‘Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture’ — Aram Sinnreich in Truthdig

‘Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture’

Posted on Aug 27, 2010

By Aram Sinnreich

“The distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case.”

—Walter Benjamin

“The line between artist and audience is pretty much gone. I remember when I got my first digital production rig, I was like, ‘My god, man, this is like communism—the means of production are in the hands of the people.’ ”


The line separating artists from their audience has always been a bit blurry. From that moment during the Renaissance when someone first decided that a painter was more than just a craftsman with an easel, the whole idea of the Artist-with-a-capital-A has required an entire mythology just to make it seem plausible.

The biggest myth of all is the Romantic notion that artists somehow create their work uniquely and from scratch, that paintings and sculptures and songs emerge fully-formed from their fertile minds like Athena sprang from Zeus. Running a close second is the myth that only a handful of us possess the raw talent – or the genius – to be an artist. According to this myth, the vast majority of us may be able to appreciate art to some degree, but we will never have what it takes to make it. The third myth is that an artist’s success (posthumous though it may be) is proof positive of his worthiness, that the marketplace for art and music functions as some kind of aesthetic meritocracy.

Of course, these myths fly in the face of our everyday experience. We know rationally that Picasso’s cubism looks a lot like Braque’s, and that Michael Jackson sounds a lot like James Brown at 45 RPM. We doodle and sing and dance our way through our days, improvising and embellishing the mundane aspects of our existence with countless unheralded acts of creativity. And we all know that American Idol and its ilk are total B.S. (very entertaining B.S., of course!). Each of us can number among our acquaintance wonderful singers, dancers, painters or writers whose creations rival or outstrip those of their famous counterparts, just as each of us knows at least one beauty who puts the faces on the covers of glossy magazines to shame.

And yet, we believe the myths. How could we not? Who among us has the time, the energy, or even the motivation to buck the overwhelming support the myth of the Artist receives from the institutions that govern our society – to dispute our schools, our churches, even our laws? What is copyright, after all, but the legal assertion of an individual’s sole ownership over a unique artifact of creative expression? These laws, sometimes enforced at gunpoint, require us to believe the myths, or face the consequences.

Of course, there’s a reason the myths exist. Our economy runs on the privatization of hitherto public goods. Our legal system is premised on the individual as the locus of all rights, all liability, all blame. Our society’s profound inequalities are only acceptable because we believe ourselves to live in a meritocracy, a world where a person’s success is de facto proof of his or her inherent worthiness. In short, the myth of the Artist-with-a-capital-A allows us to believe in America-with-a-capital-A.

Read more of this book excerpt by clicking here.

Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture

By Aram Sinnreich

University of Massachusetts Press, 240 pages


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