Creation Requires Influence

Remixes run rampant in our culture today.  A remix is when you “combine or edit existing materials to produce something new.”  This could be used in music, movies, television, and even books.  Today the most common types of remixes are found on the Internet.  YouTube features many videos that have gone viral since the site’s incarnation.  Though many of these videos would be classified as a remix according to Kirby Ferguson:  “Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others.”  But Ferguson prefaces this thought by saying “creation requires influence.”  Without these previous sources, creativity would not thrive.  While much media today is some type of remix, many are original.  For example in the YouTube video “Star Wars (John Williams Is The Man) a Cappella Tribute” Corey Vidal uses scores composed by John Williams and words written by George Lucas to create a new song.  Vidal remixes these two works and produces an original video based upon them.

On May 25, 1977 a movie was released that would change the world.  Star Wars written and directed by George Lucas graced the silver screen with the far away galaxy from a long time ago.  This movie spawned a cultural phenomenon.  Fans went to see the movie over and over again, even dressing up for some showings.     In his “Everything is a Remix” video series Ferguson claims that Star Wars is a remix itself.  How could that possibly be?  Star Wars seems like such an original idea, how could it have been copied from something else?  Lucas was heavily influenced by the original Flash Gordon serials and a Japanese director named Akira Kurosawa from his childhood.  “George Lucas collected materials, he combined them, he transformed them.  Without the films that proceeded it, there could be no Star Wars.”  Even though it is a remix, Star Wars is still an extremely original entity.  No one before Lucas chose to combine everything he did.  This created an original concept even though it was based on something else.

One of the most important parts of the Star Wars franchise is the music.  Did you think I was going to say Luke Skywalker?  Well he’s pretty important too, but so is the music.  Composed by John Williams, the score for the Star Wars movies is set apart from any other.  If you play the opening fanfare, almost anyone would recognize it.  The same goes for many other scores written by Williams like Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  John Williams has won multiple awards for his compositions, including five Academy Awards.  But Williams did not come out of the womb composing award-winning scores.  He went to school and practiced his craft.  In order to become the great composer he is today, Williams first had to learn how to play music.  He had to learn pieces created by previous composers and practice them over and over.  These pieces influenced Williams and I’m sure some parts of them might show up in his original compositions.

Both Star Wars and John Williams’ scores have influenced many people over the years since they first made their appearances.  Corey Vidal is one of those people.  He grew up watching the movies and these influenced him to become a filmmaker.  In 2008, Vidal decided to make a video of himself lip syncing to a song called “John Williams is the Man.” This song is a mash-up of different parts of John Williams’s score, sung a cappella, with words taken from the first two movies of the original Star Wars trilogy.  I originally believed that Vidal had created this song, and sang it, himself, but in researching for this paper I found that the song was written in 2002 by an a cappella group called Moosebutter.

This video was uploaded to YouTube on October 27, 2008 and was featured on the YouTube homepage by November 3.  Currently, the video has over 18 million views.  “John Williams Is The Man” fits the criteria for a remix as stated by Ferguson.  The video copied Moosebutter’s song, which first copied elements from Williams’ scores he composed in the 70’s and 80’s and the words that Lucas wrote.  Copying is the first step of the remix process.  Next comes transformation.  The men of Moosebutter transformed Williams’ score into an original a cappella song.  Then they took the lines from Star Wars and arranged them into lyrics to fit the a cappella song.  Moosebutter took the final step of the remix process and combined the a cappella song and the lyrics to create an entirely new and original entity.

Years later in a friend’s basement, Vidal would chose to take a few hours out of his day and record himself lip syncing to this song and the rest is history.  The original song never went viral like Vidal’s because it was released prior to the creation of YouTube.  There was no way to share videos easily in 2002 and sharing is a major part of videos going viral.

Like other viral videos, “John Williams Is The Man” has spawned its own remixes.  Many videos have been uploaded to YouTube since 2008 of people doing their own version of the song.  Many choirs, including my own high school concert choir, have done their own covers.  One of my favorites features the students wielding lightsabers on a smoke-filled stage.  There are also videos featuring someone playing the medley on the piano and even one on the marimba.  Vidal eventually uploaded a video of Moosebutter singing a studio version of their song.   It was uploaded almost a month after Vidal’s and has only 2 million views.

“John Williams Is The Man” is a remix; there is no arguing that fact.  It is a copy of someone else’s work, but it is still original.  There is nothing like it on the Internet.  “Creation requires influence” and without these previous sources, creativity would not thrive.  Many things we have today would not exist if they could not be originally based on things that have come before it.  Everything may be a remix, but is that really a bad thing?

Purpose:  Though many things, such as music, movies, and videos, in our culture today can be classified as remixes, a great deal of these are also original.  Without previous influences, creativity would not thrive.  In this paper I will explore how “John Williams Is The Man” is not only a remix, but also an original video.

Audience:  The primary audience for this paper is the users of YouTube and those who produce videos for the site.

Works Cited

Everything Is a Remix. Dir. Kirby Ferguson. Perf. Kirby Ferguson. Vimeo. N.p., 2010. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.

Star Wars (John Williams Is The Man) a Cappella Tribute Medley Song. Dir. Corey Vidal. Perf. Corey Vidal and MooseButter. YouTube. N.p., 27 Oct. 2008. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.

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