This week, Monday through Friday, I’m participating in an excellent online conversation hosted at Molly Sheridan’s “Mind the Gap” blog at artsjournal.com/gap with a bunch of musicians, composers, critics, and other folk talking about Lawrence Lessig’s recent book, Remix.
As a kind of sidebar to that discussion, I’m taking the opportunity with each of the daily Downstream entries here at Disquiet.com to focus on how they correlate with issues raised by Lessig in his book. In Remix, Lessig talks about varieties of economies, and divides them into two categories: “commercial” and “sharing.” The latter term applies to those online communities (wikipedia.org is his primary example) in which the participants receive no direct financial benefit for their efforts.
There are numerous communities of musicians on the Internet, places where individuals share their creations in the interest of building an audience — and sometimes to solicit advice and get creative or technical input. Some of these communities invite online collaboration, frequently by people who may never meet in person — people whose interaction may simply be an occasional trading of, and enhancing of, files.
One of my favorite such places is freesound.org, which is where field-recording enthusiasts, as well as those who favor sound effects and other noises, gather. The majority of the site’s activity is a vast, ever-expanding collection of cataloged sounds, from German Nightingales to North American thunder claps. There’s also a spot on the site, called a “Remix! tree,” where people take each other’s sounds and make something else of them. I’ve included such remixes here in the past, and this is another fine example:
A user named Schulze posted a three-second drum sound (MP3, freesound.org), which was created with the audio package Reason. Schulze has posted over 25 tracks to Freesound, ranging from other synthesized tones, to recordings of street activity, to the rumble of a washing machine. The three-second drum beat is an especially attractive sound, eminently loopable, a bouncy, lively drum beat that could be a talking drum from some South African pop band:
Later, a participant named dobroide came upon the Schulze track and decided to act on that very loopability. Dobroide is a prolific member of the Freesound, with almost 1,800 uploads to his credit. He took the Schulze loop and combined it with one of his own samples. His field-recording contribution was of street musicians tuning their instruments before a performance (MP3, freesound.org).
This is the original recording by dobroide:
That Schulze’s beat lends song-like structure to the relatively formless document that was dobroide’s field recording serves as a perfect metaphor for the remix activity at Freesound, where unexpected transformations are performed daily, as part of an ongoing asynchronous and highly fruitful group collaboration.