Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recombinant Collage vs. In Vitro Mashups

Let's for a moment accept the old fashioned premise that traditional artwork, whatever the medium, falls into two categories:


The following melody represents an original creation. It is not the result of a found sound, a recorded sample copied and pasted off a long forgotten B-side, or a well reiterated meme there for the mere replicating. Rather it is a wholly unique and original (though not completely alien) communication conceived via some combination of mysterious inspirational and biological processes which we still don't understand, but it is seemingly composed out of the synaptic ether from the singularly sophisticated brain of one brilliant composer:

Isaac Stern performs Bach Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001 Fugue

And so was this melody:

Britney Spears performs Max Martin Baby One More Time

But this I'm not sure about:

Consider Girl Talk's latest album ALL DAY, which samples and posits each of its 372 sampled riffs, procured from a repertoire of previously recorded and popular hit songs, is an instantly recognizable hook.

Girl Talk - This is the Remix

ALL DAY is superbly fun. Indeed, it's like mainlining crystalline ear candy or some other highly addictive central nervous system stimulant, but does it represent something new? And to my ear and aesthetic, it exemplifies the latest post millennial model for presenting existing art works –all at once, sort of like bubblegum memetics or flashmobbing music. But I'm not sure the samples represent small enough microstructures that one could say the work was composed by Girl Talk. Rather, more factual I think to state that ALL DAY stretches the boundaries of the curator's craft and is more aptly considered an experimental and Experiential Playlist created by Girl Talk.

Of course, the same can be said of Kutiman's JUST A LADY, composed by editing several different video clips into a montage and layering their respective audio tracks so that they sync into a composite unified whole. JUST A LADY may or may not be a new work, or even a derivative work. To me, it is closer to representing the experience of walking into a room where more than one sonic artist is performing, and their respective performances (10 to be exact) just happen sync. This is what 5.1 Surround Sound sounds like when it's squished into a compressed A/V file. And quite elegantly, actually.

Kutiman-Thru-you - 07 - Just a Lady


There are several works in the Kutiman oeuvre, and together they remind me very much of Darren Solomon's interactive 'In Bb', which may either be a composition or an electronic game; John Cage's Music of Changes (1951); Nam June Paik's Düsseldorf matrix 1995 Swatch installation; and even the Brian Eno and David Byrne collaboration, 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts', among many other such works created, constructed or composed over the last fifty years.

Nam June Paik: installation Düsseldorf matrix 1995 Swatch

Present distribution platforms may be revolutionary, but our experience of all the above mentioned works is similar to some degree. I think it interesting, though that the Byrne/Eno cycle is the only one which offers a memorable audio experience. Whereas Solomon's 'In Bb' is a fun interactive device, the content itself is forgettable, maybe because each A/V asset is not the result of Solomon's singular inspiration, but the result of crowdsourcing. Paik's audio is simply incidental, and Cage, one suspects, simply wants to be appreciated for his theories. But of course, that is the point of much 'modern art'. What the artists want us to remember is the concept. Neither sound nor object is the thing, it is the blurred boundaries, and that is an intangible.

So if one is simply trying to appreciate a thing for itself, then no wonder it eventually strikes one as boring. Conceptually, however, all three composers –Solomon, Paik and Cage– have produced utterly fascinating works. It's when we actually listen to them that our attention wavers.

In fact, it may appear as if we are making Art where content doesn't matter.

In this aspect all Conceptual Artists share a common motivation with all mashup makers. And since mashups have gone mainstream, there now are a lot of people disseminating interesting ideas using otherwise incidental art as a means of distribution.

What amazing intellectual heights our species has reached! It's stuff like this that separates us from apes, and thanks to INTEL and others, we can frickin gorge ourselves on it.

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