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‘Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture’

Posted on Aug 27, 2010

By Aram Sinnreich

(Page 2)

Eric Kleptone, a Brighton, UK-based mash-up producer, expanded on this, explaining that the way sample-based music is produced makes it impossible to draw the old distinctions: “Everything is breaking down in a good way. Once upon a time, there was a line. You know, the edge of the stage was there. The performers are on one side. The audience is on the other side, and never the twain shall meet. Now, being an artist is not the same. You’re not necessarily giving people finished product. You’re giving people an unfinished product. A platform that they can do stuff on.”

This increasing blurriness between artist and audience doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s suddenly on the same plane; we may each play the role of artist or audience member to a differing degree. As Kleptone put it, “if you want to draw a straight line between the artist and the consumer, then there are a million points on that graph. And there’s another million arriving every day.” Similarly, San Francisco mash-up producer DJ Earworm compared the gray area between music producer and consumer to curating a museum: “If I put a painting up on the wall no one’s gonna say I’ve made art, right? But what if I had one hundred paintings and I arranged them in some sort of mosaic form? Well, that might be art. And I might be an artist. But that’s a gradual, fuzzy thing; you can always find points on the continuum where it’s gonna stump almost anybody.”

Yet, as quickly as these fuzzy new points appear on the continuum between production and consumption, the DJ community seeks to clarify them. To DJ Adrian (co-founder of Bootie, the multi-city mash-up club), mashing music is a form of “active entertainment. You’re not just passively downloading music and consuming it, you’re actually altering it to your own tastes.” Los Angeles radio host DJ Paul V added even more points to the continuum: “I think it goes from passive fan to active fan to the next level. Whether they’re all artists, that’s debatable. There’s levels of technical skill, musical skill, execution. It’s kind of like an onion, layered. I don’t know if it’s so black and white.”

TradeMark G of mash-up band The Evolution Control Committee puts himself dead center on the line between artist and audience: “What I think is happening is that there’s been a real rise of an intermediary level. The DJ has become a very big class in music. They’re not necessarily artists, but they kind of are. They’re not necessarily the audience, either. There is definitely some kind of blurring of the lines, but it’s happened in a way that we’ve sort of added a new level.”


book cover


Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture


By Aram Sinnreich


University of Massachusetts Press, 240 pages


Buy the book

Far from viewing the in-between role of the DJ as a deficit or evidence of inferiority, many of the DJs I interviewed said they considered their fandom to be a key asset. As Matt Wand told me, “that’s a really important part of being an artist – is being a good, informed and slightly fanatical audience.” In fact, he said, “that might be all there is to it, to being an artist. The rest of it is just time for the skills that you develop.”

An overly critical or curatorial approach to art is usually seen as a badge of elitism. Jazz fanatics, foodies, and architecture buffs are all clichéd examples of upper-middle-class types with too much time on their hands in today’s popular media. Yet many of the musicians I spoke with saw it from the opposite vantage point: rather than raising the bar for entry into the higher echelons of consumption, the emergence of the DJ lowers the bar for production, allowing a larger number of people to enter the ranks of the creative. Viewed from this standpoint, DJ culture is inherently communitarian (or, as legendary hip-hop producer Steinski calls it, “communism”), rather than elitist.

DJ Adrian told me he feels that the communitarian spirit of his work shares much in common with earlier grassroots musical movements: “I think that bootleg and remix and mash-up culture is basically the new punk rock. Because twenty years ago, punk rock was the reaction against the bloated, so-called corporate rock. It was a total D.I.Y. aesthetic. Anyone could do it. Anyone could pick up a guitar, learn three chords, and play punk rock.”

Similarly, Matt Wand associated his own work with the folk revival movement of the 1960s, and with the (quasi-mythical) authentic musical culture it drew upon: “Music has shifted back to feudal times. There’s no more money in content, is there? Music making has become a folk thing, there isn’t much of a career to be made in it. It’s just something that people do, making content for each other.” This is because, as Wand points out, technologies such as file sharing undermine the economic mechanism that spins music into gold. It is also because the Internet gives rise to musical community on a global scale. Hip-hop had the boogie-down Bronx, grunge had Seattle, but as mattcatt, a London-based DJ, told me back in 2003, the mash-up “is the first true Internet-based music culture.”

When Is a DJ an Artist?

The old lines between artist and audience may be getting blurrier by the day, but they haven’t disappeared entirely. Even among the DJs I spoke with, many are still quick to emphasize that different levels of quality, professionalism, and artistry still do exist. As DJ Adrian told me, “like punk rock, just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. There’s definitely people who rise to the top.”

Some people consider anyone who cuts and pastes a sound clip from one window to another to reach the threshold of artistry. As UK-based audio collagist V/VM told me, “I think people who use samples are artists. Why not? It’s just what’s there, isn’t it? If you take something and do something with it, yeah, I guess you’re an artist.”

On the other side of the spectrum, some are unwilling to label any sample-based musicians as artists. For instance, Tony Zeoli, a veteran dance music producer and entrepreneur, told me that, in his opinion, Peter Rauhofer “is a remix producer. He’s not an artist in his own right.” Zeoli emphasized that he was in no way dissing Rauhofer’s work, which he enjoys and respects – it was simply a question of categorization. Similarly, UK-based mash-up producer Go Home Productions told me that he “really hates the ethos of the DJ being an artist.”

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By Record labels, April 2, 2012 at 2:00 am Link to this comment

Pop songs today are more or less clones of themselves, with similar lyrics, tunes and beats. Its no wonder why its becoming easier for the public to create mash ups of songs and remixes. There are plenty of Djs who remix songs and post them on Youtube, and these are the public that become their own artistes. There is no need for a record label to make them famous.

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By culheath, September 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm Link to this comment

Just sad, dude.


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By Shenonymous, September 1, 2010 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

5 yups culheath, the effete keeps marching on and on and on and
on ad nauseum and ad absurdum.  And I started out very very young,
I was a child prodigy. And you have no idea how tiring you are.  Keep
having your fits. It seems to suit your degenerate attitude.

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By culheath, September 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm Link to this comment

Trying to pull rank as an appeal to authority? Let’s see, I’ve been an multi-discipline artist and teacher for what?, 41 years now. Well, you got one thing right…the part about you being tired, I mean.

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By Shenonymous, September 1, 2010 at 12:06 am Link to this comment

If I weren’t so tired culheath I say that I’ve been an artist, an art
teacher, a teacher of art criticism, an art historian, and a teacher
of aesthetics among a few other things doubtlessly longer than
you’ve been alive which tenured longevity says just a bit about
my accomplishment and earning the right to judge, and that you
sound just like the combined drivel and dross of all the effetes that
have ever lived on the face of the earth.  But since I’m too tired,
I won’t.

BTW:  That verbal bm was the result of that culture colonic I took
immediately upon reading your comment.

Keep trolling cause there is more judgmental crap where that came

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By culheath, August 31, 2010 at 10:27 pm Link to this comment

“Just the intention to create novelty does not make the creation an artwork.”

Says who? Who are you to judge? How would you know if had the capacity to judge or not?

“To say at a most fundamental level, art is what one can get away with is shallow and lacking fundamental understanding of what art is.  That is all right, it is a “common” misunderstanding indicating a lack of sophistication, which most provincial people have.”

Uh huh…It was a joke used to posit one end of a spectrum of possibles uses for the term “art”, which seems to have gone right over some sophisticates head…imagine that.

You sound like you need a cultural colonic.

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By Druthers, August 30, 2010 at 11:40 pm Link to this comment


On the contrary, but as you point out I did leave a hanging sentence; not very artistic.

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By Shenonymous, August 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment

Just the intention to create novelty does not make the creation an
artwork.  To say at a most fundamental level, art is what one can get
away with is shallow and lacking fundamental understanding of what
art is.  That is all right, it is a “common” misunderstanding indicating
a lack of sophistication, which most provincial people have. 

Bach inventions, fugues and preludes, sinfonias, the Brandenburgs
and the Goldberg variations are the epitome of intellectual
understanding of the art of music.  It was hardly an effort to “get
away with” whatever he could with music notes.

I’m sorry Druthers, but your thought does not seem finished.  Are you
making a criticism of Shakespeare and Chekhov?

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By Druthers, August 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment

Artists, like Shakespeare who just picked up a few sentences that were “out there,” and Chekhov who pieced together all those stories and plays from the mumbling of his patients.

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By culheath, August 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment

There is zero difference between the artistic concept of “collage” and “mashup”. Producers of both are indeed artists if they are deliberatly intending to create novelty. At its most fundamental level “Art” is what you get away with - and “art” is in the eye of the creator, not the audience.

Once you achieve the realization that “God is in the garbage can” you understand that art is “the most universal made most local” and is a state of mind and perspective rather than anything subject to opinion.

Good article.

Skill is practiced technique that allow creative talent to be expressed uniquely. Art is the act of being deliberately creative.

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By Ed Harges, August 28, 2010 at 10:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To anyone who doubts that superior artistic achievement can ever be something
absolutely indisputably real, I have three words for you: Johann Sebastian Bach.

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By Shenonymous, August 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment

It is possible that Plato was not right about everything he thought
about and wrote about.  Leonardo da Vinci created the Paragone
that pitted sculpture against painting and which one held the
highest status.  So the notion came indeed from the Renaissance
that capitalized the word Artist.  “Artiste” and the subsequent notable
artists like Rembrandt, Constable, Monet, van Gogh, and down the
line, or up the line as you would have it, to Warhol and Motherwell
or Damien Hirst, and on and on and on…not only accepted the
appellation but enjoyed it to the hilt.  Today artists are equivalent
to any celebrity and among all of them it is the ones whose talent is
superb are the ones who will last the test of time.

Trying to see Sinnreich’s point, what at the end of this treatise are we
left with?  That we need to develop a new set of evaluative criteria…at
least in music, but it really associates over into all of the arts and it is
history all over again.  Most of the great music composers in history
had to have a new set of evaluative criteria in order to understand their
work critically and more so for the common public.  Gluck, Tchaikovsky,
Schoenberg, Mahler, Stravinsky, and so on and on and on… all had
trouble getting their music accepted.

I can only imagine what Stravinsky’s audience would have thought if
they considered they had lost control over their lives because of his
strange music. Which I happen to love!  Isn’t it the marketing industry
that has ruined our lives?  Not the music or the other kinds of
contemporary art.  Why Beethoven used to stroll the villages stealing
tunes to infuse reinvented in his gigantic works and he admitted it. 
“Borrowing’ has always been a part of the arts. The Romans practically
stole all of the Greeks art ideas.  The two together are considered
“Classical Art.”  There is nothing in the universe that is absolutely
original if we wanted to get into ontology but that is a bit deep for a
forum such as this.  Recycling in art and people taking credit for other’s
works, well that is possibly a legal matter not one of aesthetics.

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By Gordy, August 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment

Also, regarding bedroom artists, ancient Greek verse was composed by shepherds who had a lot of empty time alone - this verse is considered ‘genius’ and ‘canon’.  The myths of art and ‘genius’ are very harmful.

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By Gordy, August 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment

(I swear to god, he did not know it was a spoof interview - his answers are genuine)

I think this article is actually quite useful; a question I wonder about is whether art has an authentic function as community diminishes and there’s only the profit-motive left.

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By samosamo, August 27, 2010 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment


What in the hell? People taking kudos from other people’s work
and effort? Art from hell is more like it I say. Thank a star I don’t
listen to radio because what I want to listen to in music isn’t
anything like the stuff the ‘new’ artists do and now forcing DJs
into the realm of artists. Thank a star again that I rarely ever
have to listen to that prattle.

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By gerard, August 27, 2010 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

It would seem that, going into such a “mash-up” world, we are going to have to maintain a high degree of tolerance for what might be called “adaptation.”  (Scholarly word for it, ekphrasis, applied not only to arts but to daily living.) New opportunities are all around us.
  “Mashing-up” has been going on forever, this artist or inventor taking off from the works of ten to a hundred other artists or inventors whose contributions to the new work might or might not be recognized—or recognizable. 
  Copyright came along, if I am correct in making the assumption, largely as a matter of “business”—that is, capitalistic control over access to profits.
I doubt that communal tribal societies worried much about copyrights. 
  The enormously interesting and challenging idea is that, as many signals indicate, the world is well on the road to becoming one huge tribe of human beings of different sorts with different histories, inheritances and cultures. They are already being “mashed-up” inevitably by modern transportation and communication.
  Many people feel enormously threatened by the very idea of such a situation (“cliched as one-world-ism)and will fight to the death to try to prevent it unless a lot more groundwork gets done in early childhood education to try to prevent this senseless but natural-enough reaction.
  Music has done a lot of this groundwork, consciously or unconsciously, as have all the arts and the technologies fostering inter-communication.
Yet the drag to prevent it appears in many subtle forms,(especially at high levels of power that are profiting from secrecy and resistance to change).  “Provincial protectionism” rears its ugly head everywhere as “provincial” people feel more and more threatened by differences, (outside influences, etc.) They are already fighting back in the form of very troublesome, often violent, resistance movements in many forms.  Organized violence is one aspect of the way such resistance erupts into conflagrations.
  These resistances are mult-faceted and not unique to any one place or situation. The capitalist oligarch is just as resistant to change as the poorest peasant.
  More music, less war!  More tolerance, less authoritarianism!  More sharing, less hoarding.
  We all know what needs to be done.  Are we helping enough?  Hopefully.

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