A friend of mine, also an academic, and I like to joke about our shared tendency to have difficulty finding a thesis in our scholarship. Many stages of the work, therefore, rather than having a real argument, seem to rest on the claim: "Look at this cool thing I found." Or sometimes, two things.
If you have not already heard of Kutiman and his project Thru You, a remixing of YouTube videos to form a truly mashed-up global musical video extravaganza, go here. If that site is overwhelmed, go here. I know you might already know about this magic, because I do tend to be late to the party, but damn.
Me? I was mesmerized. I had to watch all of them at one sitting. I have long been a fan of remixes and mash-ups, and the way those things let you hear things in new ways. The guys at Negativland are geniuses, and back in the early 1990s they made a record combining samples from U2's The Joshua Tree and "off camera" samples of Casey Kasem into an amazing series of tracks that now you can't hear anymore because Island Records sued their asses and recalled their albums. (I have a couple tracks on a cassette, but I digress.) Then there are the likes of base58, The Evolution Control Committee, Girl Talk, and more--who know how to play with sound and similarities and listener expectations to make things that are fun, insightful, and, in many cases, worth listening to even once the novelty has worn off.
But Kutiman? Wow. He takes it, as my father would say, quoting Emeril, another notch. It's not just that he has taken crazy shit that people have posted on YouTube and combined it into excellent audio/video tracks--that also sound excellent. It's that these mash-ups somehow make you see YouTube itself in a new way.
Take Track 4, "Babylon Band," for instance. It starts out with this probably stoned dude whaling on the drums. In itself, probably the best response that video would hope for is a "Duuuuuuuuude" from someone who came across it, or maybe laughter from friends, or derision from people who think the world is going to hell. But in this track? Suddenly dude's drumline (and his hair) lead us into something more amazing than you would expect to find in your parents' basement. But even with the kid playing amazing riffs on his oud (or whatever that is) and then the darbuka that comes in with much advertisement (not false), this is not exoticized, because we also have a church organist, a horn quartet in a classroom, kids practicing the piano in their living rooms, and the guy stringing out the amazing vocals is in a lawn chair. Or the woman singing on track 5 is sitting on the floor of her living room with her baby in her lap and a playpen in the background. Some of the samples come from instructional videos and e-bay advertisements. People playing drum machines are also holding coffee cups. Musicians in pajamas with couches and dogs! So yeah, these remixes are remarkably global, but also surprisingly local, and that somehow is what makes them so amazing.