The opening track on Girl Talk's 2008 sample-laden masterpiece, Feed the Animals, reaches through time and across genres, borrowing from the American musical canon joyously and at will.
Some might think it odd to combine a pounding Spencer Davis Group bass line with rap lyrics by UGK. Others will insist that constructing new sounds from the dustbins of history is stealing, plain and simple. You might be conflicted and dance along anyway.
Girl Talk's Greg Gillis didn't invent the mashup, but he embodies the giddy ethos of a culture dominated by user-generated content - information culled from virtually everywhere and smashed together in new ways. Ours is already a mashed-up world. The question now is how the dynamics of Web 2.0 will continue to influence art, democracy and law.
That issue will be the focus of Remix/Mashup 2009: The Future of Creative Production and Ownership, a two-day conference of lectures, panels and roundtables sponsored by the Wexner Center and Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law.
"Things are no longer as passive as they were before with the radio or TV model, where there was very little interaction between user and media," said Ed Lee, an OSU law professor who helped organize the conference. "The reason things are so volatile is that the recipients of the content are becoming producers as well."
Over the years, hip-hop DJs using samples from older songs have been the most infamous proponents of the rip-mix-burn culture. But nearly everyone with a computer exploits new forms of artistic expression powered by cheaper software, faster internet connections, global lust for media and changing ideas about what counts as original art.
We add a favorite song to home movies, borrow magazine photos for MySpace pages and trade personalized mixtapes with friends. The scope of mashup culture - and how easy it is to make new stuff from old stuff - raises crucial questions about copyright infringement, information access and ownership of ideas.
"You just can't police every sample everywhere and every video clip and every song," said musician and author Paul D. Miller, known to fans as DJ Spooky. "I think what we need to do is let go and rethink our business model. I'm a big fan of not giving everything away for free, but trying to find a middle ground."
Miller will give a keynote lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday that will cover topics from his new book, Sound Unbound, which looks at sound, art and digital media.
"Collage is our basic vocabulary," he added. "If you're hopping from website to website and cutting up an album and putting it into playlists, you're pulling various bits and pieces and making it work. It's just a natural extension of the way we live."
This schizophrenic existence has become commonplace and moves at lightning speed, said Peter Shane, an OSU law professor who helped guide the seminar. That's why it's crucial to analyze how it will affect our lives and how best to deal with the results.
"Even on the most mundane level, anybody who engages in any intellectual or artistic creation that is reduced to some shareable, digital form is going to face [these issues]," Shane added.
Opening roundtable on mashup, user-generated content and the future of cultural production
Keynote lecture with Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky). Admission is free; a book signing will follow.
Panel discussion on mashup, user-generated content, Hollywood and the law
11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Panel discussion with filmmakers on the creative process
Panel discussion on mashup as political and social expression
Presentation by mashup artist Jonathan McIntosh
What: Remix/Mashup 2009: The Future of Creative Production and Ownership
When: Thursday-Friday, March 12-13