“Stayin’ Alive in Da Club”: The Illegality and Hyperreality of Mashups

Liam Alan Maloy

Abstract


This study investigates the issues raised by the creation of ‘new’ songs entirely from ‘old’ recordings, exemplified by mashups. The paper looks at the illegal status of the genre and the challenge to traditional ideas of authorship and originality posed by mashups. The repackaging of copyrighted material has serious legal implications; the inherent illegality of the mashup genre perpetuates its underground status inferring cultural kudos on the work’s producers. Peer-to-peer applications, home CD burners, and mp3s have speeded up the rate at which the musical past can be referenced. Recordings are ‘unmixed’ and song fragments are distributed freely on the internet often with no reference to the original artist or author. Mashup producers reassemble these fragments, arranging them sequentially (“Velcro text”) and layering them concurrently. The paper uses Baudrillard’s orders of signification to examine mashups. Baudrillard’s stated that “the age of simulation begins with a liquidation of all referentials” and that in ‘hyperreality’, a listener can no longer tell the difference between a ‘real’ piece of work or a simulation. Jameson identified “a new depthlessness” in a mediated self-referential culture obsessed with superficial detail, rendering the resulting product “meaningless” The question of how meaning is created and sustained in such a ‘meaningless’ post modern culture is discussed with reference to the writings of Barthes. A taxonomy of listener competence is proposed, whilst ideas of signifyin(g) and detournement are used to investigate the ironic use of musical quotation.

Keywords


Mashups; sampling; hyperreality; intertextuality; collage

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