Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Of Remix & Ethics

As a music composer I have been asked innumerable times what I think about the recent spate of remixes. Now, the word ‘spate’ here poses some interesting possibilities. The dictionary meaning of the word ‘spate’ means a sudden flood, rush, or outpouring: “It issues a spate of words from the loudspeakers and the politicians”. If you look up the thesaurus you will also see some options for the word ‘spate’ such as ‘flurry’, ‘muddle’, ‘confusion’, etc. The phrase ‘spate of remixes’ embeds all these possibilities of meanings. Great! Ambiguity helps everybody and music composers who are made to talk on record hold Ambiguity more sacred than the ‘Shadja’ itself!
This spate of remixes has changed our lives – and this can, at the most be an understatement, but not otherwise. You can see that on every little corner of life. Have you realised, for example, that there are more musicians now than there were at any point of time in the past? Technology has made music available more freely in many more ways than one. In the Shivaji Park area of Dadar, a small neighbourhood of Mumbai, itself there are at least a hundred musicians. You will find a music composer in every alternate lane (believe it or not, they have all done a feature film each and are regular names on the television), perhaps two (or at least one-and-a-half) singers in every lane. For the first time in history the density of struggling actors is facing a competition from density of struggling musicians. Often we see that struggling actors end up being semi-struggling musicians before settling down as dust on television. I shall reserve another article for technology and music, but the point is that there are more musicians now than ever before and they are all doing okay – at least financially. So we have a spate of musicians. I am one of them and like all these folks I don’t think so!
Now we have a spate of musicians but do we have that much music? To add to the woes of the mushrooming audio companies, the FM channels dished out the most contemporary music with a dash of unpredictability (as to which would be the next track played). At such times what does one do but fall back on a trusted tune? The musicians have got to earn, for God’s sake, and so have the music companies!

What is this remix business?

Don’t get me wrong; I am talking colloquially. I have no facts and figures about the economics of Remix sales. Moreover, it’s a boring topic. But what does one mean by a remix?
Remix the verb means - To recombine (audio tracks or channels from a recording) to produce a new or modified audio recording: remixed a popular ballad and turned it into a dance hit.
Remix, the noun, means - A recording produced by remixing.

The way in which we interpret a remix is sometimes slightly different from what the dictionary meaning says. That is, sometimes, the old tracks are not used at all. They simply are recreated. Ideally, is remix such a villainous thing to do? What is (or should be) the philosophy behind remix? I think that every classic needs to be reinterpreted by the new generation. So if I think that a song has not lost its relevance over the years I remix it to reinterpret it differently trying to get it in perspective of how I see things today.
But does that happen? Rarely… comes pat the answer. All we get to hear is a moronic hamming of the synthesizers and electronic instruments and a disoriented, feeble, virtually soulless and equally moronic voice that trample our golden memories with inhuman pleasure. It is like receiving a gift of a framed and unsolved jigsaw puzzle.
The point is not why we are doing remixes; the point is why are we doing them so badly and inanely?

Why I won’t do remixes

Imagine your neighbour walking in and saying “Can I borrow your child for a few days? I wanna him to dress as I do and speak the kinda language that I speak.” Horrified? So are the music composers who have to listen to these inane remixes of their own songs. And they aren’t even informed, let alone compensated, most of the times when their song is remixed. The other side of the story is that once you put your work of art for public scrutiny you shouldn’t be upset if the critics tear it to pieces. But it is one thing to be criticised and analysed and even valued, but quite another to be punished in the name of tribute.
I decided not to be part of the remix bandwagon almost as soon as it started. Not because I oppose remixes per se, but because I think I have better alternatives. For example, there is a poem by Kavi Anil – Bai Yaa Paavasaana – which has been composed by P. L. Deshpande. I loved the tune but I thought that I could see it differently. So I composed it afresh. If I like a musical composition, I try to find the LCM of that composition – some basic things like what is the thing that appeals in that composition – and then use that LCM in my composition. For me, it is a better, healthier and more creative alternative to remix.
On a concluding note, I want to say that remix is not taboo, but the intent of the remix will define its quality. After all it is intent that separates a murder from a manslaughter!

© Kaushal S. Inamdar, 2005