This past week, I romped through Mark Amerika’s newest book Remixthebook (Minneapolis 2011). As with his previous non-fiction-ish offerings, this book defied categorizing and description. I was mostly a meditation on his creative process taking as a point of departure his creative work as a performance VJ, as an author, and as a critic. He focused primarily on the links between creativity and the work of remixing our lived worlds. His argument, laced through a complex, poetic text, is that to be alive, creative, and conscious is to exist in a constant flow of spontaneous, post-production remixing. As his definition of creativity expands and his understanding of remixing grows more ragged, the lived, creative, and performative become a blur and increasingly stand in for reality.
As archaeologists, we are in a constant state of remixing. Even the most basic archaeological arguments require us to move between times (the present and the past, relative and absolute dates, stratigraphy and periodization), move between media (ceramics, architecture, lithics, texts, digital data, images, maps, plans), move between voices (the art historian, the historian, the scientist, the critic, and the skeptic), and move between genres (narrative, analysis, catalogue, data). Our work flow is punctuated by the constant shifting between software, media (of different shapes, sizes, genre, forms), and our own creative output. Archaeological work is a process of constantly performing and remixing bits (both in the traditional sense and increasingly the digital sense) into new objects that present themselves for remixing.
1. This next week, Amy Papalexandrou has asked me to help her produce a 20 page synthetic, interpretative text for an exhibit catalog for an upcoming exhibit at the Princeton Art Museum -City of Gold: The Archaeology of Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus. Our short paper will look at the Late Antique to Medieval city and remix over 30 years of archaeological work, the physical objects present at Princeton, and our most recent research at the site (which is itself the remixing of finds, notebooks, architecture, past-texts, and archaeological method to perform new arguments and new syntheses). In our somewhat-harried correspondence, we took as points of departure an inscription, a short-video I narrated on site, and our most recent research. It goes without saying that the previous scholarship on the site forms a persistent backing track for our remix.
More importantly, we are writing a text that is designed for an informed and interest public, rather than a professional group of scholars, students, or researchers. So while our source material will – more or less – be the same as any other production of our site, our audience will be a bit different. The remix has context and responds to its environment.
2. I’ve been working with a small group of students to produce a public, digital history exhibit on the 50th Anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library (which is the main library on campus here). The students are busy pulling together photographs, texts, documents, and other objects from the university archives. They are also working on how to integrate these objects across a range of digital media – a blog, a Twitter feed, an Omeka.net page, and a Flickr account – and to narrate using these objects across these various spaces. While the source base for our remix is not so different from that confronting any scholar looking to produce historical analysis, the output of our work is quite different. We are intentionally distributing our remix across multiple media and thinking actively how our remixes (as a team and as individuals) will be unique to our audience.
In the context of our work with the library, we’re following Amerika’s lead by using the context of remix to join the work of the “authors” with the work of the audience. By preserving (re-producing?) some of the fragmented state of the original media (individual texts, documents, objects), we attempt to entice people to remix our material in new ways. We’ve performed the initial act of selection and become partners in the conversation.
3. In an effort to think more radically about the notion of remixing, I’ve begun a conversation with Tim Pasch – a computer guru type in Communications at the University of North Dakota. We both have an interest in sound and he records his own, highly-textured digital music. In the course of these conversations, he mentioned software that could translate digital images to sounds. This makes sense, of course, a digital image is a just a gaggle of digital data that could be read by any interface to produce output. The data behind a digital image could be rendered as text, images, sound or almost any medium imaginable via suitable software.
As we chatted about this, I offered to send him raster images from my project in Cyprus and invited him to use images which show the distribution of pottery, the survey grid, or topography and to render them as sounds. We’ve even discusses the potential for capturing sonic landscapes using both microphones, but more radically – capturing images with an explicit eye toward transforming them into sounds. Remixing the landscape would, then, extend beyond simply filtering digital data collected from the landscape and incorporate using the software filters as a lens for primary data collection.