the same memory is retrieved, it’s a little bit different, a creative representation rather than a replica of what happened before (the actual event and all past memories of that same event).  In the post, neurologist Oliver Sacks talks about how “indifference to source” material is crucial for memory and creativity.  He seems to touch on the idea of life as a narrative remix that is created by osmosis via the “common mind” in a cultural ecosystem.  Sacks says that:

“Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.”

Sacks speaks of the “common mind” which can be interpreted in many ways, but mostly it makes me think of Lessig’s cultural ecosystems, and the unifying possibilities and creative prospects of the Internet’s global communities (the “common mind and neural networks of the web”).  We have always lived in a world of remix and the web just establishes a growing repository for interactive materials (creative commons), quicker communication to one another, easy access, and connection to others (to harmonize and create together):


In the Patterns episode of HitRECord, street artist Shepard Fairey tells JGL that if “more people are contributing to the creation of culture, the richer the dialogue is, the better it is.”  I then thought of art as an essential dialogue.  The more ideas and expression and variation we have in the culture, the richer it becomes… and we can think of this in a larger context and apply the idea of remix in art to remix-able patterns of ideas that shape and enrich culture.  This recent video by Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers called “Living on the Edge” uses the example of the richness and diversity of overlapping biomes in nature as a metaphor for improving culture in a society that thrives on a wealth and variety of ideas:

This makes me think of repeating patterns in nature, in space, and in us.  Astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s viral “most astounding fact” video is a remix of visual images, voice-over and music… all playing off one another and enhancing the message:

Literally, we have an eye for patterns and we’ve evolved to notice deviations in these patterns, to create them and re-create them.   We’re born from universal patterns.  Scroll down to see the repetitive convergence and the patterns of eyes and nebulas in this community post from Buzzfeed’s The Universe in Us:


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