The Mash Album
OK, the first anniversary of Grey Tuesday
is coming up; and what’s changed since then? Copyright is still an important legal issue and royalties are more important than ever. Apple announced it’s hocked a quarter billion licensed MP3 tunes just as it undertook legal action against a kid who posted Mac gossip on his blog. Lisa Marie has sold the entire Elvis Industry to some higher-level marketing venture; and in Britain advertisers want to use Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain
routine to plug a car. If marketing companies can throw huge sums of money into cultural stealing (which is what it amounts to: usurping a tune’s familiarity and or subjective-musical power to invest a product with cultural kudos and association, colonising our minds), and thereby keep making more money unfairly with respect to the original artists and or writers, then their legal hunting down of the small-time mixers having a bit of fun with the music, in an effort to protect their profits, is obscene. Visions of an army of Colonel Parkers with teams of snide grey Simpsons lawyers, simply because they can afford them, to pick on some kids with mix and sampling software. Conversely, I love the idea of CopyLeft but it just doesn’t function in higher-level capitalism with its profit-ownership obsessions. The future utopia for artists or musicians (in the sampling age especially) is to make all music free. Which of course makes it impossible to protect, and so the whole vicious cycle begins again. The system prevails. Some snide manager whispers into a bored musician’s ear that there’d be no more coke riders. Or Moby renegotiating for the umpteenth time his commercial-use royalties ('I hear we’ve just got New Guinea'). Any industry protects its interests across the board, from legal protections to voting Republican. The music, ultimately, represents very little. Add to that all the profitable re-issues and greatest hits packages and you’ve got a shiny, healthy music industry that can afford to cry foul over missed revenues.
But after all the sampling and mashing and riff-lifting and rap-tracking, what’s actually changed in the state of music
itself? Or more specifically, in light of all the people moaning about the decline of the true album format and the inroads that shuffling MP3 players make on people’s music listening experiences, has anything truly new and original happened in the spirit of music? Is there anything more than just the occasionally brilliant or truly affective combination of sample, beat and wildly crossed context? The mad cut-up or the sublimely dissing pisstake? Within its own context mashing is great fun, but it ultimately doesn’t add to the music; its just another means of reducing everything to sample material and raw unprocessed context. It’s the quality of the original materials or the power of the raps that are laid onto it, or the occasional wild accident that matters — if everyone was making mash albums there’d soon be a shortage of stuff to sample. Which means that ultimately it’s a reductive venture, given the hacker kudos of playing against corporate copyright rules. Of course, the Beatles were a great white elephant just waiting to be brought down (DJ Danger Mouse just got there first). With their rights in limbo, neither Peg Leg Paul nor Ringo Superhero are gonna pen personal letters of cease and desist (‘White Elephant Jumps at Grey Mouse’). Mashing also means deliberate provocation and baiting, deliberately planting little copyright stings on record companies too slow to act legally over the internet. Which is fine in context but ultimately another tiring, reductive maneuver, a difficult pose to maintain for any length of artistic time without genuine smarts and creativity. Which brings it all back where it began, in Dub. Technically speaking, mashing is an extension of the history of mixing that began with Dub. And what did Dub do when it ran out of source materials? It started making its own. Y’all should be looking back to what Sly and Robbie were doing in the 70s.
The decline of the album format
is another issue. A lot of the mash stuff actually tries to tie it all together with shout-outs and dissing and bragging. But there’s a strong sense of limitation — again, the source materials issue. And if music doesn’t play at expanding its expressive or spiritual boundaries from within (jazz) then its net emotional gain and relevance will stay academic, and undergraduate at that. A fun little exercise only. Also, mashes are quite listener-fatiguing. The odd 99 Problems / Helter Skelter
mash is great, and it might sound very odd to hear me say this now, but I really want to hear songcraft and good choruses and not some hastily sequenced non sequiturs. I want to hear intelligent writing and ability again. Gentle ability, handmade, soulful.