Thursday, August 02, 2007

From version to mash up

Betty Boo
It’s interesting to see how ways of describing new cultural forms are being borrowed from the history of black music. Reading this on remix – and particularly the idea of culture-as-remix and remix-as-culture – brought to mind the original mixing desk antics of some of the greats of reggae music. Surely the undoubted champion was the Upsetter, Lee Perry. Yet all the great dub versions, usually produced as ‘B’ sides were just that – versions, with the bass line exaggerated, bags of reverb etc. etc. etc. They differed to previous ‘cover versions’ because they were simply a new way of presenting/hearing the original material, rather than a new recording with a different artist. In fact, I seem to recall King Tubby recording a whole album based on remixes of the same track. Of course, this was all a result of the convergence of technology and the creative flare of the studio producers. A mash up is something rather different, being made up of bits or samples from other material spliced together. In a rather primitive way the Beatles did this on Sgt Peppers, but the real leap forward came with digital recording techniques and some of the original hip-hop artists – and, of course, this opened up a whole can of worms about copyright. But more importantly, the notions of adaptations (eg early Dylan), cover versions, remixes and mash-ups generalize across cultural forms. After all Shakespeare did all four, and that would make an interesting study, too.