Mashup Cultures

Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss
Professor Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, PhD
Head of MA ePedagogy Design-Visual Knowledge Building
Aalto University / School of Art and Design

Why I have chosen Mashup Cultures as the title for my book has basically two main reasons: one is connected to the definition of mashup, which in Web developments denotes a combination of data or functionality from two or more external sources to create a new service (in the case of this compilation hopefully new insights), and the second reason puts the cultural dimension into the foreground, as these developments permeate through almost all cultural techniques and practices on a global scale. If we consider mashup as a metaphor for parallel and co-existing ways of thinking and acting rather than exclusionary, causal and reductionist principles of either or instead of as well as, then we might gain a broader understanding of the unique characteristics of the plural in mashup cultures.

A historical comparison might also be helpful to find distinguishable and discernable criteria for sometimes confusing terminologies using the example of remix practices. In retrospect we can ascribe these practices certain kinds of techniques (collage, montage, sampling, etc.) and different forms of appropriations within specific socio-cultural contexts, for example John Heartfield’s political photomontages in the 1930’s, or James Tenney’s early sampling of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” in the 1960’s. Yet how these cultural practices significantly differentiate from today’s mashup cultures could be outlined in the following:

•    Collage, montage, sampling or remix practices all use one or many materials, media either from other sources, art pieces (visual arts, film, music, video, literature etc.) or one’s own artworks through alteration, re-combination, manipulation, copying etc. to create a whole new piece. In doing so, the sources of origin may still be identifiable yet not perceived as the original version.

•    Mashups as I understand them put together different information, media, or objects without changing their original source of information, i.e. the original format remains the same and can be retraced as the original form and content, although recombined in different new designs and contexts. For example, in the ship or car industry standardised modules are assembled following a particular specific design platform, or, using the example of Google map, different services are over-layered so as to provide for the user parallel accessible services.

•    Remix and mashup practices in combination can be considered as a co evolving, oscillating membrane of user-generated content (conversational media) and mass media.

Excerpt from my Introduction in “Mashups, Remix Practices and the Recombination of Existing Digital Content” (p. 8-9)

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