Remix, reference and rhizome
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Some really interesting remix projects have been released over the past two years. Starting with OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDED NON-STOP REMIX ALBUM, moving to 1000 gecs and the tree of clues, then to Apple vs. 7G and Dawn of Chromatica, continuing with Dorian Electra’s remix collection of My Agenda bound to be released this November. These remix albums are bold. They intentionally play with - and expand - the territory the original album inhabited. These albums emphasize the accessible potential of Deleuze and Guattari’s de- and re-territorialization that remixing holds (calling upon the non-pejorative example that they found in wasps and orchids). They produce an erasure or expansion of the album’s borders, and the by-product of that process is energetic fun. Like friction, the remix produces artistic electricity. Like a mad scientist, these remix artists mix substances to create something explosive. The remix album is transparent in its intention to become an assemblage - in the colloquial as well as the Deleuzian/Guattarian sense. In a way, remixing is what I set out to do with Online Bodies too: expanding the original territory of cinema into something possibly explosive, or acidic, or parasitic.
In the introduction of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari propose so-called “rhizomatic” or “nomadic” writing, as an alternative to “arborescent” writing. So instead of being rooted in place and growing upwards with a bottom, middle and top, like a tree, they sketch the image of a wide, growing sort of thought with no clear beginning or ending - intermingled, intertwined and spiraling. They give one description of how the rhizome can manifest itself in the arborescent status quo that strongly resonates with me: “A new rhizome may form in the heart of a tree, the hollow of a root, the crook of a branch. Or else it is a microscopic element of the root tree, a radicle, that gets the rhizome production growing.”
I had a big laugh when I read that passage. I just couldn’t help but think of the hallowed album cover of 1000 gecs and the subsequent remix album 1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues. With Deleuze and Guattari’s text in mind, I saw the album covers in a new light. In the original I saw the 100 gecs mourning over the impending death of the tree, and in the remix I saw the post-mortem explosion of spirits, ghosts and other fantastical creatures that have erupted from the heart of the tree. Sonically, the two albums appear to me to have taken a very rhizomatic approach. I would still consider 1000 gecs “pop” music, minus some of the traditional structure and with a shift in focus to a sort of field of sonic intensities. The 100 gecs take a very literal approach to the idea of music “production” - they seem to start with a blank slate on many songs and produce music from the perspective of someone who opens Logic (the software) for the first time. That approach invites me to focus on the soundwave hitting my ear, the literal mechanics of musical sound, rather than the song structure or melody.
Tracks like I Need Help Immediately and gecgecgec especially emphasize this focus on intensity over Logic and Sense. It allows them to make very engaging music while staying sonically flexible. Laura Les, 50 of 100 gecs, has stated that she specifically wants to be nomadic in their practice, stating “once you can lock down specific elements of what makes something ‘it’ then it’s time to move on and do something else''.
I can vividly remember that my jaw dropped when the remix of ringtone was released. At the time (early 2020), I did not see the rhizomatic connection (perhaps I didn’t see things rhizomatically at all back then) between Rico Nasty, Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito and 100 gecs. In that simple track there’s all these artists’ discographies manifesting, but also changing, because they all now include ringtone. This one song reveals to me an entire musical rhizomatic network. These exploding spores are found all over the remix album, not only in the form of mixing discographies of the contributors but also in the wildest forms of musical explosions. From the pounding Harlecore remix of gec 2 u, to the campy-yet-sincere Fall Out Boy rock version of hand crushed by a mallet, including the mandatory sonically-crushed cued screaming.
The inclusion of Fall Out Boy in the album reminds me of the casting of Korine's Spring Breakers. Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens take High School Musical, early Justin Bieber and Wizards of Waverly Place (and the rest of the Disney brand) with them in the movie, but it remains unclear to me how they as actors relate to Korine’s pop-subverting perversion... are they puppets or accomplices? Just like Selena and Vanessa fit perfectly in Spring Breakers and its universe, Fall Out Boy (and Craig Owens) thrive on the remix album, while all four are seemingly participate in their own deconstruction. What did their management say to them after reading the script or listening to the album? I am left with this confusing assemblage that feels simultaneously obvious and impossible.
The most recent remix track that caught my attention is Dorian Electra’s version of Replay on Lady Gaga’s new remix album Dawn Of Chromatica (following up the 2020 album Chromatica). The track is powerful, wild and rich, a stark contrast to the relatively dull and prudent original. It seems to take all of the positives of the original (like a rich bass that feels like being hit with a blunt object, and a viral chorus hook) and injects it with steroidal signature Electra vocal production (which produces a barely traceable voice character that sounds like it's multiple personas singing at once), banging snares (literally, it sounds like someone banging on home appliances with a baseball bat) and campy-but-roaring electric guitar. The following track, Sine From Above (with Elton John), goes step further in its aggressive transmuting, teasing you left and right with auditive spielereien and sort of nightmarish carnival sounds (something Mood Killer has expressed loving), only to absolutely blow you away with a dirty, dirty, dirty Lil’ Texas drop at the end. While listening to Sine From Above, I can’t shake this feeling of being fucked with. I feel like a cat (more so than normal) trying to catch the laser point. When I first heard the aggressive cutting-up of pop-deity Elton’s vocals, I let out a slight gasp. It felt a bit like desecrating a grave, and that is what makes it so powerful. The remix of Sine From Above takes a weak and traditional track and brings it back to life, makes it explode, scattering the shrapnel of the original all over the auditive spectrum. The remix album really seems like the place/plane where music artists feel empowered to go beyond their (self)imposed boundaries. The remix album seems to alleviate some pressure to be popular or successful or fully represent the artists “brand”, especially in the case of a mainstream pop-star like Lady Gaga (I doubt 100 gecs give much of a hoot about their “brand”). With this pressure somewhat alleviated, the music is allowed to do with it does best, as Brian Massumi puts it “...it is ... music that create the smoothest of smooth spaces”, a smooth space is one that nomadic travel instead of being “limited by ... preset paths between fixed and identifiable points”.
It is easy to imagine the musical smooth space when you think of experimental jazz or improvised ambient/noise music. Those musical spaces were already smooth to begin with. What I find interesting about the artists I have talked about so far is that their starting point ("pop" music) is arguably the most rigid form of music out there. That is part of what resonates about the earlier mentioned quote about the rhizome production growing out of an element of the tree. In arborescent disguise, they are inseminating the tree with the fungus that can grow rhizomatically. They are clearly stating the tree as their starting point and then continue to show a way beyond, away from the tree, expanding its territory. It is this becoming-smooth or becoming-rhizome that I find so exciting. It includes destruction, rebuilding, exploding and polishing. The becoming-smooth is also very useful to study as a strategy to smooth other rigid spaces. I think one of those techniques is the reference. Like a laser beam through a concrete wall, the reference shoots through the barriers of a single work, letting in the light from the outside. Concerning my own film practice, I have had a lot of conversations about the reference. It is often said that a lot of references make a work dense or indigestible, unrelatable and convoluted. “Handle them with care” is the general advice. Generally speaking, I experience references differently. I like them. To me, the reference is about transparency. It aerates, expands, reaches out, maps, shows the lines of flight, produces and invites… but not necessarily with the intent to be trace-able. I first saw À bout de souffle in the Cinematek in Brussels, about eighty years after its initial release. I wrote down that day: “This movie is made for its own decade, making tons of references that are lost on me. I think that’s a good thing, it probably moved and accelerated the discourse at the time”. Without fully understanding or tracing all the references in this Godard movie (or any other for that matter), you can still feel the velocity of all those exploding spores in À bout de souffle. I can’t see where the line of flight begins or ends, but I can see its speed. The reference introduces speed, but above all, it acknowledges complexity; not the personal complexity of the subject-author or author-subject, but the complex and rhizomatic nature of the world.