The Mash-up As an Approach to Understanding Modern Audiovisual Culture

Alistair Stewart

Abstract Drawing on a wide variety of artistic disciplines, this essay develops a critique of the Mash-up by examining its transformative power within contemporary audiovisual culture and its interaction with art and technology. Existing Mash-ups and digital artworks are considered in reference to a futuristic singularity of culture and the homogenisation of our audiovisual landscape. As the subject matter deals with the alternative configurations and possibilities of recorded material, this reflects in the way the research paper is constructed.


Contents Abstract Introduction Chapter 1: The Source Towards a Definition of The Mash-up Authenticity and Originality The Essence of The Digital Expanded Listening Chapter 2: Audio Culture and Technology Live in the Age of Technological Presentation Reactivating Nostalgia Homogenisation of Genre The Cultural Singularity: In Lieu of a Conclusion List of Works Bibliography 15 17 19 21 24 25 6 8 11 13 2 4


Introduction This research paper focuses on the cultural practice and wider implications of audiovisual Mash-ups, both destructive and progressive within modern audiovisual culture. ‘Modern’ in this case refers both to artistic modernism associated with the avant-garde movements of the 1920s and modern music in the last fifty years. In addition, the phrase ‘audiovisual culture’ describes our current mediated experience of television, film, video games and media art, which can be divided into two distinct “life worlds”


Salomé Voegelin defines these life worlds in relation to sonic art and a sound’s ability to shape the reality of the physical world by involving or distancing a listener in what they perceive. In this case, I have adapted this definition to include the visual. The first life world can be thought of as the everyday environment where we experience audiovisual interruptions from advertisements, ephemeral visual media, mobile phones and machine noise. The second world can be thought of as the online digital space, where we can be connected to each other at all times due to the proliferation and accessibility of technology. In addition, we have instant access to an ever-expanding archive of audiovisual material. Consequently, we are now part of a culture where heavy sampling is the dominant form in artistic production. Therefore, it becomes critical to assess the role of this immersion within contemporary culture, as the Mash-up in our modern understanding has acquired several different meanings. The term is most often used to describe songs that interlace multiple distinct styles of music into one audio track. An example could be a rock song synced to a well-known hip-hop beat. In this case, the song functions both as a Mash-up and a remix. However, the remix differs from the Mash-up as the former tends to re-version existing musical tracks by changing an aspect of its production, often altering the song to fit a particular genre, such as adding an emphasised drum beat to create a club mix. Each artist I will discuss reflects a different aspect of the Mash-up. In particular, I examine the work of Nick Bertke, also known as Pogo, whose body of work can be considered as a new method of remixing consumer culture. Whereas most existing Mash-ups focus on transgressing genre designations by combining dissimilar musical styles, Bertke’s audiovisual Mash-ups are distinctive because they focus on small elements of the score or vocal track from a film, which are re-combined to produce new relations. It is the particularity of this experimentation that I am addressing. Its consideration as an artistic cultural practice encompasses the extreme attention to each sonic detail and his devotion to an overall technique or aesthetic choice in the films he uses. The complexity of his videos comes from the arrangement of audiovisual elements and the pure experience of this combination, forming new relations with recognisable material.


Salomé Voegelin. Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, Continuum, 2010, p.11. 4

The first chapter of this essay entitled The Source establishes an aesthetic foundation, origin and criticism of the Mash-up. The second chapter, Audio Culture and Technology, responds by dealing with this emerging work confronted with the idea of a Cultural Singularity and the possible homogenisation of culture. In this case, the term ‘singularity’ is derived from physics to talk metaphorically about an event horizon, or point in space and time that is difficult to see beyond. Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge builds on this foundation by considering the possibility of a Technological Singularity, whereby technology becomes conscious within a relatively short time and comes to possess superhuman intellect

. Consequently, by using the Technological Singularity as a model, the Cultural Singularity would be a

theoretical point in which culture is able to create more, better culture automatically. For instance, in a post-cultural singularity world, culture would become increasingly self-referential and more complex in both its construction and execution. It would essentially show up and improve at a constantly increasing rate. Therefore, how will current the methods of instant communication influence an ever-expanding network of Mash-up artists and their imitators? In this case, the imitators refer to individuals who copy a particular style of remixing commonly attributed to one person. The singularity can be connected to what William Gibson describes as a type of “consensual hallucination”, a term he left undefined. Nevertheless, the phrase relates to his notion of Cyberspace as “The point at which media (flows) together and surrounds us… you can literally wrap yourself in media and not have to see what’s really going on around you”

. Yet, as this technologically suffused cultural layer that surrounds us is represented as a

constantly evolving process, generating unpredictable combinations of audiovisual information in the form of Mash-ups, the interactions that occur become increasingly more complex and difficult to predict or control.

[2] [3]

Vernor Vinge. The Coming Technological Singularity, Whole Earth Review, 1993, p. 90. William Gibson. Neuromancer, Voyager, 1995, p. 69. 5

Chapter 1: The Source
Towards a Definition of The Mash-up

Artists have long recognised the centrality of appropriation, fusion and recapitulation within their creative practice. Naturally, it becomes difficult to establish the point at which remix culture began. As an audiovisual language build upon fragmentation and juxtaposition, the collage, established by Picasso and Georges Braque, could be considered to be one of the first methods of systematic engagement that express what Budd Hopkins in his essay describes as the collage aesthetic. According to Hopkins, the collage is a type of non-linear “elliptical narrative”

that assembles information from a multiplicity of

sources across time and place to intervene within popular culture, mass media and copyright law so as to symbolically recreate the complex reality that we live in. Thus, the collage has the power to be both deconstructive and reconstructive. It replaces the idea of the modernist term montage, which for filmmaker Sergej Eisenstein, consists of a “reconstruction of the event in… fragments, each of which will summon a certain association – the sum of which will be an all-embracing complex of emotional feeling”

. The montage, as opposed to the collage, deals with the juxtaposition of individual cells of film and the

sequential, more formal arrangement of this material within the setting of an entire film. This process is used in order to achieve an emotional response, which persuades or attracts the audience towards a realisation gathered from a particular combination of images. Salomé Voegelin talks about experiencing a visual ‘gap’, noting that “seeing always happens in a meta-position, away from the seen… and this distance enables a detachment and objectivity that presents itself as truth”

. The ‘truth’ of the images

becomes apparent through the perceived certainty of the image. An example could include a gunshot, blood dripping on a pair of shoes, a train speeding past then a woman screaming. These particular sequences of clips clearly illustrate significant moments in time that whether we choose to or not, are observed the same way in each case. Hearing the sounds of a gunshot, a train and then screaming in the context of a filmic montage occurs simultaneously with the visual. Many avant-garde film theorists such as Eisenstein see montage as emphasising “the fragmentary, allegorical, and, indeed, technological status of its own construction” [7]. His techniques are continued within a contemporary form of montage named the ‘supercut’, an emerging format in the genre of Mash-ups that “obsessively isolates a single element

[4] [5]

Budd Hopkins. Modernism and the Collage Aesthetic, New England Review, Vol. 18, 1997, p. 6. Sergej Eisenstein. A Dialectic Approach to Film Form, Essays in Film Theory, London, 1949, p. 15. [6] Voegelin. Introduction: Listening to Noise and Silence, p. xii. [7] R.L. Rutsky. High Technē, University of Minnesota Press, p. 91. 6

from its source, usually a word, phrase, or cliché” [8]. Drawing inspiration from traditional montage techniques, the Mash-up aims to expose overused themes and conventions by providing an entertaining critique that in many ways, represents a thematisation of popular culture by encouraging interaction, feedback and production. Whereas montage is a process of editing that uses linked fragments, collage differentiates itself through an involved participation in interpreting the sonic or the visual elements at their source. Rather than an objective or a fixed interpretation, the emphasis is given to the simultaneous unity and heterogeneity of the source material. It often implies a ‘shared meaning’ or the possibility of different interpretations. This understanding of collage, taken from the visual arts and literature, spread to avant-garde experiments with tape loops in the 1970’s and continued with the sampling of existing recordings in 1980’s rap music and wider popular music. This fabrication of recorded material, ubiquitous in modern audiovisual culture of the last half of the twentieth century, embraces fragmentation and shared meaning and challenges the totalising dynamic of the montage. Therefore, the Mash-up in the broadest sense can be described as the appropriation, sampling and mixing together of different sources in the process of authoring a new composition. Yet, William Gibson, in reaction to the literary cut-up methods of William S. Burroughs, suggests: “Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities. Today’s audience isn’t listening at all – it’s participating. Indeed, audience is as antique a term as record, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical. The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital”[9]. Gibson seems to acknowledge the individual as a mediator of culture and not just a spectator. His analysis possibly represents a more imaginative science-fictional engagement with audiovisual culture. Therefore, what becomes evident is that contemporary Mash-ups are inseparable from the technology used to create them. The consequence of this technological and sometimes autonomous process characterises the problem of originality and authenticity within a universally accessible digital space where nothing is constant and audiovisual material is imagined and brought into being continually.

[8] [9]

Definition taken from, an online hub for obsessive video montage. William Gibson. God’s Little Toys: Confessions of a Cut and Paste Artist, Wired Magazine, 2005. 7

Authenticity and Originality The idea of authenticity or authentic experience is an important consideration when examining the function of Mash-ups within a complex technological culture. Authenticity within art expresses the degree to which an artist's work is a committed, subjective manifestation of their personal identity, rather than a derivative, inauthentic copy. Historically, an artist’s personality would have been of little importance. However, as the ease of technological reproduction increases, our culture demands that an artist’s uniqueness or style is somehow ‘imbued’ into their work, suggesting that artists are viewed as irreplaceable systems of creative production both during their lifetime and after they are gone. In Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, his representation of an authentic “being-in-the-world” is one focused towards a form of being that has an awareness of its own mortality, and is defined by its temporality, or “being-in-time”. Heidegger reinterprets the temporality of existence not as linear, but as negotiating the space between past facts and future possibilities, “something changing in me” (the past) and “something permanent outside of me”

(the future). He also addresses the primordiality of existence; that as

humans, we posses the knowledge of when we came into being, and experience the paradox of living with other individuals, whilst ultimately being alone. Furthermore, Heidegger’s characterisation of authentic being (dasein) is described as an “impassioned freedom towards death… freedom which has been released from the illusions of the "they", and which is factical, certain of itself, and anxious”

. This

‘impassioned freedom towards death’ individualises dasein, and the resulting individualisation is what he calls authenticity. Heidegger takes dasein to symbolise more than a single characteristic of Being and thus he redefines it as something distinctive about human existence, what John Haugeland describes as “neither people nor being, but rather a way of life”

. However, establishing the boundaries of this

difference becomes very problematic throughout Being and Time. Heidegger’s view of existence applies to art in so such as it requires the artist to prove their individuality through this negotiation of past and future, largely achieved through placing a unique creative ‘will’ into their work. For the Mash-up, this manifests itself through a particular remix technique that functions as a type of cultural signifier. Therefore, the rarity of an individual Mash-up artist’s technique becomes an essential quality, and by extension, the way in which they negotiate and respond to a world of complexity, shaped by the historical past and the possible future. Yet, Mash-ups often blur the boundaries between creator and consumer and “low and high culture, i.e. between the talented artists and the hopeless amateurs” [13]. For instance, in Postproduction, Nicolas Bourriaud writes about high culture as “enshrined
[10] [11]

Martin Heidegger. Being and Time, trans. J Macquarrie, E. Robinson, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962, p. 248. Heidegger. Being and Time, p. 311. [12] John Haugeland. Reading Brandom Reading Heidegger, European Journal of Philosophy, Vol.13, Issue 3. Blackwell Publishing, 2005, p. 423. [13] David M. Barry et al. New Aesthetic, New Anxieties. Amsterdam: V2, 2012, p.32. 8

in categories and regulated by codes of presentation. Low culture, conversely, develops in the exaltation of outer limits, bad taste, and transgression”

. Bourriaud refers to a “framing system”


, existing in

high culture and in some aspects of low culture. He describes the ‘frame’ as an exact delineation of an object’s function or quality and its effectiveness in producing meaning. By comparison, low culture exists outside this frame of reference, independent of any institution. Therefore, the fluidity of Mash-ups and the unrestricted nature of the community surrounding them can be understood as an advanced network of contiguous forms, empowered by technology and by virtue of not existing in a museum or gallery space, a level of authenticity. Fundamentally, Bourriaud argues that the boundaries between artists and amateur producers have been destabilized by technology and more specifically, by the DJ. On the outer limits of the mainstream, Mash ups function as an illegal subversion of authority and a critical intervention in the fundamental character of popular music and the culture industry. Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer write about the culture industry as comprising of “hit songs, stars and soap operas, cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable”
[ 16 ]

. According to Adorno, this process of

standardisation still overpowers the culture industry. Equally, Nick Bertke in an interview for NPR, states: “Pop music is loud, minimalistic and superficial because that’s good business - when your market is in the millions, your product needs to be as clear and simple as possible”

. His claim opposes

originality through creative expression within popular music and corresponds to a view of artists as products who may have a unique or charismatic style, but possibly lack authenticity. In contrast to the standardisation of pop music, Bertke’s style lies in his unique interpretation. His audiovisual Mash-up Bloom

samples from a multiplicity of copyrighted Disney films. Specifically, the harp sample at the

beginning is taken from Sleeping Beauty and the chords are produced from the film A.I: Artificial Intelligence. The vocal samples he uses originate from Mary Poppins, Aladdin, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. This complex montage of animated visuals and layered sounds is recognisable and overpowering, though arguably recurrent and cyclical in an entirely different way than popular music. A comparison can be made to another artist, Greg Gillis (Girl Talk) who uses numerous unauthorised samples in his mixes. Writer Larry Hardesty discusses how at his shows, the “audience members sang along with sampled hip-hop lyrics and danced with an enthusiasm that the source songs probably wouldn’t have inspired on their own” conventions to expose its imperfections.


. In this way, the Mash-up changes to

form a reaction against the unoriginal, homogenous nature of popular music by using the same

Nicolas Bourriaud. Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World. Lukas & Sternberg; 2nd edition, 2000, p. 41. [15] Bourriaud. Postproduction, p. 42. [16] Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer. The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception in Simon During, ed. The Cultural Studies Reader, London: Routledge, 1993, p. 3. [17] Rachel Martin. Pogo: Harnessing The Innate Rhythm of Pop Culture. NPR Music, April 2012. [18] Larry Hardesty, The Bootleg Battle Lines: Rival aesthetics in the mashup community, MIT Technology Review, 2008. 9

Consequently, the established view of originality functions as a transformative element within the Mashup. The ability to form new associations with source material intervenes with conventional ideas surrounding originality and the originator. However, does this mean the originator becomes a novelty? Art critic Rosalind E. Krauss describes originality as “a working assumption that itself emerges from a ground of repetition and recurrence”

. Indeed, this definition applies to the essence of popular music,

which becomes a singularity of sound, with each detail becoming substitutable. This idea is explored online at [20]. The site exposes many commonalities between distinctive popular songs of varying genres. Interestingly, even though the possible number of melodies is gigantic, our culture tends to gravitate towards certain patterns we like more than others and we are clearly influenced by what came before, though we do not seem to be neurologically wired to care. In fact, the connectedness and similarities are more enjoyable. Frederic Jameson talks about the increasing predominance of pastiche, incorporation and plagiarism as an overriding feature of postmodernism and the culture of late capitalism, “supplanting the notion of the original author and expressing the erosion of the older distinction between high culture and so called mass or popular culture”

. Unlike Krauss, Jameson argues for an approach

that maintains the boundaries of culture, suggesting that the human subject has not evolved contemporarily with the external world and this gap has become the source of our fragmentation as individuals. Nevertheless, the Mash-up becomes a way of managing the boundaries between the human subject and autonomous technology, while remaining sceptical of unpredictable new patterns whose results we cannot yet foresee. In other words, we need to hear the mash-up as a critical intervention in and fundamental reconfiguration of the primary concept of originality and authenticity.

[19] [20]

Rosalind E. Krauss. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, 1986, p. 7. Adam Wagner. Sounds Just Like: An index of songs that sound like other songs: [21] Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism and Consumer Society. London: Pluto Press, 1985, p. 112. 10

The Essence of The Digital

We are living in an era of incredibly large amounts of digital information. Anything from a gigabyte (billion), terabyte (trillion) or a petabyte (quadrillion) of data is created by a combination of sophisticated Global Positioning Systems and human generated text-based interactions. The phone calls, faxes, email messages and satellite transmissions - are typically illegible streams of data. “Incredibly transient: it is created, used, and discarded in a few seconds without ever being seen" [22]. Scientists at the University of California in San Diego estimated that based on data from 2008, “global information consumption exceeds 9,570,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (or 9.57 zettabytes) per year”

. We are effectively

making more information about ourselves than we can actually consume. Thus, as computing power increases in its complexity, we can expect information output to increase relative to technological progress. In the context of contemporary production, the role of the VJ can be seen as a type of information filter, or a ‘search engine’ for sound. VJ’s look for beats and pieces of audiovisual material and try to construct an abstract, dematerialised sculpture from it. The change is one from seeing audiovisual material as fixed in space and time into one that acknowledges the fluidity and unpredictable mutations of the technocultural world. By playing with music and visuals as information, the VJ becomes a composer of recordings. Bourriaud describes such artists as “semionauts who produce original pathways through signs” [24]. His notion of the semionaut or “semiotic explorer” features widely throughout Postproduction. When artists are free to explore all dimensions of the past and present, the amount of information visible to them grows exponentially. However, the majority of popular culture does not exist in the public domain and is protected by copyright law and as a result, frequently becomes the main focus for DJ’s and VJ’s. This archive of audiovisual material forms part of their artistic palette and the recorded medium itself becomes what they use for creative expression. The acquisition of new media by artists has also accelerated as a result of the digital. This is evident in the concept of a ‘New Aesthetic’, or the manifestation of the digital in the physical world, which is described as a particular sensibility arising out of a “disruptive network culture” [25]. This acquisition has increased so much that we now live in a culture of the copy. These ephemeral, dematerialised recordings become usable software, overturning the established notion of scarcity in art, from a type of market driven material based on a shortage, to one of dispersion. However, not only does the Mash-up and the process
[22] [23]

Caroline Smith. This is How Much Information The World Consumes Each Year, Huffington Post, July 2011. Smith. Huffington Post, July 2011. [24] Bourriaud. Postproduction, p. 9. [25] David M. Barry et al. New Aesthetic, New Anxieties, p. 11. 11

of sampling filter information, it also democratises taste and allows an artist to have infinite perspectives of the same material. A democratisation of taste can be found in DJ Food’s 2004 project The History of the Cut-up: Raiding the 20th Century [iv] feat. Strictly Kev and Paul Morley. The document is a 40-minute attempt to catalogue Mash-up culture and contains a mix of tape manipulation, turntable mega mixes and introductory theme music. The mix was only released on the Internet; it has no physical release and so becomes a dematerialised sculpture where separate audio tracks disappear through the technological processes of montage and become one massive sonic object. The result is a fragmented experience similar to rapid channel switching. Conversely, the digital becomes exposed and reconfigured in Takeshi Murata’s Untitled (Pink dot)


which samples from the 1982 film Rambo: First Blood. Through a process known as data moshing, Murata intentionally corrupts the digital file by removing certain sections of data, creating a seething mass of digital sludge and unpredictable cascading visuals. The sound, a series of low tones, pulsates hypnotically in time with a pink dot in the centre. Essentially, Bourriaud could classify Murata in terms of a ‘postproduction artist’ [26]. However, Murata arguably transcends the DJ’s production method of cut-up, assemblage and looping by scrambling the source material, intervening in the ‘original’ digital file by allowing the viewer to perceive it beyond a fixed interpretation. Bourriaud’s analysis of artists as “semionauts” also holds little value for Murata, who seems to reject the “signs” or cultural associations of Rambo. He could have essentially used any film that, when subjected to his reductive digital postprocessing, would have given a similarly unpredictable result. His practice embodies Gibson’s fictional digital worlds based on interactivity with a technological ‘other’, where humans become subsumed in a network of information or participants in a chaotic mix of techno-culture: “We can hope to learn, not how to control it, but how to hack its codes, to reroute the subroutines of its logic in order to create new patterns of interaction”

. The fluidity of information creates a techno-culture too complex to be

predicted or controlled. Still, the Mash-up becomes part of this complex information archive, exemplified by DJ Food in his mega mix, which negotiates information excess by introducing derivative works based on a personal classification instead of popular taste.

[26] [27]

Bourriaud. Postproduction, p. 19. Rutsky. High Technē, p. 127. 12

Expanded Listening Over the last century, artists and theorists were trying to figure out the role of the found object within art. Within contemporary artistic production, we are now considering the role of the found sonic object within our listening experience. In the early 1940’s, Pierre Schaffer pioneered musique concréte; a compositional technique using recorded everyday sounds as raw material, creating an assemblage of various natural sounds to produce an aural montage. These sounds are translated into virtual instruments that can be used kinaesthetically through direct experimentation with technology. This experimentation leads to the concept of expanded listening, or a broadening of sounds that are considered musical. However, it was arguably the Futurists who first explored the idea we now refer to as expended listening. The Futurists were part of a short-lived art movement at the start of the 20th century that embraced technology, violence and speed. Their most prominent practitioner, Luigi Russolo thought that all sounds are musical and that noise is just a meaningless categorisation. He wrote in his Futurist manifesto The Art of Noise that music must break out of the “restricted circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise sounds”{ 28 ]. Furthermore, he imagined a futurist orchestra of noise sounds, all of which feature prominently in Dubstep, a contemporary avant-garde form of the Mash-up that has crossed over into popular music and achieved mainstream success. The Futurist concept of noise is most evident in Dubstep for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is composed of inharmonic sounds, containing a mixture of complex, shifting tempos, sine waves, square waves, massive kick drums and sampled vocals. Changes in technology and music genres have prepared mainstream listeners as we now have a context for all the sounds we hear, drawn from the last 30 years of popular culture. In Listening to Noise and Silence, Salomé Voegelin writes, “noises expands listening to an extreme and exaggerates the issue of communication… demanding through its uncompromising nature a direct confrontation” [29]. Dubstep is confrontational and polarises the listener with digital noise, chaotic samples and frenzied production techniques. However, similar to other popular forms of music, it follows a certain recognisable pattern. Science writer Phillip Ball investigates the biological basis of harmonic predictability and surprise, writing that the effectiveness of a section of music “rests on our ability to discern patterns in the notes and rhythms and use them to make predictions about what will come next. When our anticipations are violated, we experience tension; when the expectation is met, we have a pleasurable sense of release”

. The musical ‘drop’ within Dubstep characterises this sense of release

and usually involves the introduction of a strong bass line, a heavy shuffling beat, additional percussive
{28] [29]

Luigi Russolo. The Art of Noise, 1913. Trans. Robert Filliou, New York: Something Else Press, 1967, p. 6. Voegelin, Listening to Noise and Silence, p. 44. [30] Phillip Ball, Harmonious minds: the hunt for universal music, New Scientist, 2010.


sounds and cut-up vocals. Thus, with a sonic landscape so huge, popular music has become more expansive and inclusive of conventionally non-musical sound. The genre of Dubstep raises questions as to whether Mash-ups represent the end of innovative artistic production, or simply express the continuous expansion of what we experience as ordinary. In the next chapter, I address how the Mash-up has been altered by technology and wider culture, focusing on how artists are separated from performing their own work through technology.


Chapter 2: Audiovisual Culture and Technology

Live in the Age of Technological Presentation As the Mash-up has expanded our listening experience, its popularity in contemporary artistic production has contributed to the rise in both compositional based presentation and performer-based interaction. A performance can be understood as a spatiotemporally delineated event that refers to the physical activity of playing material live whilst engaged with an audience in a ritual setting. There is within this setting an expectation that the performer satisfies and this satisfaction generates a fanbase surrounding the performer. In contrast, the standard method of compositional presentation now takes the form of immaterial music files on a computer, deconstructed and manipulated in a live situation. Essentially, contemporary audiovisual presentation becomes a performance of compositions that are based on an expectation of the recording, suggesting the live experience profoundly mediates the recording. Writer Stan Godlovitch considers how the traditional view of musical performance no longer faithfully represents the general enterprise of communication. A “musical work only fully emerges through its instances” [31], meaning that until something is heard live, it is impossible to know. Though what if these instances are not sufficiently diverse? It must then be based on something other and maybe that ‘otherness’ is the constructed realism of the recording. Our listening experience of Mash-ups is fragmented and generally an experience of information we already know from a recording. It has advanced to such an extent that it is almost impossible to have an unmediated listening experience. Sound engineers intentionally design the live performance to sound like a recording, because that is what we are expecting. Consequently, the Mash-up has become more of a media type than a performing art. We consume it almost entirely as a disembodied stream of audiovisual information, not as a performance of live material. In Scripts Grooves and Writing Machines, Lisa Gitelman talks about the difference between reality and the constructed realism of the recording, describing the technology of the Phonograph and Motion Pictures as “realist vehicles and fantasy machines” that continue to “personify mediations between machine and human experience”

. For

Mash-ups, the reality is the ‘real’ performance, expressed in DJ’s remixing the recorded medium or the video artist creating audiovisual glitches in digital files. However, the recording, especially regarding popular music, has a constructed realism that has been edited to sound ‘real’.

[31] [32]

Stan Godlovitch. Musical Performance: A Philosophical Study, Psychology Press, 1998, p. 90. Lisa Gitelman. Scripts Grooves and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era, Stanford University Press, 1999, p. 154 15

Though, what if the live performance itself becomes sufficiently diverse? In the case of comedic performer Reggie Watts, the diversity originates from improvised Mash-ups created using his own voice and controlled through a combination of loop pedals and a compact audio mixer. Watts’ concurrent audiovisual spectacle relates to Godlovitch’s idea of music emerging through ‘instances’. For example, Watts constantly shifts musical genre, perception and an audience’s expectations, totally exploiting the live element of performance by changing voices and adapting material live to fit into a particular context. His performances become mediated experiences through a different process than a prefabricated composition. In essence, he could be observed as a type of DJ. However, more interestingly, he uses himself as a filter to bring forth material that is impossible to categorise. Therefore, each improvised moment becomes a remix of all genres in constant variation: A constructed realism of the ‘real’ substance of recording medium. In contrast to Watts, Nick Bertke’s live performances become a collective dream or a type of “consensual hallucination”. In place of the traditional Mandelbrot fractals and formulaic time-lapse sunrises present in the majority of DJ sets, Bertke creates an environment where an audience enthusiastically watches an hour-long video comprised from a collection of films that has been edited together with meticulous care and attention. Its effectiveness lies in his ability to ‘condense’ a two-hour movie into a rich and resonant, euphoria-drenched video piece. Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote that in perception, “we do not think the object and we do not think ourselves thinking it, we are given over to the object and we merge into this body that is more informed than we are about the world”

. When we experience an almost immaterial

performance of audiovisual samples, we are not thinking about transverse pressure waves or light emanating from a screen, although that’s exactly what is being perceived. The moment we experience these phenomena, during a live performance surrounded by others or in a quite gallery, they assemble along with everything else and we become ‘aware’. Heidegger describes this awareness as poesies or a “bringing forth”; the moment where the stuff that makes up the artwork becomes more than the sum of its parts and you have a sort of ‘realisation’. The combination of these particular qualities and the effect on you specifically and the creation of a relationship between you and the culture or community through this shared experience create something vastly more than the sum of its parts.


Maurice, Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Perception, trans: Colin Smith, London: Routledge, 2005, p. 277. 16

Reactivating Nostalgia The idea sampled previously about a ‘historical past’, symbolises the effort of archiving what we, as a contemporary culture want to remember. This primarily involves treating recent history as alive and tangible. Accordingly, the main reason why artists decide to produce Mash-ups at all can be attributed to this dynamic audiovisual archive, or perhaps a sense of ‘classical’ nostalgia. Typically, classical nostalgia manifests itself as a painful ache in longing for something that cannot be recreated. So, at the same time as remembering something, you are confronted with the realisation that it is gone or unattainable. This is distinct from a ‘post-ironic’ nostalgia, where an individual’s ironic appreciation of something becomes inauthentic, deriving not from a sincere wish to recreate a memory, but from how much better the object that came before it was. For instance, a preference towards out-dated design, the dislike of the mp3 file type in favour of 7-inch vinyl or a longing for retro video game culture to rematerialise. Due to a dichotomy of intense happiness in the recollection of a particular memory and the sadness that the memory has ultimately passed, it can be described as a “response to the experience of loss endemic in modernity and late modernity” [34], an idea similar to Frederic Jameson’s understanding of fragmentation within postmodernism and late capitalism. Jameson suggests the postmodern work is characterised by a lack of depth, what he refers to as a “historicism”

, defined as a cultural recycling of past audiovisual

information whose meaning has become free-floating and impersonal. Though what happens when the collective nostalgia that saturates our recent recorded history becomes an archival game within the Mashup? Cassette Boy takes ordinary television footage and edit, cut-up then loop sections of visuals or dialogue creating numerous juxtapositions of meaning. In Cassette Boy vs Nick Griffin vs Question Time [iii], their editing process becomes the medium in which they extract humour whilst ridiculing the show’s guest and its content. Though not directly expressing the sensations of nostalgia, they are still effectively playing with fragments of collective memory: playing with the familiar, a process comparable to exposing the magical realism in everyday life. Jean Baudrillard in Simulacrum and Simulations imagines that “when the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation of myths and signs of reality; of second hand truth, objectivity and authenticity… and there is a panic stricken production of the real and the referential” [36]. Cassette Boy represents a rejection of the reality of television, a type of “second hand truth” and re-appropriates the ‘real’ media to create an illogical reconfiguration of the event that in its edited form, did not take place.
[34] [35]

Michael Pickering, Emily Keightley. The Modalities of Nostalgia, Current Sociology, Nov 2006, Vol. 54(6): 919-941. Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1991. [36] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacrum and Simulations, in Mark Poster (ed.), Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989, p.171. 17

However, central to post-ironic nostalgia is the notion of ambivalence, the simultaneity of two usually conflicting emotions. Within this observation, the concept transforms into a poetic or romantic nostalgia, where the historical past has become a utopia where time has stopped and we have substituted in its place an idealised reference point to constantly refer back to. This idea is demonstrated in the posthumous use of the analogue record in existing remixing and turntablism, even though digital files are equally malleable, though largely in an unphysical way. Thus, perhaps due to the physicality of the record and DJ acting “physically on the object being used”

, the record has endured in contemporary production.

Composer and writer Daniel Warner reflects on the record as a cultural device, expressing that sampling has “recreated the gramophone record as a craft instrument, an analogue, expressive voice, made authentic by nostalgia”

. Now within the digital world, it could be argued that Nick Bertke makes

audiovisual Mash-ups that relate to young adults of his own generation through focusing primarily on childhood films. In Bangarang a Mash-up of sounds from the Steven Spielberg film ‘Hook’, the complexity of his remix aesthetic comes from the sonic arrangement and the almost pure experience of nostalgia through recognizable sounds from the film, forming new associations with recognisable material. Fundamentally, Bertke allows us to be kids again. In mining some of the richest of our childhood recollections in such a powerful way by combining visuals and music, he re-activates residual childhood memories that may have been almost forgotten. When spliced with visuals which most of us have burned into memory, his Mash-ups slice strait through the billions of mundane moments recorded by our brains over the years. In exploiting residual memory as an expressive power, we experience a complex swell of emotional feeling that is analogous to euphoria and nostalgia assumes its full meaning.

[37] [38]

Bourriaud. Postproduction, p. 19. Christoph Cox, Daniel Warner. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Continuum London, 2004, p.151. 18

Homogenisation of Genre

We now exist in a time when the prevailing cultural forms in artistic production are focused around standardisation. Arguably, we are at a point of so much cross-cultural pollination that we are essentially permuting combinations of every genre in each art form. For example, music production has always been about networks or certain methods of exchange. Communities still enjoy different styles of music, but if there is one thing that technology has done, it is to destabilize these categories even further. Very few people listen to an album all the way through, maybe selecting a few tracks as their favourite. What then happens as a result is that people trade. Consequently, through these networks of exchange, music has become a de-materialised currency, a quality essential to contemporary Mash-ups. The process of homogenisation has equally created a surge of derivative work that references its own construction. Oliver Laric’s 2010 video installation Versions

, narrated by a synthetic female voice,

plays with this notion and journeys from ancient sculpture to Internet memes via Walt Disney cartoons. Laric does this in order to plot an idiosyncratic timeline of image appropriation, clashes and multiplications. The simultaneous presentation of the homogeneity of two different scenes from separate Disney films is particularly interesting. The animators reuse the same basic frames in both The Jungle Book and Winnie The Pooh. This practice of constructing a new form over an existing one, or versioning, is similar to the remixing of audiovisual material that occurs in the Mash-up. In this way, Laric can be viewed as a ‘facilitator’, as his practice represents “no single truth, no original; no derivative; just versions amongst other possible versions”

. Therefore, in Laric’s work, he rejects the derivative and

allows the material to function as a collective ‘meme base’ or an archive of cultural signifiers. The difficultly in outlining a unique origin for the practice across each artistic medium and technology has lead to interpretations that remain unresolved. Jordan Roseman (DJ Earworm) in his United States of Pop Mash-up from 2009 merges the 25 most popular songs of the year into one extended mix. Unconsciously or possibly with intention, Roseman explores the overriding themes existing in each music video and the commonalities, interminable recombinations and substitutions which can be made from juxtaposing what should be distinct music tracks. Interestingly, in this juxtaposition, the end result is perceived as a cohesive whole, where a vocal line can be substituted with another backing track and vice versa. Theodore Adorno criticises the structural standardisation and homogenisation of popular music, writing that it “divests the listener of his spontaneity and promotes conditioned reflexes” and “models


Oliver Laric, Seventeen. Versions, Press Release, Seventeen Gallery, London, 2010. 19

under which anything concrete still remaining may be subsumed”


. This conditioned reflex signifies

the homogenisation of genre into a singularity of sound. This distinguishes the Mash-up from other cultural forms of production and is in part drawn from the homogenous technology used to create it. Creating a Mash-up becomes a kind of technological determinism, where anyone can produce any genre of music in their bedroom with a laptop and some software. So the Mash-up is almost post classification or pan-genre. Though Nick Bertke in talking about his mix of Alice and Wonderland, says “I still get people asking me what ‘Alice’ is, and I don’t know how you could simplify a movie remix any further than that. But everyone understands sex and attitude. Remix culture would have to change a lot for mainstream producers to even take notice”
[ 41]

. However, a criticism of Bertke could be that in

homogenising the material he remixes down to a type of electronic dance music, he is effectively becoming a cliché through only focusing on childhood films and representing them through his own style of production. Crucially, perhaps there will be a phase when artists can transgress not only genre-based designations, but also the cultural associations in each genre.


Theodor W. Adorno. On Popular Music, Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, New York: Institute of Social Research, 1941, IX, 17-48. [41] Martin. Pogo: Harnessing The Innate Rhythm of Pop Culture. NPR Music, April 2012. 20

The Cultural Singularity: In Lieu of a Conclusion As we have observed, the world is increasingly preoccupied with technological progress, gradually becoming more digitised and seen purely as a stream of cultural data. R. L. Rutsky describes this cultural data as having a technological life of its own, propagating itself through “reproduction and dissemination, and undergoing mutation in the process”

. Hence, the vast amounts of derivative work generated by

Mash-up artists create a type of homogenized culture of the copy, destroying the ‘live’ in performance and influencing artistic production by filtering it through a nostalgic historical interpretation. Writing in the 1950’s, Guy Debord argues for “the emergence of productive forces that necessitate other production relations and a new practice of life” emergence of a ‘Cultural Singularity’. In The Coming Technological Singularity, Vernor Vinge argues for a theoretical future where technological progress will begin to occur at a near vertical rate. Vinge predicts the “developments that before were thought might only happen in a million years (if ever), will likely happen in the next century”
[ 44 ] [43]

. Consequently, the massive amounts of information exchanged

through remixing provide infinite perspectives or versions of the same material, arguably leading to the

. Therefore, based on an awareness of the Technological Singularity with requires no human

intervention, the Cultural Singularity would be a point where individuals become part of an automated process for generating self-referential culture. In this instance, the Mash-up artist could essentially be thought of as an automated process. Sometimes in response to events and sometimes not, this group of artists create audiovisual Mash-ups that just appear online. The situation is remarkable, as never before have so many individuals made so much superfluous culture this rapidly across so many mediums for almost no recognition. And never before have so many people consumed that culture without much concern for the person who made it or how it came to appear online. Whereas antiquated cultural systems existed for profit, Internet mash-ups exist to possibly explore illegitimate combinations of recorded material. Arguably, the whole process is rooted in an obsession with turning everything digital, even the past. For example, Mash-ups are created regularly by virtually anyone at any time, so as we move forward into a progressively diverse and arguably more spontaneous cultural consumption (i.e. where audiovisual material is interacted with largely on a casual basis), the ‘constructed realism’ of the source material leads to a misrepresentation of reality. Particularly, how will this impact and fundamentally modify our conception of reality through a lens of derivative work?

[42] [43]

Rutsky. High Technē, p. 152. Guy Debord, Methods of Détournement, Les Lèvres Nues #8, trans. Ken Knabb, 1956. [44] Vinge. The Coming Technological Singularity, p. 90. 21

Frederic Jameson discusses the disconnect between production and work, describing that “as a service economy we are henceforth so far removed from the realities of production and work on the world that we inhabit a dream world of artificial stimuli and televised experience” [45]. Similarly, Jean Baudrillard in Simulacrum and Simulations extends the critique to include the virtual when he talks about Jorge Luis Borges’ extremely short one paragraph narrative On Exactitude In Science. Borges’ describes an empire, which has made a map “whose size was that of the empire, and which coincided point for point, with it”

. All the time, the impossibly large map becomes part of the landscape. This means that representation

and thing being represented become confusingly one in the same. For Baudrillard, this is an imperfect but beautiful allegory for the simulation and what he labels Hyperreality; a reality constructed of images, which represents but also masks true reality. The many quests for sameness and facsimile represented with new technological advancements dually reflect in our media consumption, which, according to Baudrillard, is a symptom of our inability to accept diversity. He proposes the “murder of the real” by the virtual, by an “endless stream of flashing images” [47]. Simulation is the process that creates Hyperreality, the new real. Baudrillard writes, “the real is produced from miniaturised cells, matrices and memory banks, models of control - and can be reproduced in indefinite number of times” [48]. When experiencing a performance based on a recording or perhaps listening to DJ Earthworm’s United States of Pop [vii] mixes, are we sharing in an experience, or an idealised reference taken from it? Is culture, or more specifically, the audiovisual aspects of it, still valid when it is currently expressed through notifications and updates and becomes a type of mediated digital experience? Screens and digital representations are everywhere, if we did not want to experience the world through these devices, we would undoubtedly choose not to. The point may not be that this arrangement is bad, but that it is just radically different. The recording, the archiving and the remixing of our experiences all happen constantly alongside one another. It could be said that it has become more “seductive” to see life as images on a screen. It appears convenient; it is safer and as Baudrillard might argue, functions more like an advertisement. However, by focusing primarily on the visual, Baudrillard almost excludes sound. David J. Gunkel considers how “Baudrillard says little or nothing about sound and sound recording. Even a cursory reading of his texts, demonstrates an overwhelming interest in visual artefacts and techniques, a rhetorical style that is dependent on metaphors and tropes derived from optics, and the use of examples that involve vision and aim to make theory visible”

. Certainly, Baudrillard recognises the immediacy

of visuals as opposed to sound. Though crucially, what does this immediacy of audiovisual material mean
[45] [46]

Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review I/146, 1984, p 550-587. Jorge Luis Borges, On Exactitude in Science, Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley in Los Anales de Buenos Aires, 1946. [47] Jean Baudrillard, The Violence of the Image, essay in The European Graduate School, 2004, p. 1. [48] Baudrillard, Simulacrum and Simulations, p. 2. [49] D. J. Gunkel, Blind Faith: Baudrillard, Fidelity, and Recorded Sound, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, 2007 22

for the alternative and the unconventional? Can there still be an avant-garde space, whilst our “ideas themselves spread ever faster, and even the most radical ideas quickly become commonplace”

. The

avant-garde is built upon scarcity, on restricted availability, distributed via small magazines and small press books. This type of artistic production will still continue, however, the avant-garde may have lost its intrinsic value as a disruptive medium within the digital space. If we think of the Mash-up as a cultural meme, perhaps the avant-garde has been subsumed by it. Consequently, the act of remixing itself has produced a Singularity within our culture.
8122 words


Vinge. The Coming Technological Singularity, p. 91. 23

List of Works Bertke, Nick (Pogo). Bloom (Disney Remix), 2011. 2:51 min, colour. Video and sound copyright Disney. Uploaded June 2007. Available at:

Bertke, Nick (Pogo). Bangarang (Hook Remix), 3:26 min, colour. Video and sound copyright Amblin Entertainment, TriStar Pictures. Uploaded August 2009. Available at:

Bolton, Mark, Warlin Steve. Cassette Boy vs Nick Griffin vs Question Time, 1:01 mins, colour. Uploaded October 2009. Available at:


Foakes, Kevin, Morley, Paul (DJ Food). The History of the Cut-up: Raiding the 20th Century (Words & Music Expansion). 40 mins, sound. Internet Only Release, January 2004. Available at:

Laric, Oliver. Versions. Four channel video. Exhibited at Seventeen Gallery, London, 2010. Available at:

Marata, Takeshi. Untitled (Pink dot), 2007. Video, 5 min, colour. Sound by Robert Beatty.

Roseman, Jordan. United States of Pop 2009, Video, 4:46 mins, colour. Available at:



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