DJ Le Clown Rocks the Total Recut Contest

A while back, I posted an interview with Total Recut’s Owen Gallagher to publicize their video competition around the theme, “What is Remix Culture?” I had been asked to join a panel of judges ranging from intellectual property expert Lawrence Lessig to fan vidder Luminosity in assessing the finalists in the competition. This weekend, Total Recut announced the winners of the contest and I wanted to give a shout out to the finalists here.

The First Place prize went to DJ Le Clown for his haunting and hypnotic Xmas in New York City. In his artist’s statement, the DJ writes:

I’m a perfect product of the TV generation. I was raised with TV; through it I discovered cinema and music. I think cinema is now old enough to become an international langage – maybe the strongest one, along with music and painting.

Hazards of life led me to be a musician, and each song or piece of music I created brought images into my mind. Then came the computers time, that gave anybody – through the screen again – the opportunity to create whatever they could imagine.

3 years ago I started to work on “Mashups” ; it consists of melting songs from differents horizons together. I must confess that I first considered “Mashups” or “Bootlegs” as the most vulgar form of music possible, before I realized – trying it myself – that it was another way of giving songs a kind of second chance…A second life.

Songs (especially since they’re recorded) are like Movies – somewhere a kind of lifes trap, and the good one always survive their creators…so as I decided to make videos for each of my tracks to play them live, it was natural for me to use any image sources I wanted – movies, the artist’s images, of course, but also TV series, shows, commercials – well all bits of what I consider like our common cultural backup, and that you can now find easily on the web!

I really think that all of these belong to us – from Popeye the Sailor Man to David Vincent and Dracula or Dr Mabuse; it’s now part of our culture ; like a bank of symbols anyone can use to express his own ideas.

His video starts with fairly comforting images of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra sharing egg nog and talking about the Yuletime season. Before the video is over, Sinatra’s “Santa Clause is Coming” begins to feel more like a warning than a promise. The soundtrack samples and remixes Sinatra with AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Benzio and the Pogues while the visual track creates complex layers and juxtapositions drawn from music videos, old Christmas specials, and disaster films. There is an unnerving suggestion of dystopian or appocalyptic futures awaiting us as Santa descends on New York City, such that the snowflakes normally associated with Christmas carry hints of nuclear fallout or cataclysmic climate change, depending on what your generation is and what you’ve been taught to fear. As one of the judges notes, the video may go on a tad too long but it never the less creates its own aesthetic through both sound and images which suggests how we may plow through the image banks and sound files of the past to give them new life through remix culture.

The Second place winner, Jata Haan’s Composition, is perhaps even more original and provocative in its approach, but it is not as self contained and depends more heavily on its written statement to achieve its full effect. As she explains:

For my first experiment in remix video I wanted to create a short work entirely from creative commons licensed media, with an aim to simply illustrate the vast amount of this content that is available online, and the potential for using it in creative ways. I was also very interested in demonstrating the opportunities that remix culture combined with the Internet present for collaborative work, which for me reflects exciting new ways of communicating and interacting globally. I chose the Sydney Opera House as the subject of my piece not only for it’s connection with my homeland, but also for it’s iconic appearance and the amount of material available online. This short video was made possible through the use of creative commons content (with an attribution or attribution share-alike license) from more than 100 individuals, which when remixed together brings to life this beautiful building in a unique composition.

This is a fascinating experiment in collaborative authorship: the filmmaker is able to integrate snap shots produced by a range of photographers to create a continuous flow of images of the Sydney Opera House seen from many different angles. The use of retro sounds of slide and super 8 projectors adds to the effect of a home movie, although in this case, the film is actually a composite of snap shots taken by a range of amateur photographers. It suggests the way remix allows us to bridge between personal and collective memory.

Many of the other videos in the competition are worth visiting as well. Each of the finalists has something to recommend them and taken as a whole, the videos give us a snap shot of the current state of remix culture. When I agreed to judge the competition, I had expected to see documentaries which explicitly addressed the politics and poetics of remix culture — and some of the finalists do that more or less — but in the end what impressed me about the top place videos was how they embodied the expressive potential of remix and suggested rather than stated the opportunities for collaborative production embodied in these practices.