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The Rise Of A Mash Up Culture

1280 words - 5 pages

A great deal has been said about the move from physical media to a ubiquitous, digital culture. Some decry the downfall of the vinyl record, falling compact disc sales, the cheapening and degrading of an art form. I’ll try to stay away from unverifiable judgements about the direction modern culture is moving in. More interesting is the way musical creation is changing as a result of new technologies, whether we like it or not. What comes to mind is hyperreality - what Jean Baudrillard called “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality” (166). Digital representations, originally intended to recreate the original sound waves of the music, are losing their point of origin and becoming musical works on their own. Technological developments in the 21st century have given us profoundly new ways of interacting with and perceiving representations. Hyperreality is becoming more pervasive in society, present in almost every part of everyday life. The distinction between original and copy is fading fast, as culture becomes a densely interlinked hypertext of information. Here, I will explore how digital music has changed the way we listen, and more specifically, how the mash-up genre embodies the advancing hyperreality.
Before exploring the realm of digital music, we must go back to what enables the shift into the hyperreal to take place: digital computers. Computers allow information present in the physical world to be broken down into discrete chunks, and stored as a representation in digital memory. Digital memory stores information as a series of bits (the fundamental unit of information - a choice between 2 distinct possibilities), encoded in a series of transistors. This act of abstraction is very powerful, as it allows a representation to be separated from its original physical space, brought into the completely moldable world of digital circuits. Its pointless to look for the original blueprint of a digital representation, because it’s independent of the hardware it’s stored in, and meaningful only in the information it encodes. Hyperreality results from a loss of distinction between the representations and the things they’re intended to represent. In our culture, the separation between a song and the digital file of a song is becoming trivial. Computers allow information to be torn free of its original context, and reinterpreted upon retrieval. Representation engines are the ideal enablers of hyperreality, giving almost limitless power to reorder simulacra upon simulacra.
The internet takes the representational capacities of computers, and spreads them over a vast symbolic network. Anyone with an internet connection instantly gains manipulative control over a whole world of digital abstractions. These have the unique property of not being tied down to any specific physical origin. It follows that they’re infinitely recreatable, and intimately tied to their user-defined context. This decontextualization began, to a lesser extent,...

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