Commentary

Must-See Online TV: Kutiman's Mother of All Mashups

After seeing mention of it on TechCrunch and Mashable, thought I'd check out this Kutiman guy's new album/video: the one in which every clip and every sample came off of YouTube. It's aptly called "ThruYou" and the Web site on which the seven-track production can be found sports an interface that looks like the YouTube home page -- if it had been left under a bus and run over a few times. Recognizable, but a faded version of the actual product.

But this whatever-it-is is anything but. The world music/funk "ThruYou" is a ton of fun, and sometimes, even, haunting (there's a word that's never been used in a Social Media Insider column before). But it's also mind-blowing just because it exists; it would have been unimaginable a few years back that so many people would share little audio and video bits of themselves with the rest of the world. The clips that appear in the videos -- and off of which the audio is based -- range from an elderly woman playing a church organ to a young French guy smoking a joint.

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A few years back, it also would have been unimaginable that someone could make art out of all these audio and video bits, working at home, as Kutiman apparently did.

A project like "ThruYou" should make us crucially aware of one fact: the line between professional and amateur content is getting more and more squiggly. What do you call an album created by a professional musician out of amateur content? The first song is called "The Mother of All Funk Chords" (quoting someone who appears on what looks like an instructional video for guitar) -- but the project is certainly the Mother of All Mashups.

Now, because I always wonder about these things, I wonder how Kutiman will make money out of this. Unlike one of his albums, it's not on Amazon or iTunes... yet. And maybe, due to intellectual property concerns, it can't be, unless all of the YouTube "stars" his project uncovered sign off on it, and, probably, if they're smart, ask for some revenue. That would be a logistical nightmare. By my count, ThruYou uses upwards of 150 YouTube clips. However, with all the buzz this project seems to be getting, it's quite possible the music will become popular on a broader scale. I hope Kutiman is ready to go wherever this takes him.

But enough of my lame attempt at a business angle. I suppose I focused on this because, despite our little community's obsession with iPhone apps and social media ad models, sometimes it's worth pointing to one of those things that sums up how social media is creating the zeitgeist. This is one of those things.

5 comments about "Must-See Online TV: Kutiman's Mother of All Mashups".
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  1. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., March 11, 2009 at 4:34 p.m.

    I can't say that the music itself is the attraction. At least for me, because I've heard it performed better and with more feeling hundreds of times before. And music sampling has been performed incessantly and with much more culturally significant results... (and besides the rapper stereotype, Danger Mouse's "Grey Album" mash-up of 2004 being a good example.)

    Which leaves the reconstructions from spliced video as its main appeal. And for that I would have to compare it to video artists such as TV Sheriff & The Trailbuddies (http://www.tvsheriff.com/) who have been doing this sort of thing since 2000 - so I wouldn't exactly consider it unimaginable a few years ago. Kutiman takes more careful, meticulous splices, whereas TV Sheriff blends more cultural absurdities in longer form into a humorous mix. There it becomes a measure of personal taste.

    But what is a professional versus an amateur musician anyway? Or video artist or...? Those lines have been blurred long before the invention of the Internet.

    If anything, the story of Kutiman isn't about content. Clearly, there are clear precedents in both the music and video creation spheres. Which ultimately leaves promotion. That 20 people forwarded on links, generating a network effect across the likes of Twitter, etc., is the real story here -- not the artistic accomplishments, which themselves are notable but far from unique.

    Anything is new as long as "it's new to you" (to quote NBC's famous summer hiatus). So the kernel of the story here is how self-promotion has changed with the advent of these tools.

  2. Spider Graham from Trainingcraft, March 11, 2009 at 5:03 p.m.

    Like most media that has viral qualities, the appeal of this video is not the music. But the method of how was created. In short, it is Ubercool.That said,it's probably only a matter of time before a number of copycats jump into this territory and make this particular mashup approach rather pedestrian. In the meantime, thanks for sharing and allowing me to pass this on to my friends as a really cool example of what creative people are doing with their free time.

  3. David Plant from Cameron Thomson, March 11, 2009 at 6:40 p.m.

    Thanks Catharine for drawing this to our attention. Like you I am scratching my head over the business angle. Frankly, I think that its most important benefit is promotional, demonstrating the creativity of Kutiman and his 'collaborators'. Some of the greatest works of art are collaborations between many people (movies, music, theater, dance, etc). Kutiman's concept brings personality into the mix, thanks to patience and serendipity which is made easier by the suggestion of 'related videos'. That's what really makes this interesting and new. Wait until we have more suggestion engines and real video search, then see what's possible. There have been video artists since the dawn of videotape, but Youtube and Creative Commons provides artists like Kutiman with a nearly infinite palette to draw from. I think this is just the beginning.

  4. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., March 11, 2009 at 7:04 p.m.

    Btw, a better reference URL for those who haven't seen many video mashups before:

    http://www.youtube.com/tvsheriff

    This sort of thing has been going on for years now.

  5. Mike Mcgrath from RealXstream PTY LTD, March 11, 2009 at 9:47 p.m.

    Phenomenal, a creative breakthrough and a masterpiece in its own right. Perhaps history in the making, or maybe not, this work certainly show us all what is possible, and begs the question what is yet to come?
    In a commercial sense, the question: Who will get paid? It will be interesting to se how that rolls out… Catherine, perhaps you could follow up on this for us in due course?

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