TalkBox: Mix, Remix, Or Re-Invention?

I saw the latest Indiana Jones movie the other day, and realized it’s not only music that does remixes—so domovies. All the familiar elements were there: Evil peopleseeking power from some ancient artifacts, a Really NastyGuy pounding Indy, car chases, clandestine governmentactivities, and more, but . . . well . . . remixed.
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Then again, the more you think about it, lots of entities
fall into mix and remix categories. Original iPod: Mix. iPod
Shuffle and iPod Nano: Remix. Version 1.0 of a program: Mix.
Version 2.0: Remix. Original Volkswagen Beetle: Mix. New
VW Beetle: Remix. Guitar Hero: Mix. Rock Band: Remix.
Now, I don’t have a problem with remixes. In fact, when it
comes to musical remixes, I think great DJs are musicians, in
the same way that an arranger or conductor is. But remember
that to have a remix, you need a mix in the first place—
an original, creative, novel impulse. And if you’re going to do
a remix, it had better bring something new to the party, not
just be a re-shuffling of elements which then get the tag of
“new and improved.” A good remix deconstructs pretty
much completely, then re-constructs from the ground up,
with fascinating new twists and additions. So while the elements
are recognizable, they’re put together in a way that
makes them fresh.
Think of performers who’ve sustained long careers:
When they remix themselves, it goes beyond re-shuffling
and borders on re-inventing (think Madonna, Prince, David
Bowie, the Beatles, Miles Davis, and the like). It can be an
instructive exercise to consider whether a remix is indeed
“just a remix,” or something much closer to a re-invention.
So how does this relate to us recording music? When
creating something “new,” it’s easy to hit the default button
and just use variations of what’s gone before. And with
today’s gear, it’s easy to produce something with the
“look and feel” of music, but without the soul that makes a
unique musical statement. Believe me, this is not what
audiences crave.
One review of the Indiana Jones movie said that it met
all expectations, while exceeding none of them. Whether
you agree or not, that’s a perceptive comment—because a
good test to apply to a “remix” is whether it simply meets
expectations, or exceeds them.
So the next time you’re producing yourself or someone
else, ask yourself the following question: Is it a mix, a remix,
or a re-invention? It’s a question well worth considering.