music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Rip + Remix Culture

Wired devoted a recent issue to the subject, young digital artists have been touting it, hip-hop recording stars have been using it on their CDs for a long time, and now ripping and remixing has hit the mainstream.

I’ve always been a little suspicious of the concept of ripping and remixing of other people’s work. It goes against the grain of a traditional artist’s view of creativity. That view says that creativity comes from within as a total and complete original expression. All artists are informed by what has happened before them and they are influenced by their predecessors and their peers. But the expression of that influence is usually a nod to a style, attitude or gesture, not the wholesale rip-off of an actual piece of the original work.

But what happens when a rip and remix results in one of this summer’s biggest movie hits, "March of the Penguins"?

I was shocked to learn in today’s LA Times, that this documentary about the mating rituals of the Emperor penguin, is the second-highest grossing documentary in history, second only to "Fahrenheit 9/11". I was doubly shocked when I found out the story behind its success.

"March of the Penguins" was originally a French film, "Marche de l’Empereur", directed by Luc Jacquet. It featured beautifully moving cinematography combined with superimposed individual voices used for the thoughts of the various birds. And a French pop soundtrack…

Warner Bros. president Mark Gill saw the film at Sundance, called writer-director Jordan Roberts and asked if something could be done to make it more appealing to American audiences. Jordan wrote a narration, performed by Morgan Freeman, and hired composer Alex Wurman to create a new score. The final result is showing in close to 2,000 theatres across America.

What makes this rip and remix very different from many others is that it was all done legally. Warner and National Geographic bought the North American rights to the French film with provisions that included modifying it for American audiences. The French producers were extremely generous in allowing such a total remixing of their work.

This is a pretty high-visibility example of a new form of expression. It could have been done in a non-digital world just as easily, but it was no doubt influenced by it.

How do you feel about ripping and remixing? Send me an email and let me in on your thoughts. I’ll post a follow-up in the coming weeks and include your comments along with some other ideas I’ve been wrestling with.

August 10, 2005 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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