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Mashup mastery

The current “online sensation” (see footnote, below) seems to be Auto-Tune the News, a series of video collages from New York-based Gregory Brothers. The basic idea is to mash up news clips fed through an auto-tuner to make it sound as if the talking heads are singing. This material is integrated into custom-written songs and the video is a mix of the original news clips and chromakeyed band members in various costumes (including an Angry Gorilla).

More about Gregory Brothers and their work in this in-depth interview. There are currently nine episodes of Auto-Tune the News in Youtube; my personal favorite is #6.

What strikes me about this work is how skillfully it is executed. First, to find and refine the idea — there was an earlier series called Debate in Song and Dance with original music juxtaposed with debate clips, but when the speakers were auto-tuned into “singing” in the new series, then the audio and the video really started working together. Secondly, the level of musical talent needed to make catchy songs out of the diverse material. And finally, the whimsical video collage and the weird characters throwing the utter seriousness of newcasters and congress members into beautiful contrast. The technical quality of the chromakeying is terrible, of course, which is not a fault in this context but rather serves to emphasize the timeliness and grassroots feel that always benefits a piece of political satire.

It is clear that mashup is a craft, and that it has levels of mastery. Always rewarding to see when the large audiences (and the attention of the mainstream media) are drawn to quality work.

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Footnote: It is remarkable how the mainstream media seem to approach digital culture. Perhaps it could be called the Eldorado approach. There is an urge to focus on exactly one act or performer that can be dubbed the new “online sensation” and reported in terms of how it comes from nowhere and sweeps the “online world.” (For reference, recall how the career story of Lily Allen was retold to fit this pattern, even though she was more or less born an artist and had her first record contract four years before Myspace.)