Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mashups, and the honesty of the creative mind

There are those who say "there's nothing new under the sun." And that is true, to an extent (you may notice that claim is nearly always followed by the qualifier I attached). So while some creative folks bang their heads looking for "original" ideas, the on-the-ground reality is that most creative work is a work of appropriation.

The first iMacs to have G4 processors were modeled after a sunflower, or so goes the story. Browse the posts at Core77 and you come away with the inspiration of the inspirations behind those designs. Our inspirations aren't drawn from the vacuum or a synaptic blank page-- we take what we need and reform it, refine it, re-engineer it to make it our own.

So earlier this year I had a great discussion with a friend of mine who is a fabulous musician in New York. When she asked what I was listening to, I somewhat sheepishly responded, "lots of mashups." She was a little put-off, I think, because real musicians pride themselves on originality. Amy certainly does, and there's no mistaking the originality of her current project: Koko Dozo.

But mashups are intensely creative. They are often juxtapositions of dissimilar songs, but ones with similar beat structures. Even better is when they take phrases, not musical phrases, but the lyrics, and put them together, like some crazy Mad Libs set to a psychotic waltz.

The act of mashing up music may seem "easy," but it isn't. You have to have a good ear, patience and an understanding of music. Much like Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans," they take extant material and re-purpose it into something new. Derivative? Perhaps, but it still keeps my toe tapping and a smile on my face in the unique combinations!

Note that I haven't linked to any particular mashups. That's because the recording industry seeks to kill off this genre because they are obsessed with copyright and have no clue how to implement alternative revenue streams. Those heavy-handed tactics are in direct opposition with the art of the mashup, but that's a post for another day.

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