This Is Not A Remix – Book Review

This Is Not A Remix – Book Review

August 14, 2019 0 By Kailee Schamberger


This is Not a Remix is a densely-packed academic
monograph based on Margie Borschke’s research into the changing meaning of remix in the
context of music culture. Borschke offers perspectives on questions
regarding the nature of remix and the role of copies in how we understand media. I read This is Not a Remix twice for this
review, first as an ebook on an iPad, swiping right to reveal more of Borschke’s thesis,
and then as a paperback—an altogether more tactile experience, due to the smell of fresh
ink on paper, the physical act of turning the pages and the eye-catching cover. The content of both versions was exactly the
same, yet the experience of reading each book was fundamentally different. Following Borschke’s argument, each is a
copy but also a different instance of the source material. In this case, the form of the content is also
different, even though the arrangement of words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters
is precisely the same. In the opening chapter of the book, Borschke
outlines her vision for media studies and asks ‘why copies, why remix, why vinyl,
and why redistribution now?’ She offers a critical approach, which focuses
on the analysis of different forms in each of the subsequent chapters. Borschke’s study operates on several levels
with a central focus on the transition from analog to digital music formats, particularly
the recent resurgence in popularity of analog vinyl, despite the availability of faster,
cheaper and more effective digital delivery systems. One of Borschke’s key observations here
is that the term “remix” has been appropriated, transformed and expanded to refer to all contemporary
digital practices of copying and recombination. The book begins by outlining a brief history
of the copy, revealing the romantic tendencies of analog pasts and how they persist in 21st
century network cultures, leading to a critical comparative reading of contemporary media
forms and how they are used. A comparison is drawn between the historical
use of remix with its current rhetorical use as a metaphor for digital culture, and how
this leads to potential problems in understanding what remix really means. In chapter 4, Borschke provides an in-depth
case study on the analog disco edit, comparing its history with the current unauthorized
circulation of digital and vinyl edits, and considers what these two practices can reveal
about the materiality of media. She argues that analog representation seems
to afford users qualities of personification that digital representation does not, and
the persistence of vinyl in a networked culture may be seen as a digital tactic of rhetorical
resistance against the corporate music industry. Borschke’s study, perhaps to its detriment,
focuses solely on music—mp3s, vinyl records, CDs, tapes and DJ culture. Drilling down a little, the analysis of musical
artifacts leads to more pertinent questions, including “is remix an apt metaphor for
digital culture?” In asking this question, Borschke makes the
perceptive observation that the term “remix” has dramatically expanded in scope in recent
years. Remix now refers to many media production
practices, in numerous different forms, such as remix videos, photoshopped images, text
cut-ups—the fundamental process of recombining samples into a new composition is the common
factor that ties these practices together. While I agree with Borschke that using the
term “remix” to refer to the entirety of digital culture is counter-productive,
resulting in the dilution of its meaning, the real danger is in expanding the reach
of the term to include the simple copying of non-sampled content. Borschke’s argument suggests that the term
“remix” should be confined to its origins in 20th century music culture, however this
would be too restrictive as remix has now evolved beyond music culture to include many
other media forms such as video, games and animation. The ideal may lie somewhere in between these
two extremes. Central to all of this is the question of
copyright and though Borschke states that she does not wish to focus on copyright in
relation to music, it is discussed at regular junctures throughout the book. This is not a problem in itself, as the copyright
debates are still regarded as the highest stakes issues in relation to remix; however,
Borschke tends to downplay this association, perhaps because copyright is an over-discussed
issue in the existing literature. This is Not a Remix remixes many ideas published
by other authors; for example, in chapters 2 and 3 Borschke uses Google Ngrams to trace
the development of the term “remix” over time, and analyzes the work of Rosalind Krauss
and Sherrie Levine in relation to copies, as does Eduardo Navas in his 2012 book Remix
Theory. David Gunkel’s Of Remixology focuses on
the concept of the copy over the remix, and introduces very similar ideas to those presented
by Borschke in relation to Deleuze’s theory of repetition and Baudrillard’s simulacra,
as well as Plato’s theory of universals. These overlaps may be considered a case of
“multiple discovery,” whereby findings and insights are uncovered independently more-or-less
simultaneously by multiple researchers in different parts of the world. I can personally attest to this, as my own
book on remix shares one of Borshke’s insights regarding the over-expansion and dilution
of the term “remix” and I was not aware of her unpublished work, nor she of mine when
we were both developing similar ideas on this a number of years ago. The emphasis on mp3 blogs and disco edits
in chapters 4 and 5 shifts the focus of the book towards a historical analysis, rather
than a contemporary study, apart from a brief addendum in Chapter 6 discussing streaming
music services. Just as Borschke describes how countless mp3s,
playlists and online music collections were lost when Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload servers
were raided in 2012, streaming services—legal or otherwise—are susceptible to being shut
down for economic or political reasons. Perhaps mp3s will go the way of the vinyl
record and come back into fashion someday—having a copy of one’s entire music collection
safely stored on a hard drive offers a certain security and peace of mind which streaming
services simply may not be able to provide. Margie Borschke’s This is Not a Remix offers
interesting in-depth studies into DJ culture, mp3 blogs and the history of vinyl, and despite
its obvious audio-centrism, provides useful insights into the nature of the copy in relation
to remix. It is a fascinating read that provides much
food for thought, and notwithstanding the criticisms outlined here, This is Not a Remix
is a valuable addition to the growing remix canon.