The practices of re-combination and repetition of pre-existent material that we call remixing, nowadays detached from its musical roots, combined with other apropriative methods, and expanded to image, text and to the combinatory possibilities across all media, is defined, in generic terms, by the creative production based on the actions of cut, copy and paste.
Remix carries within itself values about intellectual property and ethics related to the exchange and sharing of content, experience and expertise. Remixing implies collecting, re-contextualizing by re-combining data and its meanings. In performance, the remixed combination becoms momentariry and ephemeral.
In this text I will trace a parallel between the actions of remixing content/data and actions of hacking technology (hardware) in a way that expresses recombination as a creative process that brings the new to existence. This text is part of a series of ongoing written exercises on live audiovisual performative practices at their intersection with other art practices and other areas of knowledge.
The aim of these exercises is to identify interdisicplinary points of intersection by reflecting on the connections artists establish through their work. With this in mind, each text analyses the work of an artist. Ultimatelly, the texts constitute a whole that evidence of the complex identity that describes live audiovisual performance. Departing from a dialogue with the Portuguese artist André Gonçalves, and through exploring elements implicit in his work, connections will be established between remix culture and hacking as activities of translation.
André Gonçalves develops installations and objects with kinetic properties, and a series of instruments for performances (that are also and simultaneously installations and objects), where sound and light are combined in compositions that result from mutual effect on each other. The concept and title of each work seems to bring to the front a relationship between the complexity of the assemblage and occurences of the everyday life. These are connections of a fragile nature that have curiosity, playfulness and beauty as qualities. Focused on achieving a result that translates an idea or concept into physicality and a sensorial experience, the process of construction by assembling equipment and the re-use of materials, is developed through hybrid combinations between digital and analogic technologies.
Collecting (and archiving), re-using (and experimenting) and making something new from all these activities requires a great sense of curiosity and continual learning. These features describe both the remixer (of any material, as sound and image for example) and the hacker. They are also motor to creative possibilities for both remixing and hacking activities. While remixing has a stronger focus on apropriation of data as source material for sampling, hacking has a more functional aproach of responding to how to achieve the wanted result in the most effective way. Collecting in terms of data and in terms of equipment, is the source of all possibilities. From collecting to combining, through re-using, all imaginary possibilities are open for the new to emerge.
In hacking the new making involves acquisition of several kinds of knowledge: electronics, programming, knowledge of materials (their qualities and combinatory capacities).
Reccuring to past analogical technologies but without taking them out of the original context, the performance Performance for Super 8 Projector and Analog Synthesizer recurs to material qualities of film as source of meaning and seems to remind us, as two synonyms would, of the well known phrase “There is no rewind button for life” of Nam June Paik, himself an artist working with the meaning of the technological materiality (the television, for example). This performance brings a good example of apropriation of materiality in the construction of a new meaning. “Performance for Super 8 Projector…”, presented at MOTA – Museum of Transitory Art, in Ljubljana, and deals with film and its unstable properties.
The performance involves a super 8 projector and a doepfer analog modular synthesizer. The super 8 projector was hacked so that the amplitude of the sound played controls the intensity of the light bulb and also has a manual control for the speed of the projector flickering (which, due to framerate compression, is not visible in the video excerpt). The choice of the fairly distorted sounds played is meant to relate to the real-time destruction of the projected film images.
While the process is similar between Performance for Super 8 Projector… and Zen For Film (1962-64) by Nam June Paik, each performance is defined by separate purposes. While in Nam June Paik’s film, the purpose is constructive: through consecutively looping, the damage provoked by light and dust adds information to the film, in the performance by André Gonçalves the process has a destructive purpose: gradual process of changing the material (film) leads to the destruction of the film and to a conclusion. The process is one with the work, translated into its construcion and in the ability to perfom with it.
The performance develops in several stages, with different burning processes and different sound approaches. The control over the length of the performance is total. I decide the length of each element that constitutes the performance on stage as I feel them. Since this is mostly an analogic process, behavior is always unpredictable. In each performance, unexpected events happen with which I have to deal with right away. Ultimately, this is a system’s behavior, that I control and defines the length of the performance.
The creative process of hacking involves ongoing attempts to create by combination of what things do, what things are capable of doing and what things are not meant to be doing but do anyway, translating elements from existing objects (of different origins) into a new object. A similarity can be identified with the process of translation of a series of sounds (samples from several songs) into a song that results from its mixing. This process is one of translation, of elements, from one assemblage of unity-elements, into a new assemblage. The process of making that here we refere to as assemblage has a meaning that extends beyond the gathering of materiality. Assemblage is applied also to equipment and finds a parallel in the name of ensemble in Gilbert Simondon’s genetics of technicality.
Although in Simondon terms the ensemble is not limited within the artistic creative context, through it we are introduced to a way to look at the “nature of machines” in an evolutionary relationship between them and humans. Technology has implicit in it a genesis that combines with that of culture. In the technological evolution, the ensemble is the most complex level of tecnicity where: “the machine is result of organization and information: it resembles life and cooperates with life in its opposition to disorder”. The ensemble is, for example, an instrument created by the artist that performs with it but can also be assemblage of of several pieces of equipment that through connections allows the artist to manipulate audio and visual, input and output, in a live performance. Hacking seems to depart from an intuitive capacity to understand components of a given unit (machine / ensemble) in order to envisage the possibilities for combinatory potential in it.
As each new assembled instrument need time to develop, new skills are learned and improved gradually in order to play it. About his own processes of learning by doing, André Gonçalves says that: “The learning process of new skills is not developed parallel to the learning related to the instruments created. These are plans of non-linear independent dimensions (beyond 3D) that may be parallel now and perpendicular later on. It is the synergy resultant from the two processes that creates “things” but it is the drive to see something done, to make it, that motivates the learning. Without the motivation to experiment the result of an idea; in the challenge to physically accomplish the result that we were touched by so intensely that all the endeavor of our time is to have it done; the drive to learn makes no sense whatsoever. Without purpose, there is no want. But I don’t think that the learning process of a pile of stuff/junk is very different from the one of a traditional instrument. In the majority of the cases, the learning curve is smaller, but in both cases the way to perfection is through practice. In the process of doing, computers are essential but they are never the medium, computers can only be a tool. The computer does what I program it to do. The algorithm attempts to replicate decisions that I would make if I could be the computer itself and be able to operate inputs and outputs, but from a perspective of delegated functions, as musicians in an orchestra that play the score written by a composer. I create that score, the behavior in time, through the computer’s code that afterwards is also the maestro who guides and provides cohesion to the parts, to create a whole”.
Although the apparatus of the machinery is an amalgamation of materials, wires and a computer, this complexity is overcome by what it does, the result, that is, the resultant performed image and sound. The particularity of the performative instruments by André Gonçalves is their quality of sculpture-like-installations, as kinetic sculptures. It is possible to trace a parallel with the work of kinetic artists such as Arthur Ganson, who constructs very delicate and elegant machines with thin wire. Both artists use electric and electronic components to construct objects with cyclical actions and reactions. Cycles are sometimes implicit and other times explicit in the work of both artists.
But while in Arthur Ganson circularity is a return to the beginning, through the repetition of actions in the same sequence, with the same results, in André Gonçalves circularity is spiral; the return of the same action brings always to something new. Implicit narratives, circular or linear, but always non-figurative are present in the performative work of André Gonçalves. They constitute a process that grants data with properties of time and space transforming converting it into some sort of aesthetic experience (be it through sound or light). While Performance for Super 8 Projector … follows a linear narrative: from intact film until its total destruction, in untitled #06, an installation and instrument for performance (also presented at MOTA – Museum of Transitory Art, in Ljubljana), the linearity inherent in the performance length is transformed in a moment of continuous cycles that seem to last, beyond the performance, endlessly.
“untitled #06″ deals with analog>digital>analog data handling, it uses two legendary audio mediums, the microphone and the turntable, the latter is prepared to register the data input coming from the former. Instead of holding the needle while it reads sound from the vinyl, the turntable arm is attached to a motor servo that moves according to the impulses coming from a basic stamp, which digitizes, handles and processes the data coming from the sound captured by the microphone. One india ink pen is attached where the needle should be and draws in real-time the audio events happening in the site-specific location where it is installed into a hand cut vinyl shaped canson paper sheet.
In the construction of a portable version of the untitled #06, the turntable is replaced by a minidisk”. The same assemblage is adapted to two different mechanisms. The assemblage is used as installation, object and instrument. These resultant drawings (of the india ink on canson paper) – as Goncalves suggests – can be seen as histograms of the audio activity of a space during a certain period of time. This is an installation that creates objects. When applied to a performative context, it does only one cycle: one performance -> one cycle. From this cycle results an object that crystallize the performance’s occurrences. The aesthetics of the resulting work resembles some of the work by Ryoji Ikeda. The work of this Japanese artist translates code into clean-cut, sharp, mostly (dominated by) black and white visuals. The sounds can be described in a similar way.
The circularity of the narratives, gradually being constructed within each other, describe metaphorically the artistic practice related to both remixing and hacking – processes within processes – starting from the endless process of making things from other things that had another function before reaching André Gonçalves’ hands, each process of constructing an instrument (object, or installation) and the way it takes assembling and coding further, and at each performance taking the attempt to accurately manipulate each instrument further. In this sense, As a new skill learned and then improved gradually, also the use of assembled equipment needs time to develop, to explore – there’s only one end (that defines the end of the learning and exploring process).
While ideas flow, the process continues. The “block” that artists know as “spooky man”, means that a process from which results enjoyment and pleasure has come to a stop. That is, the act of creating. Without ideas, without the drive to make something in which one believes, there is no process and is precisely the despair of not having an objective that is frightening: What to do next?
When has a performance reached the point not being performed again (if ever)? To that, I never say never. Although neither combintion of information nor assemblage of equipment is not unique to our context, what is specific to it, to our contemporaneity, is the capacity of technological reproduction and dissemination.
By expanding the processes of translation (bringing elements from several different assemblages into a new one) into other realms that extends beyond the limits of materiality and technology, we arrive at a pont where everything is connected with everything else and all is potentially source at the origin of something new. The sentence “Source material is everywhere”, from Mark Amerika’s book on remix, translates clearly this idea. Amerika identifies data (words, images, sounds), identity, media, technology, etc. as result and simultaneously as source material. From here, apropriation of elements and their combination in new ways and in new contexts is more a process of creativity rather than apropriation.
 From research blog on remix culture, RemixTheory by Eduardo Navas (http://remixtheory.net).
 Gilbert Simondon (1958) “On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects”; Paris: Aubier, Editions Montaigne. Translated by Ninian Mellamphy (1980), University of West Ontario.
 In reference to the ideas expressed by Michael Betancourt in his text Same as It Ever Was – Acts of Digital Re-Autoring, published by VJTheory. (http://www.vjtheory.net/web_texts/text_betacourt.htm)
 Amerika, Mark (2011), Remixthebook. Massachusset University Press.