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Remixed: Freedom of Interpretation Somewhere Over the Rainbow

We were watching Australia [1] and at one of the high points of the film the ‘original’ version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is played, with its ‘original’ video. The song is the film’s main theme, and can be heard playing throughout it, usually at key moments. No less than half a dozen of different versions of the song can be heard, including jazzy versions, violin solos, accordion versions, and is sung (or hummed) by some of the characters.

Then – on hearing the ‘original’ version – my flat-mate said, "This is the first time I actually hear the original." "Well, you see, this is how Remix functions," I said. "Owing to remix versions of songs, we are able to hear the originals. The remix translates the song to our contemporary musical taste, to a language that we speak. There is a lesser probability that we hear an ‘original’ song in its original arrangement and performance unless there is Remix to help discover it.

The first time I heard Somewhere Over the Rainbow was in 1994, in its ‘techno-rave’ version performed by German star DJ Marusha [2]. Marusha actually made her initial appearance on the music scene with this song. Developed by the addition of a heavy bass-line, loud piano and Marusha’s high-pitched voice, this became one of the 1990s dance hymns. Since then, I must have listened to dozens of various interpretations of the tune and/or song.

The remix – naturally and usually – brings about a whole new feeling of the song (or any artwork being remixed) and will create different associations, will recall different memories. And each version will be experienced differently – one will make you gloomy, another – merry, yet another – happily dancing and so on and so forth.

For instance, I never think of The Wizard of Oz when I hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow – because this film was not where I heard the song for the first time. Indeed, I always remember the joyous prancing around of the DJ in a cartoon world and the happy and fast beating of the bass. Or I remember the performance featured in Meet Joe Black [3] – actually the version played at the film’s a couple of high points, because there again we have a number of different remixes of the song.

It is thus that Remix performs its emancipatory function. Not only does it give freedom to the remixing artist, the freedom to interpret pre-existing contents, but it also offers the listener a choice of different experiences. Compare for example Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings [4], voted "saddest classical work ever" by BBC listeners in a 2004 poll and DJ Tiesto’s remix [5] for the dancefloor. The former has been used as background music for a number of very sad events, including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death announcement, Albert Einstein’s funeral, and the concert/video commemorating the victims of the September 11 attack. The latter, however, can be heard in venues of completely opposite nature – electronic music parties, where the slightly pitched lead tune is mixed with a heavy bass line to create a thrilling dance track bringing ecstasy to the dancers.


REFERENCES

[1] Released in the end of 2008, starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, directed by Baz Luhrmann.

[2] The rave version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow was actually Marusha’s greatest hit, reaching to #3 in Germany in 1994.

[3] Performed by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – a ukulele medley of Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World (1993).

[4] First performed in 1938 in New York by by Arturo Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

[5] DJ Tiesto is only one of a number of remixers of the Adagio. Others include William Orbit, Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, eRa etc.