Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

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SirMustapha
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Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby SirMustapha » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:13 pm UTC

I got myself "initiated" into this recent fever -- not by my own free will, but because my girlfriend sometimes listens to it. I sometimes find myself with a very strong feeling against this "movement", not in the sense of trying to finish it for good or anything, but in the sense of rejecting it as art. And you should know that is very unusual of me; I'm the kind who accepts a pile of litter thrown against a corner as "art" (even if I feel complete indifference towards it).

The thing that bugs me is that folks who do mash-ups don't seem to be trying to create something. It is different from people who use samples to create new compositions -- hell, I really do think DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... is a masterpiece, because he was using existent recordings as building blocks for something completely new, for something completely his. Making a cheap analogy, it's sort of like taking a handful of characters from different novels, plays or films, and making something new with them, imagining how they'd interact, how they would form a brand new story -- even perhaps using their own lines and scenes.

Mash-up, though, consists of people merely stating "hey, I just found out two or more songs that are really similar, here, let me show it to you!". They don't focus on creating something, but simply pasting two things together to show the listener how well they go along and how clever the "artist" is for noticing it. In a mash-up, the idea is for the listener to recognise the original songs in their original context and enjoy them for that; taking the previous analogy, it is like intercalating scenes from different sources to try to show how similar they are and how they can still form a coherent story. Or something like that.

I don't know why I feel so bothered by it: covering, sampling, remixing, things like that, are all extremely valid forms of creation and expression in my book. Mash-ups, however, are a mere display of cleverness, a showcase of awareness, without being actual expression. If there was at least an attempt at saying something with those mash-ups, for example, pasting together completely contradictory yet musically compatible songs as a form of irony (as, say, Pet Shop Boys did when they inserted Can't Take My Eyes Off You in their cover of Where the Streets Have No Name -- that was genius!), making a criticism of sameyness, or at least some form of humour, I could take it as a nice diversion. But pretty much all that I hear is just a very shallow novelty, probably the most non-musical trend ever invented -- and I am not talking about anti-musical, just not musical at all.

It sucks -- as much as I try to be open and receptive towards new things and ideas, there has to be something nasty to come along and break my stride. :(

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Dream » Tue Dec 21, 2010 5:21 pm UTC

SirMustapha wrote:I don't know why I feel so bothered by it: covering, sampling, remixing, things like that, are all extremely valid forms of creation and expression in my book. Mash-ups, however, are a mere display of cleverness, a showcase of awareness, without being actual expression.

Don't take them so seriously. They're the dogfort of the music world, and that's cool. Dogforts are often hilarious, and mashups are often very clever. Neither is often accused of being very expressive of anything beyond "look! I found two things that fit together!" However, dogforts are generally better than mashups, in my opinion.
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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Account20151023 » Tue Dec 21, 2010 6:23 pm UTC

Torn on this one. I really don't like Girl Talk (athough I respect he guy and love what he's doing to the music industry), but then you find shit like this, which to me is so much better than the sum of its parts. Depends entirely on the talent of the mashup artist. DJ Topcat kicks ass.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Midnight » Tue Dec 21, 2010 7:39 pm UTC

spoilered for huge, but here's an artistic example of why mashups are artistic:
(note: I wouldn't call it longcat length... but it's pretty huge. 64k killer.)
Spoiler:
Image

So uh, that's both an awesome display of visual representation/graphic design, but also an awesome display of mashing up.
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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby TheAmazingRando » Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:45 pm UTC

Unless a mashup is really well done, I usually find them pretty boring. And I find that, the more samples they use, the more boring they become. I appreciate that you need to be clever to do it well, but with artists like Girl Talk I feel like the result is just rhythmic mush without a whole lot of structure.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Midnight » Wed Dec 22, 2010 3:34 am UTC

I guess it's funny, and this video is supposed to indeed be funny, but it's still clever, and took skill or artistic merit or whatever to craft. Hell, you could easily craft a halfway decent song if you applied the lyric-substitution method that they do. It would probably chart. It's as funny as a clever song, be it a biting Alanis Morrisette song or a clever Weird Al song--and I wouldn't say is he isn't an artist, even though I don't like him at all.
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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Adacore » Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:27 pm UTC

I've only seen a very small number of high quality mashups - the best ones are those that do exactly the opposite of what SirMustapha is claiming: they take two apparently different songs and combine them in such a way that they 'work', musically. For example 'Stroke of Genius', which is a Strokes vs Christina Aguilera mashup is definitely a creative and artistic work (imo).

Lots (almost all) of the mashups I've heard are pretty boring and uncreative, though.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Midnight » Wed Dec 22, 2010 10:39 pm UTC

I've also seen the vocals of Lady Gaga's "bad romance" line up perfectly with the instruments from Meshuggah's "bleed" and I think those two songs are about as different as songs can be.
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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby peacespotting » Mon May 30, 2011 10:55 pm UTC

I think it all depends on the genre to begin with, and then what type of music event you're creating with the mashup (ie is it a single to be released as a new composition, a cover version, or simply as part of a live dj set).

The latter can be extremely creative and entertaining. This mix by A Skillz
Spoiler:
http://soundcloud.com/a-skillz/a-skillz-live-mix-09
is possibly my favourite live mix I have ever heard - lots of original mashups that go well together within his general genre (funk/breakbeat), and mixed in with his own original compositions and remixes. I saw him live last year and that type of thing was really entertaining, encompassing broad ranges of genres and satisfying the whole crowd.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby aldonius » Wed Jun 01, 2011 12:00 pm UTC

DJ Earworm and his United State of Pop series are also pretty amazing.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Rodion Raskolnikov » Wed Jun 01, 2011 2:45 pm UTC

If this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kspPE9E1yGM isn't art, well blow me, I don't know what is.

To be honest I'm not a great fan of mash-ups. But what Girltalk does I find very impressive.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby philsov » Wed Jun 01, 2011 6:12 pm UTC

In a mash-up, the idea is for the listener to recognise the original songs in their original context and enjoy them for that;


Not necessarily. In fact, many mashups have introduced me to several new artists, many at the same time. It's... different to hear the songs in their original context secondary rather than primary.

If there was at least an attempt at saying something with those mash-ups, for example, pasting together completely contradictory yet musically compatible songs as a form of irony (as, say, Pet Shop Boys did when they inserted Can't Take My Eyes Off You in their cover of Where the Streets Have No Name -- that was genius!), making a criticism of sameyness, or at least some form of humour, I could take it as a nice diversion.


Presenting!

Party Ben - All the Single Ladies of Mayberry
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE-l4gfiCM8

Hathbanger - Party and Bullshit in the USA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV1i0WwhHfg

"But I’m singling out “Party & Bullshit (In the USA)” for a reason. The reason is simple and fairly obvious, but I want to explain it for those who don’t pick up on it immediately. This song is taking something that’s doing it wrong and making it right. I like to complain about what’s wrong, but some things deserve a break to be commended. Especially if it’s transformative. So what’s wrong? Miley Fucking Cyrus, that’s what. Honestly, I had never listened (or known that I was listening) to a Miley Cyrus song before this one, mostly because I figured she’d sound just like those other girls. I was wrong. She’s worse.

What I love about this mashup is the contrast, and it’s that satire which makes the music work so well. The song opens with big’s amazingly harsh, thick rap, which I love for its rough honesty. But there’s a nice, light dance beat (like most bootie songs). Talking about smoking blunts at 13 and getting shot at. Then from nowhere, some autotuned 12-year-old’s grating high-pitched voice slices the song up with some bullshit about a Jay-Z song? Putting your hands up? Butterflies? Moving your hips? Aren’t you illegal in most countries, little girl? Party in the USA? This is fucking bullshit, I can’t think of worse lyrics. (And I lived through Staind, Nickleback, and Evanescence.)

And then more of big’s fucking killer lyrics. You read this shit? Compared to modern music, this is Hemingway. NWA might as well be Longfellow, Thoreau, and Emerson. I’m not the biggest fan of rap in the world, but I have a lot of respect for a guy who can stick to a rhyming scheme like it’s nothing. (Yes, biggie rhymes “out” with itself, but Dylan Thomas did that too sometimes.) I have a great deal more respect for motherfuckers like Snoop and Ice-T who rhyme about killing people than anybody who writes a pop love ballad. Poetic conventions in such violent situations? Brilliant. Scare kids into thinking poetry is cool, it works.

The killer, and my favorite part of the song, is big’s swaying jive in the background of Miley’s chorus. Turn it up and listen to it. Party… and bullshit. Party… and bullshit. Fuck Miley Cyrus and her fucking voice. She is what’s wrong. But biggie, even though he’s fucking dead, is making it right."


~

I admit the signal to noise ratio on mashups is worse than many other emerging fronts because of how accessible the content and easy the creation of one is, but there are some definite gems out there, which do certainly fall under the category of "creating something new and awesome from existing parts"

1234 My Violent Heart (Feist vs. NIN)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb-irQdcysk

Party Ben - Galvanize the Empire (Chem Bros vs. John Williams)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5nSe_dz1Zo

Party Ben - Walking with a Ghost in Paris (Tegan and Sara vs. Mylo -- notably two artists I never heard songs from until this)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mej_WZMx64M
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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Sat Jun 04, 2011 6:31 am UTC

The Kleptones have an impressive mash-up discography, as does dj BC.

Ever noticed how often it is Jay-Z who provides vocals in mash-ups?
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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby icelizarrd » Sat Jun 04, 2011 10:47 pm UTC

This is relevant to my interests, since I make mash-ups myself.

I do think mash-ups can have artistic value. However, I second what philsov said: the signal-to-noise ratio is unfortunately pretty bad thanks to the barrier for entry being pretty low. (Perhaps also thanks to the lack of interest in mash-ups on the part of those with more serious musical aspirations, which is understandable.)

SirMustapha wrote:Mash-up, though, consists of people merely stating "hey, I just found out two or more songs that are really similar, here, let me show it to you!". They don't focus on creating something, but simply pasting two things together to show the listener how well they go along and how clever the "artist" is for noticing it. In a mash-up, the idea is for the listener to recognise the original songs in their original context and enjoy them for that; taking the previous analogy, it is like intercalating scenes from different sources to try to show how similar they are and how they can still form a coherent story.
I think that depends. For me, the more enjoyable mash-ups are the ones that do produce something new. Personally, I find Jason Nevins' AC/DC + Justin Timberlake and Nelly mash-up rather more enjoyable than either source song in isolation. (I'm not a fan of AC/DC, apologies in advance to the legions of rabid fans who protest against such heresy.) In this particular case, part of its enjoyability does have to do with how the mashing-up is handled: the sampled guitar riffs are varied at appropriate points; new sounds are added (drums, scratching, synth effects) which complement the existing sounds and effectively outline phrases; and overall everything fits together very well. Another example that comes to mind is DJ Dangermouse's mix of Jay-Z - "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and The Beatles - "Julia".

I do tend to feel that there should be some creative investment in a mash-up beyond simply laying one track over another, similar to the way that I think other heavily sample-reliant music (e.g. some hip hop songs) should do a little more than just looping a 2 bar phrase and adding drums to it, or the way that remixes should be something more than slapping a generic four-on-the-floor dance beat under a pop a cappella. I don't see that as a problem with the genre so much as it is a problem with specific music within the genre, however.


Incidentally, where do we draw the line, I wonder, between mash-ups and other types of exclusively (or mostly) sample-based music? Arguably DJ Shadow and folk like Prefuse 73, RJD2 (for his earlier music), Amon Tobin (ditto, I think anyway), Koop (for their studio work, vocals aside. I think they replay the samples live for performance, though?), and Pretty Lights could fall under the mash-up category as much as Girl Talk. Is the difference that they sample obscure material rather than popular material? And is that where the recognizability part of it becomes important? I.e., mash-ups are a spectacle of sorts because the listeners experience the jolt of hearing two or more familiar sources combined unexpectedly, whereas sample collages lack that same experiential juxtapositional shock.

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Re: Mash-up as a form of art (or not)?

Postby Goatboy » Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:48 pm UTC

Oh man, Rodion already pointed to my current favourite mashup. I don't really worry about whether it's art or not, but I enjoy the hell out of quite a few. ToToM did a whole project based on Nine Inch Nails' With Teeth, and I'd like to specifically point to "You Know These Boots Are Getting Smaller."
Also, regarding this projectbased on Jay-Z's Black Album and Weezer's Blue Album, the bonus track "Yeah in the Sun" takes two songs toward which I'm fairly neutral, "Island in the Sun" by Weezer and "Yeah" by Usher, and creates something much greater than the sum of its parts. "Every Car You Chase," another by Party Ben, does the same thing.

And, although they're generally too hip for me and I don't know either artist, The Hood Internet has produced some really good mashups.
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