Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture
How emerging technologies are reshaping the dynamic between musical regulation and resistance
From ancient times to the present day, writers and thinkers have remarked on the unique power of music to evoke emotions, signal identity, and bond or divide entire societies, all without the benefit of literal representation. Even if we can’t say precisely what our favorite melody means, we know very well what kind of effect it has on us, and on our friends and neighbors.
According to Aram Sinnreich, this power helps to explain why music has so often been regulated in societies around the globe and throughout history. Institutional authorities ranging from dynastic China’s “Office to Harmonize Sounds” to today’s copyright collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP leverage the rule of law and the power of the market to make sure that some musical forms and practices are allowed and others are prohibited.
Yet, despite the efforts of these powerful regulators, musical cultures consistently devise new and innovative ways to work around institutional regulations. These workarounds often generate new styles and traditions in turn, with effects far beyond the cultural sphere.
Mashed Up chronicles the rise of “configurability,” an emerging musical and cultural moment rooted in today’s global, networked communications infrastructure. Based on interviews with dozens of prominent DJs, attorneys, and music industry executives, the book argues that today’s battles over sampling, file sharing, and the marketability of new styles such as “mash-ups” and “techno” presage social change on a far broader scale.
Specifically, the book suggests the emergence of a new ethic of configurable collectivism; an economic reunion of labor; a renegotiation of the line between public and private; a shift from linear to recursive logic; and a new “DJ consciousness,” in which the margins are becoming the new mainstream. Whether these changes are sudden or gradual, violent or peaceful, will depend on whether we heed the lessons of configurability, or continue to police and punish the growing ranks of the mashed up.
"Young people who make new music by sampling existing work, who 'mash up' existing cultural materials to convey entirely new messages, have been portrayed as thieves and copyright violators. Yet, as Aram Sinnreich eloquently teaches, what they are actually doing is pioneering new forms of cultural creation."—Howard Rheingold, author of Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier
"Aram Sinnreich is a sage guide to the emerging, perplexing, and downright vital world of configurable culture. He brings together a potent combination of deep academic learning, leading industry analyst credentials, and performing artist street cred. No one knows better than Sinnreich how music and technology are co-evolving."—Michael Heller, author of The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives
"Mashed Up is an intellectual / emotional romp, filled with insights into the pleasures and paradoxes of our high-tech musical universe. Aram Sinnreich is an original thinker, a brilliant brother, and a bad mammajamma."—David Ritz, author of Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye
"A passionate and informed assessment of a transitional moment in the popular music industry, couched within a larger scholarly dialogue about the changing distinctions between cultural producers and consumers in an era of new technological and expressive possibilities. . . . Mashed Up provides a necessary addition to emerging concerns within Cultural Studies regarding issues of intellectual property. . . . The book is a significant contribution to studies of the reproduction of cultural objects in the digital age."—Cultural Studies
"Mashed Up is a sustained and concrete examination of one particular kind of contribution practice: the work of mashup artists and its effect on the social and aesthetic assumptions of modernity."—Criticism
"In Mashed Up, Sinnreich uses music as the lens to study the increasingly relevant gray area between media production and consumption. . . . I have always found Sinnreich and colleagues' 2009 study on configurable technologies to be an indispensable framework for my research. I am pleased to see that work has now been extended into a book."—Journal of Communication
"Sinnreich's book would appeal to a variety of audiences: from scholars interested in studying music culture, intellectual property and technologically mediated subcultures, to use in a graduate seminar in media studies, rhetoric and technology, or cultural studies."—Journal of Popular Culture