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Critic's Notebook

Audio-video remixes, cut-ups and more redefine the rules

'Caught in the Middle of a 3-Way Mix,' a re-edit of Beastie Boys' 'Paul's Boutique' by Moneyshot, Cheeba and Food, heralds maturation in sample culture.

October 28, 2012|By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • The Beastie Boys, who dabbled in pastiche themselves, have been subjects of cut-ups.
The Beastie Boys, who dabbled in pastiche themselves, have been subjects… (Associated Press )

One of the key moments during "Caught in the Middle of a 3-Way Mix," a recent 60-minute creative re-edit of the Beastie Boys' pastiche classic "Paul's Boutique," comes a third of the way through: a two-note Beatles guitar/bass/drum sample from the beginning of "The End."

A tidbit dense with subtext — we've heard it, and know the general back story of the four men who created it — once it arrives, the sample stumbles into a loop, repeating awkwardly for a few measures like shoes spinning in a clothes dryer. The moment is jarring in part because the sample is so recognizable — but not just for its Beatles origin.

GRAPHIC: Creative music mash-ups

Too, it's a classic ingredient in "Paul's Boutique," a connection that is reinforced a few beats later, as Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz starts the rap to "The Sounds of Science" and the music below gradually shifts to the clarinet melody from the Beatles' "When I'm 64."

These few seconds are one of hundreds of such creative re-imaginings on "Caught in the Middle," which is one of my favorite musical endeavors of the year. Built by three British DJs — Moneyshot, Cheeba and Food — the audio collage is seamlessly puzzled together into a thrilling whole from shards of the Beastie Boys' 1989 rap album. It's also a reminder of a sample culture that in 2012 shows increasing signs of maturing, even as its ubiquity renders its evolution less noticeable. A new generation of artists/editors is mixing audio and video to create increasingly sophisticated edits that explode time, space, medium and message, redefining the rules of sonic pastiche (analogous creation is taking place in literary, art and filmic realms and may well be the signature art of our time).

Sonic sampling:
In the Oct. 28 Arts & Books section, an article about sampling culture said a YouTube user named Hugh Atkin had created a video cut-up of Barack Obama “rapping” new rhymes about Mitt Romney by adapting Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” Atkin’s video was an adaptation of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady.”

In the case of "Caught in the Middle," the DJs highlighted brief moments and connected crannies to create what feels like the unspoken history of a music. They crack open the "Egg Man" tom-tom beats that the Beasties swiped from Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up," then let Costello's recording play longer as a way to offer context. They blend in samples from Black Oak Arkansas, Sly & the Family Stone, the Eagles and Tower of Power, swipe sounds from Led Zeppelin, the Meters and Johnny Cash, shock with the string screeches from Alfred Hitchcock's film composer Bernard Herrmann.

In such an environment, each miniature tone has a contextual history, both as an ingredient in "Paul's Boutique" and part of a much bigger musical conversation. And by mixing into the beats outtakes and old interview commentary about the album's creation from the Beasties themselves, the whole adds up to some weird new mutation, a sonic documentary that schools while it bumps along in rhythm. "I don't remember recording this one. I mean, I know we did, but I don't remember what happened," confesses Horowitz, discussing "Johnny Ryall" as the music moves. The result is a kind of blossoming of "Paul's Boutique" — paying homage to the recording by collaging together more, rather than less, of the stuff that made the record so thrilling.

These days every digitized bit of creativity can be easily manipulated, be it image, text, film or sound — but musicians' affection for doing so has long set the conversation in pop culture. And combined with the availability of audio and video editing tools, once impossible feats of tedium can be built with similar skills just as quickly. A rap song and video from sampled words and phrases of President Obama now arrive online to little fanfare — unless they happen to go viral. A DJ obsessed with Bollywood horror soundtracks can construct a dynamic 50-minute edit of great moments, as DJ Andy Votel has done on the recent "Hindi Horrorcore," to offer a quickie sonic tutorial. If Mel Gibson throws another tantrum, expect it to be scored to music soon thereafter.

It's another step in a chronicle that for the last half-century has morphed as the tools for a cut-and-paste world have made the process as easy as dragging and dropping tidbits of data. Fifty years after William S. Burroughs in a landmark recording of Brion Gysin's cut-up technique gave voice to the future of sample culture, a new chapter in collage is taking shape.

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