In our contemporary cultural mixonosphere we're confronted by everything from labradoodles to mashups to hybrids all seeking validation with our pleasure receptors be it music, or literature, or fine arts, and media arts. While each new mix, blend, amalgam, and alloy all have their own unique set of genres and discrete areas of miximal innovation, above it all, there is a larger meta principle at work.
Conceptual art is more concerned with ideas or concepts than any specific materials or techniques of execution and is best described by Sol Lewitt, one of the pioneers of conceptual art in his essay Paragraphs on Conceptual art “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.”
It is this conceptional shared thought, ethos and purpose that defined the first millennial zeitgeist and all the richness of fruits that it bore.
Expanding the notion of appropriation into more conceptual approaches were collectives such as Ant Farm, a San Francisco avant-garde arts, installation, and performance collective famous for its demonstrative critique of the intersection of media and technology. Founded by Chip Lord and Doug Michels, the Ant Farm 1975 Media Burn project is perhaps the group’s most remembered work. Dressed as astronauts, the pair drove an embellished, space-age Cadillac at full throttle, crashing through a wall of flaming TV sets in the parking lot of San Francisco’s Cow Palace.
In 2009, they recreated their original Media Van for the San Francisco Museum of Art. The Media Van had various plugs and connectors that allowed the museum-goers to upload images, videos, and songs onto the van’s internal hard drive.
The van was then preserved as a time capsule, with a planned reopening in 2030. Experiments such as these opened the floodgates to media, technology, and conceptual digital works all mashed together into cross-genre categories—effectively modernizing the principles or philosophy of the 1960s Fluxus art movement to produce new specialized millennial forms of art (more on Fluxus later).
More and more, creative and information narratives rely on multimedia techniques that are the combination of more than one media type experienced simultaneously. The marriage of pure music forms into visualized performance, such as the fourteenth-century Noh or Nogaku form of classical Japanese musical drama or the sixteenth-century invention of opera, combined performance, visual arts, and music to deliver a transformational experience not found in any single discrete channel contained within the overall experience.
Another obvious example is the marriage of text and pictures, such as found in magazine formats, in which each discrete channel (text or pictures) combines together with the other to provide a synergy that supports both. Amplify this simple principle into the technology explosion of today, and you’ll find new experiences that are transformational and immersive, combining radically different sources and channels of information into wonderful new blended experiences or sometimes just random chaotic torture.
The Zen simplicity of passive exposure to singular linear media (such as listening to a song) will always be a part of the human cultural experience. More is not always more. I like to describe this as “too much drama, not enough Rama” (Rama, a colloquial contraction of Ramayana, the story of the Hindu preserver-god Vishnu and, more specifically, to the concept of inner peace and happiness).
When this new multimedia mashup approach works, it is the promise of all our senses and brain and soul tied together in magnificent new ways we never dreamed a generation ago. You’ll notice the addition of a text crawl to read while watching your TV news, the inclusion of video inside of written stories found in online newspaper websites, or smart Blu-ray DVD players connected to the Internet that deliver “extras,” such as audio and text overlays and interactive elements superimposed on your favorite rerelease of Casablanca.
The term fluxus or intermedia denotes the indefinable and perplexing interdisciplinary mashup that occurs between genres—areas such as those found somewhere between painting and poetry, or between sculpture and theater. Combining techniques, materials, and modalities in new and interesting ways has a rich evolutionary history in the world of art, performance, writing and other forms of creative expression.
The 1940s creation of avant-garde composer John Cage known as the prepared piano (the term for placing various physical objects inside the piano or attaching various processes that interfere with the piano’s sound in unusual ways) was a basis from which he wrote frequent dance-related works and a small assortment of concert works, the best known being Sonatas and Interludes (1946–1948). This invention quickly made Cage one of the most controversial composers of his or any time.
The 1963 Exposition of Music—Electronic Television by artist Nam June Paik, embodied the neo-Dada art movement known as Fluxus, originally founded by George Maciunas. Fluxus is also described as intermedia, a term coined by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in a famous 1966 essay "Could it be that the central problem of the next ten years or so, for all artists in all possible forms, is going to be less the still further discovery of new media and intermedia, but of the new discovery of ways to use what we care about both appropriately and explicitly?"
The Exposition of Music—Electronic Television showcased Paik’s
transition from music to the electronic image. The presentation included four
prepared pianos along with various mechanical sound-generating objects and
recording-tape playback installations along with twelve modified TV sets and—if
that was not enough—the head of a freshly slaughtered ox above the entrance.
This was a definitive intermedia (or, as we’d call it today, multimedia)
experience that was, at the time, both new and shocking but in the words of Dick Higgins, was it presented both appropriately and explicitly? Explicitly for sure.
The aforementioned writings found in Burroughs’ (1971) Electronic Revolution essay collection influenced various musicians in the 1970s, such as the industrial music movement’s Cabaret Voltaire, a band named after the original and infamous Cabaret Voltaire, a bohemian nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland, that was a center for the early Dada school.
Richard H. Kirk, a member of the Cabaret Voltaire band, borrowed many ideas and processes from Burroughs’ writings in the formation of his music. In an essay titled The Lost Tapes of Carl Weissner, Claude Pélieu and Mary Beach, 1967-1969 by Edward S. Robinson Kirk describes Burroughs’ revolution as “a handbook of how to use tape recorders in a crowd . . . to promote a sense of unease or unrest by playback of riot noises cut in with random recordings of the crowd itself.” Cabaret Voltaire later became one of the most influential industrial music groups through its early experimental techniques of mixing pop with techno, dub house, and nontraditional electronic sounds.
In the millennial decade, traditional monolinear notions, such as music genres and their root categories, routinely incorporate multiple, cultural mashing principles—such as found with Dread Zeppelin, a band that plays reggae versions of Led Zeppelin hits with Elvis-flavored vocals. Tortelvis, Butt-Boy, Ziggy Knarley, Bob Knarley, Spice, and Charlie Haj created the miximal group, which reportedly moved Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant to call it his “favorite Led Zeppelin cover band ever!”
Repurposed technology also has a special place in miximal multimedia experiences. The presentation software from Microsoft called PowerPoint® is hated by both authors and audiences alike. As a communication tool for presenting narrative information, PowerPoint has spawned its very own category of business specialists I like to call CPOs, or chief PowerPoint officers. No amount of donuts or secret Blackberry® texting can help one endure hours of bar charts and bulleted text slides that will eventually break even the most avid CPO.
The former Talking Heads member David Byrne’s 2001 Indices was an exploration of PowerPoint-as-art, about which he states, “It started off as a joke . . . but then the work took on a life of its own.” Truly a daring and dangerous example of drama vs. Rama, and, interesting as it was, the pain of so many presentations in conference rooms is just too fresh in my mind for me to appreciate it.
Early experiments in technology as music led to various artifacts, such as the theremin, an early electronic musical instrument that senses the position of the player’s hands. It is named after the Russian inventor Professor Leon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. It produced an eerie sound that was featured in such movie soundtracks as The Day the Earth Stood Still and led to a school of audio experimentation known as circuit bending, pioneered by Reed Ghazala in the 1960s.
Circuit bending is the imaginative practice of short-circuiting electronic devices, such as low-voltage devices and children’s toys, to create repurposed sound generators that ultimately gave way to synthesizers, samplers, and other mainstream embodiments. Electronic musical instruments married perfectly with the parallel development of video production tools, and the mixing of audio, video, and interactive gear quickly grew. Check out tabTV's Circuit Bending playlist.
Machinima (a portmanteau word combining machine and cinema) is a spectacular and extremely popular example of current technology bending for art. Machinima is the repurposing of game machines, such as Xbox, into film-creation tools (but more on that later). Be sure to also check out tabTV's Machinima playlist.
With much historical precedent, it is specifically the current acceleration of the cross-pollination of miximal principles and influences between the various spheres of creation and invention that defines miximalism as a broad and pervasive millennial phenomenon.
As we see art, technology, music, and media combining and recombining in so many new forms, I hope that you’ll enjoy discovering the influences and archetypes that we’ll cover in this blog and be able to distinguish nebulas from pulsars as you gaze into the sea of stars—or YouTube stars—now appearing on your TiVo, your cell phone, and, yes, even your TV.
As we journey together through this exploration, we will come to understand the provenance of miximal forms, the many examples of miximal efforts—both tragic and triumphant—and gain a working understanding of the inherent challenges and opportunities of this pervasive cultural phenomenon that delivers on the realization that miximalism is more than a trend and perhaps more than a movement—it might possibly become known as the period of art we are all collectively experiencing in our lifetimes.
Whether you’re an artist, a fan, or just an interested layperson, a working understanding of miximalism and its rich and diverse embodiments will change your notion of “500 channels and nothing to watch” into an all-you-can-eat buffet of mouthwatering deliciousness. Be sure to check out my meMEguide and learn more about all the various forms.