When I was a teenager, I read a story by Orson Scott Card that made a big impression on me. “Unaccompanied Sonata” tells the story of a young prodigy in a future society where talented musicians are isolated and forbidden from listening to the music of others, to prevent their work from becoming derivative.
I don’t want to give too much away, but he rebels, listening to a beautiful piece by Bach. He is forbidden from making music. He does it anyway and is repeatedly punished in horrible ways that ultimately make it impossible for him to make music again. In the end, he becomes part of the very establishment that tormented him so.
I thought of that story when I discovered Everything Is a Remix, a blog about the video series by the same name by New York filmmaker Kirby Ferguson (the one who produced this video about Protect IP, mentioned previously on my blog). The first three videos in the series have been produced and a fourth one is on the way. They can be found on Ferguson’s Vimeo channel as well as Youtube and I recommend them highly. They are fascinating.
The video series points out – very effectively – that very little if any of the entertainment we enjoy is truly “original.” Everything borrows from something else. Movies, music, ideas. And that’s not a bad thing. Bits and pieces of art can recombine and become fresh and new again. I love the old blues music Led Zeppelin ripped off, but I also love Led Zeppelin, can’t imagine what my teenage years would’ve been like without them. Amazing powerful stuff. And much of it purloined.
Same thing with hip hop. That used to be one of my complaints about hip hop before I learned to enjoy it: “It’s just someone talking over someone else’s song.” Sometimes that’s all it is, but in the hands of someone creative, it becomes something much more.
Anybody remember the outlaw album DJ Danger Mouse put out in 2004? He took Jay-Z’s Black Album and mixed it with songs from the Beatles’ White Album, to create The Grey Album. Modern, streetwise rap music, mixed with some of the most beloved classic rock there is. It took off like gangbusters. The studios’ reaction to that very pirate project was predictable. EMI tried like hell to get it off the Internet, even though Paul McCartney and Jay-Z were fine with it, but there was no stopping it. The album went viral and was a very hot topic in the music press for a while.
Something else that will freak you out… Sometime watch Zero Hour, a movie about a plane trip that goes awry when the crew gets sick and a passenger – a washed up, nervous ex-pilot – has to take the controls. Sound familiar? That’s because they borrowed the same exact plot for the comedy Airplane!
Watch the Everything Is a Remix for plenty of other examples. Here is the first installment: