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

Posted on Aug 27, 2010

By Aram Sinnreich

(Page 5)

I believe that the deep ambivalence reflected in this exchange strikes at the heart of the larger sense of uncertainty I have discussed throughout this article. This becomes especially apparent when we look at the ways in which DJs use the term in reference to themselves. DJ Axel, who has worked as a professional DJ for much of his adult life, told me that he considers himself a “bedroom producer,” and that this appellation means that he is “part of a community of mash-up artists.” Tony Montana, one of the earliest mash-up DJs, used the term as well when I interviewed him in 2003, associating it explicitly with illegality and an outlaw image (an association reinforced by his nom du laptop, taken from the fictional Cuban crime lord played by Al Pacino in the 1983 film Scarface):

Tony Montana: only some of the stuff i do is “leagle”

Aram: what about the other stuff?

Tony Montana: its bedroom producing

Danger Mouse, who is probably the best-known mash-up producer today due to the continuing popularity of “The Grey Album,” appears to go out of his way to emphasize the bedroom as both his physical and spiritual location in interviews he grants to the press. In a 2006 profile in the New York Times magazine section, for instance, the mash-up producer, whose given name is Brian Burton, told journalist Chuck Klosterman that the idea for the album-length mash-up came to him suddenly one day while he was cleaning his room. This moment of clarity becomes the turning point of the 5,000-word article, meriting an entire paragraph consisting solely of the sentence: “It was at this point that Burton decided to straighten up his bedroom.” Similarly, in a 2004 interview in Remix magazine, Danger Mouse told interviewer Rob Kirby, “I do almost all of my preproduction in my bedroom. I have to be working next to a bed when I’m coming up with new stuff.”

In its ability to communicate both deprecation and pride, both otherness and selfness, to suggest both the bonds of community and the exile of the outlaw, the term “bedroom producer” resembles nothing more than a well-known racial epithet that has been used against (and by) African Americans for centuries. The implications of this correlation are complex, to say the least. Although I attempt to unravel them more thoroughly in my book, for now I will simply observe that the significance of the bedroom is in its universality. We all have bedrooms, and in today’s technological environment, we are all producers to some extent. In short, “some kid” isn’t just a convenient rhetorical straw man; it’s us.

From “Bedroom Producer” to “Bedroom Citizen”

This is a transitional moment in our cultural and technological development. With 5 billion mobile phone subscribers, 2 billion Internet users, and half a billion Facebook profiles spanning virtually every mile of habitable land on the globe, we are creating social formations, institutions and public forums on such a scale that the great nations of the 19th and 20th centuries look like city-states by comparison. Virtually everyone on the planet has the power to make direct contact with anyone else, and billions of us are contributing daily to the amorphous, rapidly evolving culture(s) of cyberspace.


book cover


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


By Aram Sinnreich


University of Massachusetts Press, 240 pages


Buy the book

And yet, we are still a world divided, and subject to an ever greater degree of institutional oversight and political accountability. Privacy as we know it will soon cease to exist entirely, as every transaction and interaction we undertake lives on in perpetuity in the Internet “cloud.” Censorship can be imposed on millions or billions of people with a single bureaucratic keystroke in Beijing or Washington, D.C. And as “closed” devices like iPads and Kindles begin to replace fully-functional PCs in the homes and hands of consumers, it’s not clear whether and to what degree we’ll still have the power or the incentive to create as we consume.

What kind of future are we building for ourselves, and what place will the old institutions and mythologies have in it? What kinds of institutions and mythologies might replace them? Who will have the power to help shape our collective destiny, and who will be consigned to watch from the wings as their fates unfold?

Clearly, there is no simple answer to these questions. But music, as it always has, offers a glimpse into the future of our society. As Plato once wrote, “the musical modes are never changed without change in the most important of a city’s laws.”

If the DJs are questioning the myth of the Artist, and developing a new set of evaluative criteria for their music, it’s a good bet that our laws – and the rest of our society – are going to change, as well. And if the “bedroom producer” stakes out a new territory for musical participation between consumption and production, it opens the door for us to become “bedroom citizens” – active, enthusiastic mixers and mashers of the laws and institutions that govern our collective experience.

Our challenge, then, is to ensure that each of us has the same kind of control over our lives as a DJ has over a sample – as DJ Earworm might say, our skill as bedroom citizens will reside in “knowing how to make society, keeping rhythm, knowing how to keep in time. Knowing how to arrange ourselves. Knowing how to produce our laws. Knowing how to choose our fate.” This means making sure we all have access to the cultural library, and permission to add, amend and comment as we see fit. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what comes next.

This article was adapted from a chapter in the forthcoming book, “Mashed Up: Music, Technology and Configurable Culture,” written by Aram Sinnreich and published this month by University of Massachusetts Press.


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By Record labels, April 2, 2012 at 3:00 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 7:55 pm Link to this comment

Just sad, dude.


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By Shenonymous, September 1, 2010 at 5:48 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 5:32 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 1:06 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 11:27 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 31, 2010 at 12:40 am 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 3:52 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 2:24 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 8:50 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 11:34 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 6:29 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 4:47 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 4:40 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 3:27 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 12:48 pm 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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