This multimedia hypertext accompanies Thomas Rickert and Michael Salvo's Computers and Composition print-based essay titled "The Distributed Gesamptkunstwerk: Sound, Worlding, and New Media Culture." It is composed of three sections—Context, Continue, and Content—that further develop themes explored in the print essay and that provide musical examples of our work with the music software program Garageband. We provide more detailed descriptions of these sections below, but in brief, Context offers background information about composing the essay, the technologies involved, and the links that inform it. The Continue section presents substantial material that builds off of the print version of the essay, including extended discussions of bands such as The Flaming Lips, Sigur Rós, and more, that illuminate the concepts of worlding, prosumer, open culture, and so on. Lastly, the Content section offers sound files of our experiments with Garageband.
The title of this online essay comes from something Wayne Coyne, provocateur of The Flaming Lips, says on the DVD version of Yoshimi, among a collection of video and sound "extras." Such snippets and lost moments have become a regular feature, and new genre, for film distributed in DVD format. And don’t overlook the fact that this is a DVD version of an album rather than a film. Taking their cue from film culture, they recognize that new DVD releases are often judged on the quality and value-added of these "extras" that have become integral. But these once-disregarded bits—once noise left on the cutting room floor—have been repurposed, reinterpreted, and ultimately recycled . . . as content. Wayne says:
"[The new Flaming Lips Album] is like if Stevie Wonder got together with Led Zeppelin and they had Pro Tools"
And so Wayne offers us a title for this technologized space, gesturing towards the possibility of odd but intriguing pairings (Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin) empowered by digital tools (Pro Tools, Avid's professional-grade audio mixer). This is not a technologically determined argument, but does admit to agency that seems wedded to digital tools. We are not willing to grant technology autonomy, yet it is nevertheless difficult to deny technology's power. In print, we describe the relationship among technologies, networks, and communities as "worlding."
The print essay argues that musical artists from the 1960s up to today have developed sophisticated techniques and strategies that impact how we understand and compose with new media. In particular, our essay highlights the importance of sound for new media, an aspect often overlooked in favor of the image. New media culture has reached a point that one can compose on a laptop, sample, loop, produce mashups, and thereby create heretofore unknown musics. We argue that these developments in contemporary re/mix/digital music culture offer vocabularies, models, and practices for new media generations beyond the tradition of text-based composition or the singular work of art. We move from Wagner's notion of the "total art work" (Gesamptkunstwerk) up to contemporary forms of digital remixing to show how new media extend techniques that have long been developing. As the dispersion of production across communities and technologies transforms musical aesthetics, so also the aesthetic experience itself changes. We hear, see, and experience things differently.
In this sense, new media culture is less resonant with interpretation than with engagement, and to explain this experiential difference we deploy the concepts of "worlding" and "prosumer." Prosumer refers to the erosion of the difference between a consumer and a producer. Garageband was a key example for this: it is a music creation software program bundled with Apple computers, and is therefore a product designed for a consumer—strictly speaking, it is entertainment, like a game. At the same time, the possibilities for production are significant. Garageband is a robust program, capable of producing professional quality music. This brings us to our other key term. Worlding refers to the techniques for music creation reflected in Garageband—feedback loops, sampling, sound manipulation, machinic playback, and digital distribution, to name but a few—that were in turn developed by previous musical artists, and to the way these techniques are integrated into, reflective of, and dependent on other technologies and practices.
This, the online version of the print essay, is not going to remake that argument, although it does oftentimes depend on it. Here, we extend our lines of argument, provide additional links, and present our aural experiments with GarageBand. It could be considered that we are simply arguing by different means; in the print essay, we use the technologies of standard argumentation—thesis, evidence, warrants, examples, lines of reasoning. In this multimedia hypertext version, we immerse you in the subject matter. Dropping you into our world, so to speak. There are arguments and examples here, certainly, but no overarching thesis tying them all together. So, insofar as we are working again with some of our original themes, this is a remix, particularly with the inclusion of contextual material that extends the print-based essay. There is also substantial extra material that moves our argument beyond the print-based essay, and therefore it is, in musical terms, a new album worthy of a new title. Perhaps this online version inhabits a new space entirely, a liminal space approaching three different genres: the director's cut, the remake, and the sequel. If this triadic space is perceived as being odd, we must in turn point to the medium itself: electracy enables us. Electracy opens up a different essay-world.
On the web, then, we are going beyond what began as a print essay. Because of the contrasting paces of print and electronic publication, you may well read this version first, or even read our essay first online. We are both interested in this remediation of print provided by the web, just as we are interested in sounding the differences between the two.
For this online version, three divisions provide structure to content:top
This section provides links, information about producing the essay and the technologies involved (including the technologies involved with the sound files), and more complete endnotes than those published with the original version of the essay. On the issue of technology, we want to note that this website design, Purple Haze, was produced by an anonymous designer who posted this template to Open Source Web Design. In order to continue our re-mix open-culture experiment, we've tried to do as much as we can by ourselves or re-use existing resources. We've made every effort to live the DIY (do it yourself) ethos we've written about, working towards both worldings and total art works. Explanations like this, a glossary of terms, as well as links to sources we used are available in this section.top
This section presents more detailed examinations of key themes and concepts from the print version of our essay, and does so by looking at the bands The Flaming Lips, Sigur Rós, and The Residents, and by exploring the ongoing practices of kaizen and open culture. This section does more than just expand our arguments into specific examples, however; it provides the kind of added value that illuminates differences between what one can accomplish in print and online. That is, as we will suggest, it speaks to the idea of abundance.
In keeping with this idea, we reintroduce a major section of the print essay that was removed to meet the demands of print publication. The section transitions from The Flaming Lips, from the section titled "Ambient Quadraphonic," to The Residents. The Residents existed prior to punk and have been experimenting with world-building and new media for three decades. Central to this section are The Residents' experiments with game building in the mid-1990s which resulted in two game titles, Bad Day on the Midway and Freakshow. Worldings, indeed. We also present new material on Sigor Rós, Moby, Madchester, Kaizen, open culture and more as well as substantial hypertext linkages that further our arguments into these other themes, other spaces . . . other worlds. top
In the print essay, we promised a series of Garageband files. Those re/mix files are available here, and we also include a slide show built to accompany a reading of this and our print-based text. Ideally, readers/listeners would listen to the sound files with the arguments we are making in mind, and, again ideally, that would shape the ways readers hear and experience them. We say "ideally" because, truth be told, we aren't professional musicians, and our musical experiments are undoubtedly rudimentary. Nevertheless, we learned a great deal from making them—and we learn more listening to them again. Lastly, we offer podcast readings of the essay in a variety of flavors.
We want to highlight that the elements with which we built our sound files are open source, offered as ingredients in standing reserve waiting to be mashed and mixed as we pleased. They were created in order to be used as elements in other projects. So too this website provides structure and acts as an environment in which to construct and present our sound compositions, as well as the writing we have done about them. Two related sites, Open Source Web Design and Open Web Design offer a variety of CSS and XHTML based web designs with open source licenses. These sites are also a gateway to a community of designers committed to creating and making available resources for open-source design. This web is built using a design called PurpleHaze by a designer only known to us as Haran. Haran has participated in the construction of our web. Haran's design coupled with a willingness to provide that work freely online, acts as an example of ambient intelligence, offering us a topoi, a place, a container, into and upon which we have been able to write. The design also provided structure we have worked both with and against, providing opportunity and limit, resonance and dissonance, as this multi-linear argument has developed. Open source provides one model for sharing intellectual property, creative commons another. Both alternatives provide an opportunity for remediation of copyright. However, both require stakeholders to have the foresight to place their materials in the intellectual and creative commons. The challenge remains to open copyrighted material for use in the cultural commons, the free cultural space for which Lawrence Lessig advocates.