Kutiman – ‘ThruYOU’ (2009) [Video EP]
Often one hears about how it took, say, John Cage weeks to create the tape splices for “Williams Mix” in 1952, but how it would take some random kid fucking around on his iMac ten minutes to create it now with a few clicks of a mouse. Well, I’d say this “technology today makes it all so easy” thing is at least a little half-baked: any sort of musician who ultimately prides himself more on how long his music takes to make, rather than how good it is, is no musician I trust. But regardless of the effect–good, bad, or indifferent–on the quality of “sample-based music” of streamlined/accessible technology, I think the same basic impulse is there and the same search for resonance is at play now as in 1952. Technology–primitive or advanced–only takes things so far. Still–if we concede it’s gotten any “easier” to undertake, this guy, “Israeli Afrobeat artist” Kutiman, seems to have decided to make it just about as difficult and time-consuming as it was for those early tape-spicers.
The funny thing, though, is that instead of creating avant-garde abstraction via laborious technique, ‘ThruYOU‘ encapsulates the full-circle from experiment to pop: countless hours of disparate-sound-seeking and (digital) splicing have come together to create songs, songs that “could have been made the old-fashioned way” (at least as old-fashioned as circa 1976 or so). Some might say, then, “why bother”. For me, I think it’s pretty masterful: through the video medium, this guy is laying bare a lot of technical factors most people probably don’t think about, and getting them to ooh and ahh (or maybe boo and hiss) just like the crowd at the first performance of “Williams Mix,” and making a nice little joyous statement for combined creativity being greater than the sum of its parts. But the impressive thing is, even if people didn’t know the technique–and it is impressive, it is laborious, it is some sort of “YouTube finally came to something” social/cultural moment–it really wouldn’t matter. For the most part, these are good songs, as well as good avant-garde application of tech. For me, that just does it–I love best where these supposedly oppositional forces meet up seamlessly.
The idea here has been done before, even as a 15-minutes-of-fame viral YouTube sensation (the one with the training videos spliced together). But this takes it to another level. The basics: the guy waded through surely thousands of YouTube videos by totally unrelated video makers, spent who knows how many hours cutting and editing and mixing them, and came out with lovely funk/Afrobeat/dub/hip-hop/R&B/dance fusions. Perhaps this process of splicing and sampling eventually becoming normal elements of pop music, just another instrument, was inevitable. Things start out a little cute, but like a good Matthew Herbert concept or an Eno/Byrne deconstruction, these tracks take on (through the seven songs in the playlist) increasing emotional resonance, transcending their theory-exercise origin. And thanks to a few lovely borrowed melodies and catchy beats and hooks, they honestly have some pop potential. I just love synergy, those serendipitous moments when sounds just fit, so I imagine Kutiman must’ve been grinning ear to ear.
Watch and listen here.