Blending and rearranging

Merging styles in art

“The past is reinvented and becomes the future. But the lineage is everything.” (Philip Glass, 2015)¹

Saying that originality is nonexistent is recurrent these days. There is some truth to such statement. Artists have been cutting up, re-arranging, and mashing-up material created by others and claimed this as their own for decades. Not only music, but all art practices have developed through endless variations of what came before.

In his TED Talk filmmaker and writer Kirby Ferguson explores creativity in a world where “everything is a remix.”

“Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self made, we are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness — it’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves, and to simply begin.” ( Kirby Ferguson— as cited by Jory MacKay, 2015)²

In music, new genres have developed completely or partially out the idea of variation, or remix. For example, rearranging music cut-ups, as a practice, is way older than hip-hop — the genre which brought it to the mainstream audience — itself. It developed amongst Freudian poets in the early 20s.

William Burroughs is the man who probably contributed the most to the expansion of the cut-up practice.

“Blending discrete genres isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Hip-hop came about from a heady mix of blues, jazz, reggae and soul. Rock and jazz techniques mixed to become prog rock.” (Rob Boffard, n.d.)³

However, there are movements (if they can be called so) in music, those of mash-up and remix, which have redefined the idea of creating through the use of others’ work. Even though those may be seen by some people as the laziest of music practices, the art of sampling and has clearly worked its way up the music charts and it is being accepted (and understood) by a vast section of the listening audience.

At the basis of the copyright clause authorised in 1787 is the protection of the interests of the creator. This does not take into account for any subconscious and conscious acts of inspiration and homage from an artist by, and to, another.

“These rights given to protect artists from copyright, illustrates how imitation is not considered the sincerest form of flattery to these creative minds but a threat to originality. […] The fashion industry on the other hand, avoids copyright restrictions. Designers take ‘inspiration’ from other designers, but in the fashion world this has no impact on the success of their work. In fact, it gives their work credibility and success.” (Giovana Picone, 2013)⁴

Creativity exists, and so does originality. That of ideas and not of source material. Just because our society is obsessed with ruling whether is acceptable or not to copy or be inspired by another artist’s work, it does not mean we should not seek to be innovative.

As Luc Godard once said “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to”⁵. Originality is not about reinventing the wheel each time we try to compose a new piece of music, or paint a new canvas. Originality is imposing our style and touch to the things that directly speak to our soul.


References:

  1. Glass, Philip. 2015. Words Without Music.
  2. MacKay, Jory. “Kirby Ferguson On Social Creativity And The Importance Of Sharing Your Work — Crew.Co”. Crew.Co. https://crew.co/blog/kirby-ferguson/.
  3. Boffard, Rob. “Aesthetica Magazine — Merging Genres”. Aesthetica Magazine. http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/merging-genres/.
  4. Picone, Giovana. 2013. “How To Steal Like An Artist: Nothing Is Original”. The Artifice. https://the-artifice.com/how-to-steal-like-an-artist/.

Francesco Imola is a London-based musician, multimedia artist, and current Sound Design student at the University of Greenwich.

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