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Remixability and Ray Charles

by Survey of Interactive Media

As discussed by Lev Manovich in his article “Remixing and Remixability” (, remixing, while not a new phenomenon in contemporary Western society, has become an increasingly common practice in media, particularly since the proliferation of the Internet.  Although Manovich is quick to point out that this remixability has permeated a wide range of areas in contemporary life, his examination of remixing and remixability as it relates to music is especially illustrative of this phenomenon.


Ray Charles popular 1954 song “I Got a Woman” is highly illustrative of this point.  In the first clip linked here we hear Ray Charles singing the original version of this hit song.  In the background we hear a small band including a bass, a set of drums and some brass instruments all playing a clean and simple syncopated rhythm that allows Ray Charles’ voice to shine through clearly and easily.  However, in the second clip, while we see and hear the same song performed by Ray Charles again, this time it has been remixed into a live performance, which includes an extended introduction, pauses for audience reaction and participation, synthesized instrumentation, a piano solo, and numerous small inconsistencies in lyrics, rhythm and melody.


Remixing is also clearly evident in this third clip where we now see the same song performed again, this time by actor Jamie Foxx portraying the character Ray Charles in the 2004 film Ray.  Again, the song is easily identifiable as a version of the original discussed above; however, the performer, voice, and instrumentation are noticeably different in this version.  It is now only Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) signing and accompanying himself on the piano.  In addition, only a few lines of the song are actually heard, and even these are interrupted by dialogue between Ray and Bee (Kerry Washington), which alters the meaning of the song by providing additional context.  Ironically, the dialogue that takes place in the midst of this performance is itself a discussion of remixability, with Bee questioning the propriety of remixing gospel into secular music.


In this fourth and final clip remixability is further articulated through Kanye West’s sampling of Jamie Foxx’s performance discussed above as used in West’s 2004 song “Gold Digger.”  Here, not only has the original song been remixed to the point where only a few words are recognizable from the original version, but the performance sampled is Jamie Foxx’s remix, and the original message has been completely reversed.  Whereas Ray Charles was singing of a woman who gives him money, Kanye West used this song to rap about a woman who takes money from him.  And yet, elements of the original song including fragments of melody, tone and lyrics all manage to maintain ties to the original work, creating a new piece while at the same time still addressing the original work.



Ray Charles - I Got a Woman (Live)

Ray Charles performing I Got a Woman live

from I Gt a Woman (Unknown)
Creator: Ray Charles
Posted by Survey of Interactive Media