The concept of the mashup is all the rage these days. The mixability of online apps and services to create something fundamentally new is in part what makes Web 2.0 so appealing. (Here’s a great matrix of web apps and how’s they’ve been mixed with others.) Plotting crime stats on your neighborhood map (Chicagocrime.org), finding out what music acts are upcoming based on your recently played song list (Upcomingscrobbler), viewing photos relavent to your current location (WhereAmI.At?) — all are yokings-together of discrete applications to create something brand new.
The mashup as a musical genre is similarly in vogue right now, maybe more so. If the classic remix is a song dressed up in a new clothes then the musical mashup is a conjoined twin strutting around in a single, seamless overcoat. Mashes from artists like 2 Many DJ’s, DJ Z-Trip, DJ BC, The Kleptones, and Mike Relm demonstrate that when two or more songs are woven together the result is usually more than a bunch of shared downbeats. For example, where DJ’s have traditionally relied on beat matching to pair songs, often mashups choose source material based on thematic similarity. The songs in the mash are like conversants in a dialogue, talking about the same thing. Soulwax does this superbly. Of course, the beats have to match too, but that’s a lot harder to do when you also have to match what they are about.
Both forms of mashing are of course technology-driven. Web app mashups owe their existence to open API’s and standards while musical mashes have proliferated because of the ease of use and ubiquity of digital editing software (and standard audio file formats).
Recently I was listening to an 80’s format streaming radio station and a Beatles medley came on. This isn’t the 80’s, I thought, until I realized that this was one of the early 80’s products of Stars on 45, the pop act that recreated popular music set to a unifying beat. I loved this when I was younger. Stars on 45 created medleys of the BeeGees, famous TV tunes, Motown, and other generic categories. By today’s mashup standards it seems amazingly simple, but what I didn’t know is that Stars on 45 hired sound-alike studio musicians to carefully recreate the original songs — no sample restrictions there, though in truth they were ripping off much more of the originals than today’s quick-sample artists do, but I digress.
Instead of integrating the actual recordings to create something new, Stars on 45 recreated the originals with total faithfulness, a move which gave them the flexibility that today’s technology does. In a way it reminds me of early legacy technology integration projects with all manner of cryptic conversion and middleware transmogrification of data just to get a few apps to talk to each other. The end-user might not know the path the data took to get to him, but to someone who could peer under the hood the process was needlessly byzantine.
And this is where my powers of analogy exhaust themselves.