July 13, 2005

Mashups and Quodlibets Have Driven Us Apart - BBC in Hot Water for Huh?

Talking with a friend about the mashup phenomenon this morning got me thinking. The effect certainly is musico-symbolic; the tunes resonate in the memory as past experience signifiers and having those points morph into other points is interesting and pleasurable. We have in a sense, created with mashups a musical gateway into Kierkegaardian moments of rotational and repetitional experience. Nostalgia triggers, apperception moments, all rolled into one piece of sonic experience.

The real paradigm for a many of these morphogenetic musical anomalies is the classical variation. Harmonies, tunes, are essentially intact but the backing tracks are replaced in a way that Beethoven, Brahms or Bach would have found interesting - because - the accompaniments are from other pieces of music.

Maybe Bach's quodlibet from the Goldberg Variations is the original mashup. In that short, final movement, Bach used 4 pieces of street music (including the ever popular, "Cabbage and turnips have driven me away, Had my mother cooked meat, I'd have chosen to stay"). Through these contrapuntally-expressed street songs, Bach melds pop music, the Goldberg harmonies and original music. It's not the greatest piece of music, but conceptually it is mind-boggling and Bach knew it. One of his last pieces, it represents a return to the use of musical symbolism inherent in the Renaissance when composers would use tunes from pop songs in their masses and these tunes would represent, of course, emotional symbols of their prior uses.

Probably my favorite mashup so far, for its technique and for its emotive value is DJ Earworm's Stairway to Bootleg Heaven. A re-assemblage of Dolly Parton - Stairway to Heaven vs. Eurythmics - This City Never Sleeps vs. Beatles - Because vs. Laurie Anderson - O Superman vs. Art Of Noise - Moments in Love vs. Beastie Boys - So Whatcha Want vs. Pat Benetar - Love is a Battlefield into one smooth and poignant package.

Downloading trouble at the BBC

Speaking of free music, the BBC has got itself into hot water from the big classical record companies for uh.... popularizing a dying art form?, re-invigorating the symphony? No! But for
undermining the value of music and unfair competition! Sorry, it's hard to
type when I'm laughing so hard.

The record companies shall reap what they have sown.

Posted by jeff at July 13, 2005 12:33 PM | TrackBack

This is a great post Jeff - and thanks for the DJ Earworm link. I like that a lot! I've heard people criticise mashups as 'just an editing trick', which in a sense they are - but then the same charge (greater complexity notwithstanding) could be levelled at Bach who was perfectly happy to bend a familiar tune to fit against the musical accompaniment he wanted to give it. On one level, that's still 'just an editing trick'.

Posted by: Tim Rutherford-Johnson at July 14, 2005 06:15 AM

Thanks post. I arrive to mashup from plunderphonic stuff, and i really enjoy it, not only as editing trick, but as a great artistic expression and a new form of folk music.

Posted by: rebuscador at July 14, 2005 08:22 AM

Ha! Great post title! And the post wasn't so bad itself, especially the part about popularizing a dying art form. Think the music industry will ever stop shooting itself in the foot?

Thanks also for the song link ... !

Posted by: brykmantra at July 14, 2005 11:06 PM

A really astonishing piece! Thanks for making it available to us.

Posted by: Robert Jordahl at July 15, 2005 07:18 AM

Glad to be of service, Robert... Some of his other mashups are equally interesting, but of a smaller scale.

Posted by: jeff at July 15, 2005 05:48 PM