Editor’s Column: A MIley Mash-Up or “Put Your Cash Up?”



History tells us that the Notorious B.I.G. did not use a sample of “Don’t Stop Believ­ing” in any of his songs. Even though those timeless first piano chords from the Journey mega-ballad never fail to inspire the joy and wonderlust of small town ambition, the No­torious B.I.G. chose not to sample them on songs such as “Machine Gun Funk” or “10 Crack Commandments.”

And yet, digital technology wants to tell a different story. There is a software that will take a digital library and match up or, as it is now popularly called, “mash-up” songs. By electronically finding songs, or samples of songs, with the same time signature or changing the time signatures of songs by slowing them down or speeding them up, this software can make any combination of songs in standard time.

This technology has opened up the mash-up. The mash-up was once the exclusive domain of those disc jockeys with the keen ear and timing for doing this manually on the turntable.

Pioneered originally in Baltimore, this old form of mash-up was exemplified by artists such as 2 Many DJs. However, now it can be done with any song and by anyone with the right software and a laptop.

This new accessibility of the mash-up has made it an innovation in the popular music culture. Girl Talk, an early promoter of the new mash-up, has made a career stringing together rapid-fire mash-ups of “gangsta rap” taunts over flamboyant 1970s arena rock. Every week on the television show Glee, the high school glee club is doomed until the mo­ment that the club’s director, Mr. Schuester, dreams up the mash-up combination for their song piece that will inevitably “step it up a notch.”

Finally, mash-up has become a staple of the college party scene, a scene that is very receptive to things being a bit jumbled up.

Mash-up, aware of today’s media-savvy young audience, takes bits and pieces of songs, trusting that its audience will recognize the recomposed pieces. The enjoyment, as most people know, comes from simultaneously recognizing the familiar and being surprised by the new combinations of familiar songs and sounds. It almost feels like music is trying to compensate for the information overload of the times by splurging a rainbow of sounds all at once.

The sampling of many songs into one means there is probably something for everyone, and this is a distinct advantage. The musical form of the song is a clumsy, awkward thing. Because someone else’s way of expressing themselves is often different than our own way. Popular music often amplifies this discrepancy by deliberately exaggerating its form of ex­pression to convey a feeling or an idea. A listener usually likes certain things about a song, but finds other aspects not to their taste. Mash-up allows listeners not to stress about the idiosyncrasies of a particular song.

However, there is a reason why musicians and fans of music have stressed themselves over such idiosyncrasies and have even devoted much labor to developing those idiosyn­crasies. This is because those finer points are essential to music. A song is a clumsy thing, and yet a beautiful thing.

A song’s short timespan, usually only a couple minutes, represents countless personal choices made by the composer and performer that were orchestrated together for a par­ticular purpose. To suddenly or clumsily tear apart those choices or impose new choices can do damage to the music.

Mash-up is a fun way to vent the music overload of the information age. However, music is still worthy of the patience that the search for that perfect song requires. There will always be that ‘awkward’ song.

Yet, growth in music taste and especially in identity as a person requires being uncomfortable and exploring new waters.

When music loses its expressiveness, even if it has a bumping beat, it is still basically no more than elevator music with a bumping beat. It’s the DJ as interior decorator, instead of turntable hero. I don’t think the Notorious B.I.G. or that “small town girl living in a lonely world” would be cool with that.