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The dark side of the rainbow

The new medium of the YouTube mash-up
By NICK SYLVESTER  |  August 29, 2007

VIDEO: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cover Throwdown

Sometime, perhaps around 1994, somebody noticed that when Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon plays alongside a muted VHS of The Wizard of Oz (the album beginning on the MGM lion’s third roar, the Oz film being the 30 frames/second NTSC American version), a number of strange coincidences occur. During the “Time” guitar solo, the fortune teller’s sign is shown with the words “Past Present and Future”; the cash register sounds in “Money” just when Oz goes technicolor; “Brain Damage” starts right around when the Scarecrow sings “If I Only Had a Brain”; the album’s final heartbeats come right when Dorothy ears up to the Tin Man’s thoracic cavity. There are more than 100 instances of meaningful synch, and spirited debate continues over what one should play after DSotM finishes its first iteration. (The movie outlasts the music, so one either puts DSotM on repeat or plays Animals and then tracks two through five of Meddle.) That the band and its producer, Alan Parsons, have denied any intentional synchronicity has only furthered the fanaticism; some deep in the cult believe that the “Dark Side of the Rainbow” is, among other things, an expression of “the collective subconscious of humanity.”

Consider the spirituality with which people can imbue coincidence, and the vast amounts of audio and video content available on the Internet, and the Internet’s movement away from traditional one-way models of content generation and consumption and toward those that democratize media and thrive on user interactivity. Suddenly it’s not too difficult to sense the pending explosion of on-line video remixes. Allowing users to upload audio and video via YouTube in the interactive Flash video format was the first step. The next, the one we’re about to see, the one that will further both the legal and æsthetic woes and wows of the first, is the providing of users with tools to clone, edit, post-produce, and reappropriate the works of others, with potentially unprecedented ease and speed.

In mid June, YouTube launched the YouTube Remixer, a free, stripped-down editing program powered by the Adobe Premiere Express engine. And that was three months after Photobucket had partnered with Adobe to provide more or less the same “remix and mash-up service,” with a crucial additional feature that allows users to import other Photobucket users’ media. Lesser-known video sites Gotoit, Jumpshot, and Flektor all have similar fairly intuitive Web-based programs that give users the ability to import, cut, effect, and audio-synch footage from their own sites. None is as stable or as feature-packed as, say, Apple’s desktop program iMovie, but the significant advantage the Web-based tools have over iMovie is that they are fully integrated with the content and the distribution, and they eliminate the physical and technological difficulties involved in working with others’ footage — they’re just right there.

If amateurs don’t aspire to the creative possibilities of easy AV mash-ups, they at least have incentive in the firecracker fame these videos tend to achieve. Some of YouTube’s most-clicked videos are meticulously edited remixes of disparate song and show. A reel of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pop-rock tour footage was rejiggered for a hardcore song by Throwdown. Charlie Brown and friends perform OutKast’s “Hey Ya.” A Pulp Fiction trailer is redone with the faces of Samuel Jackson and John Travolta replaced by Muppets, and a fan video of Brooklyn disco band Escort’s song “All Through the Night” consists entirely of Muppets dancing and lip-synching along. Anime also serves as AV mash-up fodder, since many fans cannot understand the Japanese dialogue and compensate by soundtracking the clips themselves. Remixers have set dancing avatars from the video game World of Warcraft to pretty much everything from “Toxic” to “The Electric Slide” and directly incorporated them into sequences from Napoleon Dynamite and Saturday Night Fever.

Short on smarts, these videos are often massive technical feats. The footage first must be acquired, which can be tough, and then manipulated in order to match — for example, the lyrics of a song to the facial contortions of its new speaker. The program that eases both these burdens is likely to become the most popular and, with more users, drive more content to itself. Because they have the biggest content pools, the Adobe engine YouTube and Photobucket offer is relatively slow and unstable, and YouTube doesn’t even allow its users to clone other users’ content, possibly because owner Google is still settling its case with Viacom. Flektor, which Fox Interactive Media bought in one fell swoop with Photobucket, can import media from both YouTube and Photobucket and has faster and more intuitive editing tools. Google/YouTube’s deal with EMI and Fox/Photobucket’s partnership with alt-distributor Pump Audio mean their respective users could have legal access to thousands of songs for their mash-ups — a possibility that has the double effect of driving traffic and easing copyright concerns.

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Related: Crank that, techie, Is the RIAA inoculating itself against viral video?, 'Urge' overkill, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Internet, Internet Broadcasting, Science and Technology,  More more >
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