Over the past four years, I’ve probably read through hundreds of papers, articles and books, and skimmed through the body or abstracts of hundreds of others. Jeff Rice’s “The Making of Ka-Knowledge: Digital Aurality” has probably set itself up as the strangest piece of academic writing I have ever approached, and only sentences into the abstract at that. Rice throws around terms like “Droppin’ science”, “juice”, “ka-knowledge” and “sounding out” as though they were all part of common parlance. Perhaps this is simply an extreme example of the insularity of a given academic field. Perhaps other digital rhetoricians like Rice can easily acknowledge the way that a text’s mix drops science by sounding out its juice, showing a clear mastery of ka-knowledge by inserting juicy breaks, the likes of which are a common part of new physics in digital media.
Yes, I’m sure the I’m the problem here.
My opinions on the language the academics have apparently chosen to go with, there is much to say regarding Rice’s exploration of the way that aural components of texts are operating in a regards to rhetoric and composition. I wish specifically to hone in on the way that Rice uses the terms “mix” and “mixing”. I stress that this is definitely not because this was one of the more coherent parts of his piece. Assuredly not. Instead, I’ve chosen the mix because we exist in a time where we have a potent exemplar of the way that the mix interacts with rhetoric, courtesy of the internet’s beloved himself, Neil Cicierega.
Before we look at what mixing does, we should first come to grips with what the term is supposed to mean. In section 4 of his article, Rice states that the “power” of digital writing can be located in the logic of the Mix (Rice). He goes on to use a song produced by DJ Kid Koala to exemplify what the mix looks like in a text. Mixing, as Rice presents it, is essentially a means by which a digital writer can compose a given text in a non-linear fashion, similar (but distinct as Rice points out) to hypertext narratives. In the realm of music, the mix manifests itself as a combination of sounds that the composer pieces together to create a coherent, singular piece, such as the way that Kid Koala combines vocal sampling and various noises associated with automobiles and driving to create “Fender Bender”. Unlike hypertext, which is a singular text that connects to another text, and then another, along a “path”, the mix sees the intertexuality- the usage of collective forms, information or other texts themselves as we’ll see soon- mesh into a singular text, such that the audience experiences all of its components as an individualized entity that contains context far beyond itself.
As Rice alludes to in his references to rhapsodes and Homeric poetry, the mix is a compositional tool which can be likened to a sort of rewriting. Rice even goes so far as to state that “Rewriting is the logic of the mix.”(Rice). From here he connects mixing to expression of “juice”- something similar to finding a personal voice, “showing off”- demonstration of a competency of literacy that yields the ability to create mixes, and ultimately the formation of “ka-knowledge”- the formal expression of the contextuality and literacy that is displayed through Rice’s article in the examples he chooses. Here, we see that the mix is a tool by which a creator can piece together material for explicit purpose; the rewriting goes beyond arbitrary assortments of sound or song sampling.
With a better idea of what the mix is and what it serves, it becomes useful to see it in action. I neglected to detail the examples Rice uses, as I would simply reiterate his arguments; I have no background in those specific pieces and can’t contribute with new, relevant detail. Hence, I present something new:
Neil Cicierega is a man of many talents, but is well known for his peculiar musical albums, “Mouth Silence”, “Mouth Sounds” and the newly released “Mouth Moods”. The albums are characterized by the fact that essentially every song present is built off of the modification or remixing to existing songs. The example above, “Smooth” is essentially The Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” set to the musical backing of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”, additionally incorporating “O, Canada” and lines from Santana’s “Smooth”. In Cicierega’s “Smooth” we can see the power of the mix in action.
To me, it seemed as though one could easily misinterpret the significance of mixing in any form of digital text, and for this reason, I felt that Rice’s comparisons to hypertext and its differences from what he describes as mixing were important. Cicierega’s “Smooth” is not simply a mash of multiple songs to create some kind of aural detritus, nor is it simply a song that references Barenaked Ladies, Michael Jackson, Santana and the Canadian national anthem. Components of all 4 songs are meshed into a cohesive text, the impact of which can only be fully appreciated with context to the individualized components.
At the same time we can also see how mixing allows one to express other elements such as “droppin’ science” as Cicierega goes a step further to combine the lyrical elements of Santana’s “Smooth” and “One Week” to create something totally new in a similar fashion to Kid Koala, “It’s been my world to lift you up, It’s been my life to better suit your mood…it’s the same emotion that I get from Harrison Ford”.
Though there is much to unpack from Rice’s article in totality and much more to say about aurality in digital rhetoric, we can take away a few key things:
- Digital rhetoric is (obviously) multimedia. In addition to textual and visual rhetoric, we must also consider aurality and its role.
- Digital writing offers the unique opportunity to writers- the mix. By pulling from their personal bank of literacy and cultural databanks of information, be they derived from the internet or otherwise, digital writers are poised to compose truly unique texts that synthesize the meaning and utility of the individualized components to both comment upon their individual qualities, and to create something entirely new, such as “Mouth Moods”
- The mix is a type of rewriting in which there must be a deliberateness to the way that the individual pieces that are mixed in are represented. “Smooth” would have been a very different song if the “Harrison Ford” repetitive fade out was inserted somewhere else, had lasted far longer, or was overlaid with Santana’s lyrics