April 12, 2009

Remixing Youtube

Léon Theremin made the first electronic musical instrument and named it after himself. The Theremin, as it's known today, (or thereminvox) was first unleashed way back in 1919.

The sound is created with the use of radio frequencies (RF): It is played without physical contact and the performer's distance from two antennas determine the pitch and volume. According to Wikipedia, Léon Theremin built these machines in New York during the 1930s while experimenting with other musical instruments and inventions.

Sound weird? Imagine what people of the 1930s thought.

Heinrich Hertz invented his first antenna receiver in 1886 . but it was Guglielmo Marconi and others who applied and advanced the real power of the technology, experimenting with potential uses of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves) in the first decade of the 1900s. Marconi's facilities still stand within the Point Reyes National Seashore and elsewhere.

Using RF to make sound music directly seems space-age, even today, but the Theremin has always been something of a novelty, and the musicians using it have a hard time being taken seriously. Critics will fight till the end about what music is, what art is, and what constitutes a musical instrument – don't pay any attention. It's like what they say about porn: You know it when you see it.

Youtube, for example, probably isn't a musical Instrument. Or is it?

Musician or not, Kutiman is perhaps the best of the Youtube remixers. So here's an introduction if you don't already know. It's called Mother of All Funk Chords, and if you watch closely, you will see two theremin(s?) being remixed. In fact, better just go watch the whole “ThruYOU” thing. The Credits section is especially good.

As Theremin didn't invent radio, the now-trendy Kutiman didn't invent the video remix, and neither did these guys, but they're an old favorite I caught at the now-defunct ResFest design conference when it passed thru San Francisco a few years ago. Check out how Ninja Tune's Coldcut and Hexstatic use native audio and video in this critique of the logging industry and consumerism.

Now, that’s using your media.

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