Corporate Portishead mashups wouldn't be dumb

You hear a lot about mashups in Web 2.0 -- where one data source is combined with another to produce a new application where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts -- but the musical version of the term is far more apposite to corporate uses of 2.0 techniques than anything which relies on Google Maps APIs.

You hear a lot about mashups in Web 2.0 -- where one data source is combined with another to produce a new application where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts -- but the musical version of the term is far more apposite to corporate uses of 2.0 techniques than anything which relies on Google Maps APIs.

Mashups involving the combination of elements from two or more music tracks into one cohesive song, also called b****** pop, are a phenomenon predating the 2.0 craze, having started in earnest around 2001. Where it really took off, as with Web 2.0, is where the tools of creation became democratised. In the case of 2.0 it was Wordpress, Ruby on Rails and LAMP. For mashups, the tools of choice of music geeks everywhere became Cubase, Wavelab, Soundforge, Cool Edit Pro, Ableton Live and ACID Pro. These applications made the sifting of digitised tracks much easier, so that you could separate the vocals from the instrumentation to enable recombination with other half-tracks. The amateur sitting in his or her bedroom in suburban London could have access to nearly all of the tricks of the trade previously restricted to commercial producers sitting in million-dollar studios in downtown Soho. All it required was to learn the apps, and figure out if you had talent or not.

The talent selection process came at a Web forum called Get Your Bootleg On. Here budding bootleggers would post links to MP3s of their latest creations, which would get a harsh but fair peer review by those who had already survived their initiation. This Darwinist sieving of talent eventually produced some new stars with funk in their typing fingers, who went on to become minor celebrities within their local DJ community. Inevitably, the major labels have started cracking down on copyright, but GYBO is still running and is still hosting links to new mashup artists.

Some of those artists are graduating to new projects. solcofn, a Washington DC native and co-producer of one of the world's first mashup radio shows, made a name for himself not only as a mashup creator, but also as the compiler of a series of mashup mixes. Every month or so, he would select the best of GYBO's constant stream of new tracks and link them into an hour of new sounds. While those mixes have since dried up, solcofn is now at the forefront of a new round of mashup albums which follow the tracklist of a favoured album and mashes up each track in turn. The latest is Dumb, in which a collection of mashup stars bastardise the Portishead album Dummy to great effect. Tracks one, two and 10 are particular standouts. Track five features a mashup artist named Lenlow, who has pushed the definition of mashups by including the vocal talents of his sister Katie Enlow on many of his tracks, as in this one. Ms Enlow is not a great singer, as is made apparent in comparison to Portishead's Beth Gibbons, but her karaoke-style contributions are nevertheless interesting.

So how does all this relate back to your 2.0 project, while you slave over coding up a wiki or stewarding a Wordpress installation? Think of your company as the music industry, where the people with creative power are the music producers, and everyone else in the company are the listeners. With the advent of 2.0 apps where everyone can contribute equally to the discussion with the same access to creative tools, who's to say you couldn't unearth a batch of new stars, as mashups have done with listeners-turned-DJs? Once you democratise the means of creative production, you can find new hierarchies of power based not on seniority or static organisational flow charts, but on ability and dedication. Knowledge workers would not be valued on the tacit knowledge inside their own heads which they refuse to let others have, they would have to compete with other employees to be heard. Maybe one day your company's employees could band together to produce something as fresh as Dumb.

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