Please note that most of the links here to video or audio content will contain offensive and/or NSFW language.
Trying to explain what Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, does to anyone my age can be a bit challenging. Technically, Gillis is a mash-up artist — someone who combines two or more pieces of music to create something new.
As an example, one of the most famous mash-ups is Danger Mouse’s “The Grey Album” that combines the a cappella vocals from rapper Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” with samples from the Beatles’ so-called White Album. While Jay-Z had created the a cappella version of his album specifically for mash-up use, the Beatles publisher EMI was not amused and attempted to get The Grey Album suppressed. Despite EMI’s efforts, The Grey Album remains available and is considered an artistic success.
As great as the work by people like Danger Mouse may be, nothing really compares to the level of mash-up done by Pittsburgh’s 29-year-old Gillis. Gillis has a degree in biomedical engineering, but several years ago he quit his day job to create the incredible mixes that go into his five albums. His most recent album, All Day, reportedly contains 400 different samples — typically some kind of rap combined with some sample of pop, rock or soul music from the last 40 or 50 years.
All of Gillis’ music is given away online, and none of the samples he’s used have been authorized or paid for. Were he to attempt to license the music, Gillis estimates that it would cost several million dollars, and that many of the songs wouldn’t be available at any price. And yet, so far no label has sued Gillis for his sampling. According to Duke law professor James Boyle, speaking on NPR’s One The Media, says there may be a range of reasons no one has gone after Gillis:
There is the story that the labels learned from DJ Danger Mouse and don’t want to risk creating the Che Guevara of the digital sampling age, the lost hero to which all of us will offer reverence and thus make him even more popular.
Another story is, they’re going, hmm, this is really interesting. Let’s let him run a bit, and when we finally see how things are playing out then we’ll figure out a way of getting a revenue stream out of this. A third story is they realize it’s actually fair use and they don’t want a bad precedent brought against them. And then a fourth one is that they are gibbering in terror and are so scared by this new phenomena, they’re incapable of rational action of any kind and so are caught in a kind of fugue state, as the digital music scene develops.
BTW, if you really want to get the full flavor of the OTM program on mash-ups and sampling, you really need to listen to it rather than read it.
Without further ado, here are a number of fascinating videos and links dealing with Girl Talk and mash-ups.
Girl Talk – Bounce That animated video
This video was created by Professor Matthew Soar and his students at Concordia University in Montreal using rotoscoped video. (BTW, to the best of my knowledge this video does not contain offensive language)
Video Mash-up of Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals “Play Your Part (Pt. 1)”
Note: This video contains potentially offensive language. It was produced by comedian Russell G. Mills using clips from videos of the music sampled in “Play Your Part Pt. 1″
The website Mashable points us to a wonderful visualization of All Day that displays what samples make up each track as they play. Creator Benjamin Rahn does not claim his work to be 100 percent accurate, but says that its as close as anyone is going to come of documenting what went into All Day.
An extended lecture on Mash-ups, Borrowing and the Law
from Professor James Boyle