Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images Move out of the way because Beyonce is playing…
- Posted on Apr 1st 2009 4:00PM by Steve Hochman
The road to the global village runs through you. Well, ThruYou. The latest YouTube phenomenon, ThruYou is the work of Kutiman, an Israeli musician and producer who's been putting out his own sample-driven music, which he describes as "funk/Afrobeat/psychedelic." For this project, though, he's been diligently combing cyberspace for homemade music projects, grouping together ones that seem to have some compatible or complementary elements and then layering/cutting them into amalgam "songs."
It's the Net equivalent, perhaps, of finding that exact spot at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or some such where you can hear six or eight bands all going at once on the various stages. Out there, if you tilt you ears just right, what by all rights ought to be a cacophonous mess of blues, jazz, Cajun, gospel, rock and whatever all mishmashed together can turn into euphonious magic. With ThruYou, Kutiman has done the ear-tilting for you. And it certainly caught Around the World's ear when sent along by a friend.
It's a pretty simple concept. People all over the world have been uploading clips of themselves playing, some solo, some in groups, some expert, some not so much, because ... well, because they can. In a concise "About" video clip, Kutiman explains the straightforward process, noting his delight in finding so many thing that he could collate without having to do much, if any, fiddling with keys or rhythms. The results are fairly astounding.
The first track, 'The Mother of All Funk Chords,' starts with what appears to have been a live collaboration of four different musicians, each in their respective homes and linked via web cams, and then explodes into a solar flare of brass, keyboards and, uh, everything culled from school band practice sessions and whatnot. 'I'm New' take an acoustic jazzy tone, built on a standup bass line with accents from keyboards, bongos and even a string quintet before a lovely young woman leans toward her webcam and lilts the title phrase for a while, giving way to a young rapper for the middle. 'Babylon Band' kicks off with a kid showing his stuff on a drum kit and then moves to a bit with someone demonstrating some licks on a bouzouki, before bringing in a full set of tracks. Whatever your definition of "world music" is, this has to fit it.
Credits for each track identify the participants -- from cabasa to cash register -- not by name but by the YouTube post numbers of their clips.
Okay, so the notion is not entirely unique. In recent weeks, Around the World has touted two audio/video projects that included pieces pieced together from disparate materials that somewhat serendipitously proved to congeal. Bela Fleck's 'Throw Down Your Heart' journey to discover the roots of and take the banjo back to Africa includes 'D'Gary Jam,' for which musicians from various countries and traditions were asked to add their own parts to what started as a spontaneous piece with Madagascar guitarist D'Gary. And the Basque duo Oreka Tx, after collecting sessions for their 'Nomadak Tx' documentary, which had them take their native txalaparta instrument to various far-flung sites, found that many of the pieces would work together and created the Basque-Saharan-Indian-Sami musical layer cake 'Lauhazka.' This just takes the concept a few steps further.
It's also a perfect companion to the much-discussed YouTube Symphony Orchestra project, in which musicians were encouraged to "audition" by playing parts from a new composition by Chinese composer Tan Dun -- with the results "mashed up" for a video. The winners of the process will take a step, arguably back into the old world, gathering in real life for an April 15 Carnegie Hall concert to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. And as well, ThruYou matches nicely with another recent viral sensation, the compilation of street musicians from around the world all singing Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me,' collected in the making of the documentary 'Playing for Change' into one geo-spanning celebration.
Of course, there are some historic precedents. A case could me made that this both uses and reflects the impact of the latest communication technologies on our sensibilities -- the way Stravinsky in music, like Picasso in art, reflected the new sensibilities of their era. There's little question that their breakthroughs stemmed from the proliferation of photography, motion pictures and sound recording, media through which things could be observed from many angles all at once, without the viewer changing position.
More current antecedents stand out as well. The recently reissued/expanded 1981 David Byrne/Brian Eno collaboration 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' cobbled a global culture groove from borrowed African rhythms and spectral oratory of Pentecostal preachers purloined right off the airwaves. The Beastie Boys also recently reissued/expanded 1989 sophomore album, 'Paul's Boutique,' and DJ Shadow's 1996 debut, 'Endtroducing...' (yes, it was reissued/expanded not long ago), set standards for the blurring (or erasing) of genre, time and national borders with their sample-made sonic collages. These are artifacts of an emerging era in which virtually all sounds ever recorded were becoming accessible.
And now that's being taken to new extremes, with anyone, anywhere, anytime able to "release" whatever music he or she happens to make, moments after it's made. ThruYou (and probably dozens of others of its ilk) are just making that natural step of turning it into art. Marshall McLuhan must be dancing up a storm in his grave.