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"The Grey Album"

Abstract

    Despite the immense amount of controversy surrounding mash-ups and remixes and whether or not they may stand alone as innovative products of new media, this page will discuss DJ Danger Mouse's "The Grey Album" and why it should be considered new media. 

Background

    Brian Burton is more commonly known as DJ Danger Mouse.  While he is no stranger to the collaboration, his most influential mash-up is "The Grey Album" which was created during a two-week stint in his Los Angeles bedroom which doubled as his studio for the time of his artistic innovation.  While mash-ups and remixes have certainly existed before Burton's time, including Roy Kerr's "A Stroke of Genius" or Alan Copeland's "Mission: Impossible Theme/Norwegian Wood"1, this new combination was extremely unique to previous forms of remixes and mash-ups.  Burton mashed up vocals from the a cappella version of Jay-Z's The Black Album (2004) and samples from The Beatles' The White Album (1968).  This project was intended only to be heard and enjoyed by Burton and his close friends, but instead was released in February of 2004 and quickly gained popularity over the
internet through file sharing.  Although a multitude of  legal battles ensued, including an order to cease-and-desist the distribution of the music by EMI who claimed to hold the rights to The White Album, in true fashion of new media, users reacted and rebelled against the music industry.  In protest, myriad websites collectively hosted "Grey Tuesday" on February 24, 2004 during which over 100,000 copies of the full version of "The Grey Album" were available to download for free.  The album has also inspired others to produce different forms of fan-created mash-ups, such as album cover artwork and "The Grey Video."


The Grey Video

How Danger Mouse Mashed
   
Burton describes his work as a "deconstruction".  Using the program, ACID Pro by Sony, he was able to layer separate tracks of samples using an average of sixteen tracks but up to twenty-five for some.  ACID Pro features include "
automatic pitch and tempo matching, real-time loop previewing, unlimited tracks, and our signature pick/paint/play interface."2 In order to compile the songs, he measured the number of beats per minute of each track on The Black Album.  The next step was to listen for single sounds of each individual instrument, drum, guitar, bass, cymbals, etc. without voices in order to create tracks of samples.  As a part of his artistry, Burton did not add any samples that were not found in the original. 
In order make The Beatles' music sound more like hip-hop and fit smoothly with Jay-Z's lyrics, with songs like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," Burton said "Taking one little Beatles hand clap wasn't going to do it...but if you double it up and move them away from each other so they're doubling up the delay and then take the pitch of it and throw it up in the air and make it a higher pitch"3 he could achieve a more cohesive sound.  In the song, "Encore," Burton uses music samples from both "Glass Onion" and "Savoy Truffle" from The White Album.  There is a distinct change in the background music yet Burton achieves fluidity due to his manipulation of the sounds.  By changing the sounds, and reconstructing from both originals, Burton is creating an innovative new sound that is not just a simple layering of original media texts, but instead breaks them down to form an entirely new sound.
                                                                                     

Glass Onion


Savoy Truffle

Encore


The Grey Video

    Although the argument may be made that what Burton produced was in itself fan media, the mash-ups seem to only inspire more user and consumer interaction.  "The Grey Video" was the interpretation of two Swiss directors which mashed together footage of Jay-Z performing and The Beatles performing "A Hard Day's Night."4  The directors also used CGI to create the illusion of members of The Beatles break dancing and scratching.  This video is an example of how fans produce and disseminate media in the Web 2.0 culture.  Advancements in technology "have granted viewers greater control over media flows, enabled activists to reshape and recirculate media content, lowered the costs of production and paved the way for new grassroots networks"5 resulting in fan-created media that is able to make a statement and be distributed globally.  An interesting facet of this video, and Burton's creation as well, is that the line of professionalism has become blurred.  "The distinctions between authors and readers, producers and spectators, creators and interpretations will blend to form a reading-writing continuum, which will extend from the machine and network designers to the ultimate recipient," the fans and other media consumers, "each helping to sustain the activities of the others."6  It seems as if fans are creating pieces of art which react to previous consumer-made products.  These events foster a community of sharing and collaborating which arguably encourages innovation, as opposed to Gunkel's position which states that remixes and mash-ups (recordings, or videos, artworks) are simply unoriginal as he regards "The Grey Album" as being "nothing less than revolutionary"7.


Grey Tuesday

    After the release of "The Grey Album," EMI who holds the publishing rights to The Beatles' The White Album sent a cease-and-desist letter to Burton to stop distributing his album after failing to seek permission to use the samples.  In reaction to this action, thousands of protesters and websites hosted "Grey Tuesday" on February 24, 2004, described as "a day of coordinated civil disobedience"8 during which complete versions of the CD were made available to internet users. 
This event and its widespread success brought to life the issue of copyright infringement and mash-ups and remixes which can be noted as either innovative or simply repetitive and static.  In response to critics which said "EMI is trying to stop an artwork" a spokeswoman claimed that the websites "neglect to understand that there is a well-established market for licensing samples, and Mr. Burton didn't participate in it."9  Although a market exists, and did before Burton's use of this media, some make the claim that his as well as others usage of samples falls under the category of fair use.  It would be naive to not think some sort of changes will be made in the future to alter copyright laws which were not created for the intention regulating the usage of samples by everyday users of certain programs which make such collaborations accessible.  In opposition to the claim that Burton unlawfully used the samples, it must be stated that his original intention was to produce this project for himself and his friends, not to gain royalties for himself or for it even to be heard by the public.  One must also consider the fact that Jay-Z's a cappella album was released for the intention of being remixed and sampled by the fans and artists alike.  Changes are bound to occur in the legal system to reflect the changes in the way media consumers are using and affecting the very media that they consume into new products. 


Is it New Media?
   
I would argue that this album, project, concept, and construction most certainly falls under the category of new media.  By following Manovich's criteria, the software, ACID Pro that was used by Burton falls under the category of application software which "enable[s] new media designers and artists to create new media objects-and at the same time, they act as yet another filter which shapes their imagination of what is possible to do with just a computer."10  With simply the capabilities of the program, Burton could have simply layered the tracks as they were and looped certain tracks, but instead he deconstructed the pieces in order to create something cohesive and completely new.  Manovich continues that "software employed by end users to access these objects, such as Web browsers, image viewers, or media players, shape their understanding of what new media are"11 and in turn inspire the derivative works, such as "The Grey Video".   Manovich also reinforces the idea that new media inherently increases the overlap between producers and users since more people are able to access and contribute to the overall community of sharing ideas, capabilities, and end products.  The gap, he says between professionals and amateurs remains, and is "maintained by professional producers themselves"12 but the gap certainly is shrinking.  Additionally, users are given more control with new media which "can be modified in numerous dimensions, and these modifications can be expressed numerically"13 as seen with the derivative works created after Burton's production was released to the public.  Even the idea of the DJ falls under the category of new media which may create new artistic forms since the "selection and combination of preexisting elements...is not an end in and of itself"14 and this mix, even though recorded and unchanging, remains to be variable and alterable after it is finalized.  Each time the products are modified, they become new again.  Some opponents of remixes would claim that remixes and recordings are simply simulations which are hyperreal15.  However, I would argue that the fact that this deconstruction came as a result of live recordings (which in the case of The White Album was converted into records, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD's, and then became digital and in the case of The Black Album, included samples from older songs in its original form) converted digitally, then manipulated, and redistributed shows a great deal of promise for future possibilities.  Those same opponents to the innovative qualities of mash-ups would argue that recorded works are "dead," yet this work inspired future collaborations, such as Linkin Park's Numb with Jay-Z's Encore, and then the live broadcast collaboration with Paul McCartney of The Beatles during the 2006 Grammy Awards.  The potential that new internet-based communities have to provide myriad forms of media products speaks to the democratization of media and it is hard to say where mash-ups and remixing will go from here, but it should be said that this particular work, is indeed new media. 



"A lot of people just assumed I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it's really a deconstruction.  It's not an easy thing to do."


Grammy Performance


























1 David J. Gunkel, "Rethinking the Digital Remix: Mash-ups and the Metaphysics of Sound Recording," Popular Music and Society Oct. 2008: 496   
2 "Sony Creative Software - ACID Pro - Introduction" 16 Feb. 2009 <
http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/acidpro>.
3 Corey Moss, "Grey Album Producer Explains How He Did It," 11 Mar. 2004, 14 Feb. 2009, <http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1485693/20040311/jay_z.jhtml?headlines=true>.
4 Dan Colman, "The Grey Video: Mixing The Beatles with Jay-Z," 20 Jun. 2008, 16 Feb. 2009, <http://www.oculture.com/2008/06/the_grey_video_mixing_the_beatles_with_jay-z-2.html>.
5 Henry Jenkins, "
Interactive Audiences? The 'Collective Intelligence' of Media Fans," 16 Feb. 2009 <http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/collective%20intelligence.html>.
6 Jenkins
7 Gunkel 490
8
Bill Werde, "Defiant Downloads Rise From Underground," 25 Feb. 2004, 17 Feb. 2009, <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D02E5DF153CF936A15751C0A9629C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1>.
9 Werde
10
Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press 2001) 117.
11 Manovich 118
12 Manovich 120
13 Manovich 134
14 Manovich 135
15 Gunkel 499

Videos and Images
Album Artwork:

http://bigpicture.typepad.com/writing/GreyAlbum.jpg


"The Grey Video":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zJqihkLcGc


Sony ACID Pro:

http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/images/ss/lg/acidpro7_screenshot.jpg

"Glass Onion":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCTbO5w-m4o


"Savoy Truffle":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PEbxIzE13A


"Encore":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXahoikYQpc


Brian Burton Image:

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1485693/20040311/danger_mouse.jhtml


Grammy Performance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FziALDaOYQ




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