Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Mashing: Toward a Typology of Recycled Music

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Mashing: Toward a Typology of Recycled Music

Article excerpt

[1.1] Of late, discussions about mashups have been making their way from the popular press to the scholarly journal. In a recent article in Popular Music, for instance, Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen and Paul Harkins (2012) argue that a combination of contextual incongruity and musical congruity serve to define the mashup. An article by David Gunkel in Popular Music and Society (2012) makes a different point: Gunkel suggests that mashups challenge traditional concepts of authorship because they are created from already finished works. In the present article, I offer a broad typology of the genre, and I survey a range of approaches in the context of the long musical tradition of appropriating and recombining-what I call "recycling"-preexisting music.

[1.2] I will first offer a cursory working definition of the mashup. I will then present a typology that locates mashups amidst other types of music that are constructed using similar principles. Using this typology, I will extract five typical characteristics that most mashups share in order to refine my definition of the genre: (1) mashups use preexisting music; (2) mashups use vertical interaction between songs; (3) mashups always include more than one song; (4) most mashups are dependent upon the recognizability of the songs included; and (5) at least one of the songs is a pop song, usually with lyrics. After further honing of this definition, it will become possible to separate the broader idea of the mashup into four distinct subtypes: (1) the basic mashup, (2) the cover mashup, (3) the paint palette mashup, and (4) the megamix mashup. Finally, I will conclude with implications for future research and analysis.

[1.3] Let me propose a working definition: A mashup is a song that combines portions of two or more previously recorded songs into a single track. Even given this rudimentary definition, a cursory examination of mashups quickly reveals that they do not all follow the same pattern of construction; instead, mashup artists pursue a number of possible strategies. This definition also does not provide immediate guidance on how mashups differ from other closely related genres such as the remix or the collage piece.

[1.4] Mashups consist of familiar songs; the guiding idea is to make references that listeners will immediately recognize.(1) The principle of recognizability is important in distinguishing mashups from other patchwork types of music, like collage, in which the immediate recognizability of the source is not generally a primary issue. I will make use of Lacasse's (2000) distinction between "autosonic" (quotation by sampling) and "allosonic" (quotation by imitation) references. Songs that use autosonic quotation, or literal samples, generally fall into different categories and have different sonic effects than those that rely on allosonic imitation. Another important aspect to consider is the number of recycled songs in a new piece of music. Usually, composers, mashup artists, and DJs limit themselves to combining three or fewer previously existing songs into a single track. Combining a large number of tracks requires different techniques, and such pieces typically have different aesthetic aims than those that feature three or fewer songs. Lastly, I will consider the interaction of samples with each other and with newly composed music. Samples can be juxtaposed in a successive fashion (horizontally), or played simultaneously (vertically). Not only do these two types of interaction create very different aesthetic effects, but in addition I argue that vertical interaction between sampled tracks helps define the mashup.

Cover Songs and Hip-Hop Sampling

[2.1] A cover song is any recording or performance of a song by an artist other than the artist who recorded the "definitive" (usually first) version.(2) Cover songs first began to emerge in the 1950s with the appearance of rock and roll and the aesthetic priority given to recordings over sheet music; but the term came later, in the 1960s. …

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