Course: MA, Digital Media (University of Sussex).
Module: New Developments in Digital Media.
Brief: map out and produce a piece of networked content using converged media, on the theme of 'a journey/an event'.

For this project, I took a remix event from the ccMixter community ('Strike The Root', about political corruption) and mapped the dispersal of contributions that followed the first upload. I used Google Maps as the primary tool for tracing the global distribution of these remixes.

The resulting soundmap operates as a means of tracing the spread of an idea - the 'journey' of the brief - and offers an alternative approach to the linear format of a CD or a playlist for listening to a collection of songs. The map placemarks were written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, the page in HTML and CSS.

Additional online technologies used include video content (an introduction to ccMixter - see right - and a short documentary on remixing), a Flash player of all of ccMixter's Lessig remixes, a ccMixter Twitter feed, plus a comments feature enabling interaction via Facebook or Twitter accounts.

An introduction to ccMixter, by Admiral Bob

Rootmap - the soundmap

From a seed planted in the North-Western United States that spread across North America, the four corners of Europe and even parts of Australasia, the above map shows the journey of an idea. Click on a placemark to hear a remix produced from or inspired by the original recording. Zoom in on darker shadowed placemarks to hear multiple tracks by some of the contributing artists. Read on below for an introductory theoretical framework for looking at remix culture.

Map Maker powered by Donkey Magic.

Map legend                             
Guide to Rootmap placemarks
'Walking on Eggshells: Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age' - a Yale student doc

Remix communities and the digital migration of ideas

The remix is perhaps the most sincere approach to looking at history and revisiting it, because it's done on top of the table - in fact, sometimes on turntables themselves.

(Saul Williams in McLeod, 2005)

On April 8th 2011, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig uploaded an mp3 file to the ccMixter remix community website. The recording, of a speech given in Portland Oregon and issued under a CC-BY licence, was part of a campaign he was launching about corruption in politics. The following day, the first remix to make use of this recording was uploaded to ccMixter by a musician based in Texas. On April 10th, two files were uploaded - one by a Canadian musician based around another track from the community pool that fitted the same theme, and another by a UK-based musician that further reworked the original Lessig file. By the time that the event closed a month later, 70 remixes from 15 different countries had been uploaded to the site.

So, what is a 'remix'? How can we understand this term in relation to culture or communities? This short essay will attempt to provide some pointers as guidance, and contribute a theoretical framework for the map given above.

Drawing an analogy with permissions connected with a computer file, Lessig (2008) describes a distinction between what he calls Read/Only (RO) culture and Read/Write (RW) culture. RO culture describes that associated with traditional media, of the recording industry, of movies - in other words, the products issued by the culture industries. RW culture, on the other hand, describes a situation where citizens add to their culture 'by creating and re-creating the culture around them' (ibid, p 28). Under this approach, RO involves a passive relationship with a surrounding culture where cultural objects are 'read only', whereas RW implies a more active relationship with that environment, where objects are both read and re-used in other forms of media 'writing'. Lessig (ibid, p 76) defines remix as the 'combining of elements of RO build something new', an act he sees as an 'essential (one) of RW creativity' (ibid, p 56).

Remix culture is nothing new. Cohen (2012) cites Shakespeare drawing on Roman mythology in his works, Renaissance painters' use of biblical imagery, and Pop artists' appropriations from the advertising and media culture around them as examples of historical uses of 'remix'. The term itself derives from practices within dub and reggae in the 1970s (Logie, 2006), but was popularised by the growth of hip-hop, a genre 'defined by the move from the finitude of the individual recording, played in its entirety, to the infinity of two or more copies of a record, mixed together, edited, and combined in numerous ways' (Boon, 2010, p 68). As the electric guitar was a primary technological tool during the rock era, so was the digital sampler for hip-hop. However, by directly taking elements of existing recordings to create new ones, this ultimately brought practitioners of hip-hop into conflict with the limitations of industrial copyright law.

Today, the barrier to entry into RW culture is very low, with wider participation afforded by digital technologies in general, and the Internet in particular. As Lessig (2008) explains, given access to even the simplest digital tools and a network, anyone can use images, audio or video to 'write' something new and share that work with others. Under copyright law however, where unauthorized uses of a copyrighted work is presumptively illegal (Bollier, 2008), any remix that does not seek the permission of the rights holder of the incorporated work falls foul of the law. This is a problem that the Creative Commons movement in general and ccMixter (for music) in particular has sought to redress, by enabling the online distribution of digital works where the permission to copy or transform has already been granted.

The ccMixter website, a platform aimed at 'getting feedback on who's using (a musician's) work and how it's evolving' (Paharia in Bollier, 2008, p 163), is an example of an online remix community, a grouping of people of common interest spread across the world. The web-based nature of the service negates the social or geographical limitations of a musician not being able to find a suitable collaborator in their locality, whereas the licensing system protects the community from the legal limitations of traditional copyright. Musicians contribute to a shared pool of works and are encouraged to incorporate material from the site into new works that they create, enabling the site to act as a form of 'distributed creativity based around a shared commons of material' (Stone, 2009, p 11). Contributors thus celebrate each others' works while building their own skills in the process, making ccMixter an example of 'a pure gift economy, modelled as a commons' (ibid, p 26).

The original files for the 'Strike the Root' event are presented on ccMixter in list format, giving no clues as to the geographical spread of the responses to Lessig's call. For this project, I decided to plot the global responses using Google Maps, as a map can serve as a powerful visual alternative to text. This would enable digital representations of journeys (or at least mapped co-ordinates within those journeys) that had taken place across several spheres - the physical world, with the uploading and downloading of mp3 files between personal computers and web servers; a sonic world, demonstrating the variations created from the original recording; and a virtual or imagined world, showing how a West Coast American response to the corruption of the US body politic had resonated across several other nations.

A simple audio player in each 'placemark' enables the audio file to be played without the user having to leave the map. The places marked in this object combine to form a sound map, a visual and sonic representation of the journeys of an mp3 file. Locational data was compiled by following links on each contributor's profile page, via additional web searches, or through contact made with the original musician. This map may not serve as a completely accurate geographical record as locations have not all been personally verified by each contributor, but it should at least give a sense a scale and spread of responses to the inaugural upload.

(Note: for requested changes to the placemark locations or to give feedback on this project/page, please add a contribution to the comments section below or drop a line to the footer email address.)


Bollier, D. (2008). Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own. New York: The New Press. CC-BY-NC.
Boon, M. (2010). In Praise of Copying. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. CC-BY-NC-SA.
Cohen, J. (2012). Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code, and the Play of Everyday Practice. London: Yale University Press. CC-BY-NC-SA.
Lessig, L. (2008). Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. London: Bloomsbury. CC-BY-NC.
Logie, J. (2006). Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates. West Lafayette: Parlor Press. CC-BY-NC-ND.
McLeod, K. (2005). Freedom of Expression: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity. London: Doubleday. CC-BY-NC-SA.
Stone, V (2009). ccMixter: A Memoir OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the RIAA and Love the Unexpected Collaborations of Distributed Creativity During the First Four Years of Running ccMixter. (pdf). CC-BY-SA.


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