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The Art of Music Mashups
Jon Nelson

Jon Nelson (Photo: Kate Iverson)

Mashup music isn’t new. All the way back in the ‘60s, fans were remixing Elvis and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Eminem — Slim Shady — laid his vocal track over AC/DC and Vanilla Ice.

But we’re living in a mashed-up musical world right now. From the mainstream to the underground, songs are being sampled, pulled apart, remixed, mashed up. If you’re a fan, you know that Girl Talk does it. Danger Mouse. DJ Spooky. Negativland.

And it’s not just music. My guest today, Jon Nelson, mashes music and found sound — from old movies, laugh tracks, the news — to make what he calls the audio dreamscape of the media age.

This hour, On Point: Music, dreams, and the mashup.

You can join the conversation. Are you a mashup fan? Do you mix your own? What does it say about our era that we’re so into the recycling, layering, mixing of sound? Tell us what you think — and what you’re listening to.

Guests:

Jon Nelson joins us from Duluth, Minnesota. A pioneering sound collage/mashup music artist, he’s hosted the radio show “Some Assembly Required” for the past ten years. Most everyone in the underground world of collage and mashups has come through his show, from Evolution Control Committee to the current mashup phenom Girl Talk. His new album, under the name Escape Mechanism, is called “Emphasis Added.” You can listen here.

And joining us in our studio is Tim Riley, music critic and editor of the Riley Rock Index, a new music site. His latest book is “Fever: How Rock Transformed Gender.”

More links:

U.K. sound artist Vicki Bennet records and remixes tunes, often with a surreal twist, under the name “People Like Us.” California-based sound collage artist Jon Liedecker, a.k.a. “Wobbly,” has a long record of creative tracks. And Turnstylz, an emerging act from New York City, is mixing up a wide variety of genres, with a hip-hop focus.

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  • Cody Blair

    I’m from Miami fl. and I’m a huge mash up fan. I first heard of mash up about 6 years ago when I went and saw DJ ZTrip he blew me away. He played so many different types of music and made them all sound good together. I’ve now seen him over 15 times and try and see as many Mash up DJs as possible. Mash up music brings new sight to old sounds. It changes the music and shows how creative people can get with music. I’m excited to know that mash up is getting some attention.

  • Mark

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve been into mashup since stumbling across a “Donna Summer” aka Jason Forrest CD in the early 2000s. Since I came of age in the 80′s there is a heavy aspect of nostalgia in the mashup I like… it’s like reminiscing while at the same time breaking new territory. There is a cleverness to a mashup that often makes me smile, or smirk, when I here a particularly interesting layering… like someone at a cocktail party who lays a zinger in the midst of a heated conversation.

  • Matt

    How do your guests deal with copyright issues with so much material?

  • Mike

    Just heard you play that Dan Rather remix, and immediately thought of another remix that I like. It’s the Bill O’Reilly flips out dance remix you can find on YouTube. Of course, to play it on the air, you’d have to bleep part of it, but it’s still a hilarious example of taking something like that and turning into a music remix.

  • Julia

    David Holmes

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    conceptual poetics:

    Kenneth Goldsmith et al @ http://ubu.com

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    Derrida’s ‘Glas’

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    Cage’s ‘Variations’ series

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    brianjosephdavis.com

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod
  • Katherine

    One of the best part about mashups is that almost anyone can relate to them because they’re compilations of so many different songs from so many genres. Though mashup artists use old materials they put them together in away that are so original that should not be considered to be any sort of copyright violation.

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod
  • http://www.eatingbatteriesbeatingeardrums.blogspot.com Tim Kenney

    I’m a sound artist as well and I’d argue that this music should be viewed in the context of a folk art movement. DJs and electronic musicians, outside of the established music community and usually self-taught, reflect even early blues musicians who first used knives as slides on their guitars. They continue the idea of creating new culture from the ordinary surroudnings of daily life. In the modern context, our surroundings are media-oriented.

  • hmr

    You have to be happy to hear The Stone Roses at any time. Thanks.

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    nietzsche’s thought of the eternal return of the same

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/wen-stephenson/ Wen Stephenson

    Thanks,

  • http://www.jarrodfowler.com Jarrod

    deleuze’s ‘difference and repetition’

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/wen-stephenson/ Wen Stephenson

    Jarrod.

  • Cody Blair
  • Chris

    No Thanks. Mash ups generally sounds like a trainwreck full of complete mental overload. Give me Miles Davis and a clean, free mind any day.

  • http://olejo.com jaronstein

    Great show Tom!

  • jeffe

    I’m with Cris, this stuff makes my head hurt.
    Each to there own though…

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Great show. The copyright issues are articulated quite well by Larry Lessig who I recommend having on this show at some point:

    http://www.lessig.org/

    He came up with the creative commons license and other new ways of dealing with owning and sharing digital information.

  • Isernia

    What ever happened to the classical music segments that were so common under the previous ON POINT host? All public television stations try to appeal to a younger audience than us over 70 yr. old senior listeners, so such programming is understandable. However, might we who enjoy more traditional forms of music, not ask for “equal time”?
    Once a high school senior student of mine declared that his future career dream was to be a DJ. When I asked why, he responded self-confidently that his musical tastes were the greatest. Reminds me of the mashmasters on this program. Is it not the height of narcissism and egotism to think that one’s artistry is to select musical and verbal sounds that others will spend precious time to listen to? Does this involve any more creativity than I just expressed choosing dirty clothes from my hamper to put in the washing machiine?

  • Charlie Mc

    In 1946, at the Boston’s basketball Tech Tourney, the Somerville High School student fans came up with a first, a cheer which went:
    “A-B-C-D-E-F-G;
    H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P;
    Q-R-S-O-M-E-R;
    V-I-L-L-E Rah, Rah!”
    Thus began the modern era of organized cheers. It was just as novel as MASH, and just as peripheral to sports as Mash is to real music. It will probably last just as well. Unfortunately.

  • Christine W.

    Thanks SO MUCH to Irsenia and Charlie Mc. This stuff is just LARCENY by people with no personal musicality, or, if they have some remnant of it, no humility about stealing other people’s physical expression of musicality. This is just sound created out of ambition for purposes of fame. People worldwide make music using found materials, but the musician finds and makes the rhythms, melodies, etc. These guys just steal someone else’s music. If you want to make music out of found materials, don’t make it using stolen music; make music using non-musical sounds. Actually, that’s an old idea, but if you want to make it new, try it — but don’t steal!

  • djd

    Girl Talk is the musical equivalent of Shepard Fairey. They are not artists, they are entrepreneurs. Mash ups a horrid.

  • andy uk

    Another great show. It was cool to hear Tom get enthused by the concept and the great tunes. I guess he was maybe not a fan before but hearing him realise the possibilities and ‘get’ what mixing it up is all about put a right smile on my face.

    One early and fine example of the ‘paradigm’ is KLF’s chillout album, you get Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Elvis and much more. Plays homage to the music of these people and weaves a very relaxed dreamy world of sounds. We used to listen to it here in the UK after dancing in a muddy filed or warehouse for 20 hours in the late eighties. Goes nice with a cup of tea and bacon sandwich :)

  • http://www.archive.org/details/SeveralBigChanges_917 Todd Bartel

    To Isernia et al.

    “To each is own” is fair enough. You ask, “Does this involve any more creativity…?” Certainly! Have you ever tried to make a sound-scape, a collage, an assemblage? Have you ever curated an exhibition or a collection? Such stuff is not at all an easy task. Collages, assemblages and mash-ups are all simple enough to make in theory—they simply require a collection of components that work well together. But to make them alluring, poetic, potent, powerful, or memorable, now that is yet another labor of love. Stick with the “to each is own argument” unless you have the experience to dignify the other complaint.

    Respectfully,

    Todd Bartel
    [a.k.a. Necto]

  • Todd Bartel

    P.S.

    If you are interested I just tried my own first mash-up, after 30 years of playing piano I discovered the program “GarageBand” which is a great “Mash-up” head start software. Here is a link to my first fruit. (It’s an amalgam of digital instruments that I played, edited and canned rhythms, and some captured vocals):

    http://www.archive.org/details/SeveralBigChanges_917

  • http://www.vivelife.com Jon Malone

    Obama inauguration speech Remixed?

    Music is both created by and listened to with the mind, body, and soul. Some people dance and feel it more with their body, others sit and listen from a cerebral approach. Some like the feel of 4/4 and others like the swing of 3/4. It is all personal and shouldn’t be bashed. Some artists write because the music it “sounds good,” and others write because it mathematically makes sense with that chord progression.

    I can only imagine what the likes of Mozart, Stravinsky, or Brahms would be doing with the technology of today.

    In the end, mash-up/remixing is fun and if you don’t like it, change the channel to something you enjoy and connect with. From what I read above and have listened to on the streets, there is a difference between critiquing and complaining.

    Complaining is ugly.

    Check out Obama’s inaugural address remixed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkKWGndXhAA

  • http://www.jake-dimare.blogspot.com Jake DiMare

    I heard this exact topic on a talk radio show for the first time while driving from San Francisco to Boston. It was March of 2004 and the radio show was out of either Reno or Sacramento. I remember listening to the host talk about the Danger Mouse piece and thinking about how beautiful central California is at sunset.

    Great piece.

    -Jake

  • Todd Bartel
  • Todd Bartel

    As the remixed words of Barack Obama crop up over and over again. Clearly, mixing and mashing it up—figuring out how it all “can work together” is a widely expressed imperative today.

  • Pierre Kellner
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