Kutiman's thru-you.com video montage projects
Composing music with youTube videos
The art of music composition meets the
interesting world of video montage
Ophir Kutiel (aka Kutiman) is a musician, artist, producer, video editor. As of 2009 he is also a person of enduring youTube fame—not for doing something entirely new, but for doing it so well, and for basing his project on social network.
The Kutiman projects
The story goes like this. In 2009 Kutiman confined himself in a room for three months to build songs out of various video clips found on youTube: looping, layering, melding ... eventually transforming numerous unrelated videos into engaging performances. The result of his efforts? Several fascinating music compositions that I find astonishing and delightful in equal portion. Much to his credit, Kutiman compellingly frames and reveals music talent sometimes not readily apparent by the artist's video alone.
An introductory video — by Kutiman
In his introductory video (viewable here) Kutiman mild-manneredly explains the artistic intent of his thru-you project. He describes his creative process, and offers appreciation and respect to those whose videos he "hijacked" in his projects.
Kutiman takes modest credit for the stunning results, stating that the video clips often magically aligned themselves, without forethought, effort, or planning. Indeed, there must have been some lucky splices and magic overdubs in Kutiman's creative process, but his beautiful compilation montages clearly required thousands of artistic decisions and countless hours of slicing, editing and aligning. The results reflect Kutiman's own range of musical awareness, and nicely showcase some creative talent that may have otherwise remained undiscovered.
A guided tour of Kutiman's youTube art
If you're still with me, please try my guided tour below, where I've assembled a collection of my favorite Kutiman video compositions; along side you'll find some viewable the "raw" footage.
In addition to the videos showcased here in my guided tour, there are several other finished projects appear on Kutiman’s own site: www.thru-you.com
The "participants" in Kutiman's videos had no prior knowledge of collaboration. They are everyday souls who simply posted a musical video on youTube. Ordinarily that would have been the end of it. Then Kutiman stepped in, providing unsolicited compositional vision and collaborative glue. Kutiman included credits each video, in the form of links to the original videos, thereby giving full credit to the clandestine collaborators.
Assembling the pieces from the cutting room floor
Kutiman's workflow must have been like building a song out of audio loops—layering drum patterns, bass runs, guitar riffs, etc. If you're familiar with GarageBand, imagine choosing "loops" from GarageBand's "loop browser" ... but instead of building songs out of audio loops, Kutiman's basic building blocks were "found art" video footage from youTube. (And it's worth noting, samples and loops in Garageband are of well designed prefabricated lengths ... and they're perfectly tuned. Kutiman did not have a nicely refined palette of material from which to choose.)
In Kutiman's finished project we hear audio tracks from several videos simultaneously. That's what make the "song." But usually only one video image is visible at a time ... however sometimes Kutiman includes more than one video image, and to good effect.
In using youTube videos as his "sound-bite sample library" Kutiman composed songs by layering the combined audio of many videos clips. Other times he added accompaniment to a song (lyrics to a verse and chorus) written by a singer or instrumentalist.
Most of the source clips feature an individual playing or improvising on a solo instrument, someone kindly offering music lesson, a musical demonstration or tip, a small ensemble playing, an aspiring songwriter singing solo, or someone messing around with sound generators, oscillators or synthesizers. Thus, at once, Kutiman created remarkably beautiful songs and video montages. See for yourself!
A guided tour of Kutiman's thru-you.com video projects
The Mother of all Funk Chords
In his first youTube mix — The Mother of all Funk Chords — Kutiman aligns clips of dialog and music, making it sound like a live rehearsal. Then, after the big "9 chord", the piece really takes off.
This fun little romp is probably the most simplistic of Kutiman's projects. It's quite straight forward ... even somewhat predictable. So it's a perfect introduction because it clearly illustrates the compositional principle behind his projects. (If you get bored, don't bail out completely. Be sure to watch the next project: Just a Lady.)
Just a Lady
Even if you've already viewed Just a Lady I recommend that you take a moment to view the vocal as it originally appeared on youTube as a solo vocal (directly below). Then listen to Kutiman's mix again.
Granted, Kutiman's interpretation of this young singer/songwriter's composition may differ from her original vision, but it revealed for me that her voice and her composition have far more depth than I realized.
It's truly astonishing that Kutiman figured out a musical meter that holds her original vocal so well. I would have been hard pressed to discover a suitable metric framework. Kutiman's choice of a slow 12/8 accompaniment is perfect—and timing of the clips is spot on! Extraordinarily smooth and natural.
What's most amazing is that Kutiman's finished project underscores and highlights the very lovely vocal nuances and inflections in the vocalist's original performance, details that I somehow overlooked and still have trouble perceiving when listening to the original solo clip. And you must understand, there was no reheasal, no recording session ... these songs come to life purely because Kutiman pulled together random videos.
Here is the video where Kutiman found the "I'm new" theme.
This is where he got the rap:
And here's Kutiman's remix final result:
And a little something extra:
Viewing credits and links to original footage
As mentioned, the finished projects are more interesting if you view some of the original footage, so do watch some of the raw material that Kutiman culled together for us.
To see the original video clip, click on the credit link. You can roll credits by clicking the red ‘CREDITS’ button during playback. This option is available only when watching his projects on www.thru-you.com
thru-you.com intentionally looks like youTube, so you might check the address bar of your browser to make sure you're in the right location.
By watching a few of the original videos you'll quickly understand how much creativity went into these projects.
It's no surprise that Kutiman's projects might raise copyright concerns and ownership objections. In creating his video remix art he worked exclusively with footage lifted from youTube: videos that others had recorded; other peoples' compositions, performances, and videos.
Anyone involved could claim copyright violation and demand that youTube and/or Kutiman permanently remove Kutiman's videos from public viewing or until or remunerative resolve were reached. A copyright infringement claim could occur at any time, and that would likely mean that the hosting site (youtube and his own website) may need to remove Kutiman's content (thus some of the following links may lead to nowhere, or merely to a 'removed' notice. Sorry if you run into any such dead ends in the links provided here.)
Nevertheless Kutiman's Thru-you productions stand presently. This is a testament to the good natured reception and acceptance by those haplessly swept into his work. Hopefully they have benefited in some way from his work.
Some of Kutiman's work was removed from youTube at the request of one the artists involved. Fortunately, at the time of this writing that work is currently online again, presumably due to a change of heart and a retraction of the objection.
All this begs the question, whose art is it anyway? For better or worse, that is a question that youTube and Google constantly challenge.
I personally have a lot of creative work that hold remunerative potential, largely because I own exclusive rights (to my expression of an idea) though copyright protection. Nevertheless I believe that Congress erred against the spirit of the original copyright law when it passed Sonny Bono's legislation The Copyright Extension Act. As of that day U.S. copyright protection became excessively repressive, so much so that we may never again see any copyrighted material pass into public domain. Unless something revolutionary happens, anytime a serious copyright expiration date approaches, corporate and estate interests will surely buy and extension to this bill. That's big business. The original intent of the copyright legislation was to offer rights of ownership that would reward creativity during the author's lifetime; the intent was not to extend ownership to estates and corporations in perpetuity.
Thought artist often recieve reward from copyrights, sometimes we see artists struggling with copyright strangleholds. For instance, Nina Paley devoted three years of her life to creating an animation entitled Sita Sings the Blues. Its soundtrack included several recordings by Annette Hanshaw. The dates of the recordings say they are in the public domain, and it was believed that they were, but a technicality arose, and Paley found herself with a finished product she couldn't sell without incurring enormous licensing fees. This led her to distribute and package the film as a free-of-charge, uncopyrighted full length animation.
New as the concept may seem, Kutiman hasn't created a new art form. As early as the 1970s other were composing music via film/video remix and montage, such as the Emergency Broadcast Network (EBN) from the 1990s:
Nevertheless, Kutiman's projects are noteworthy due to their high level of artistry, and their overall sense of warmth.
The success of such undertakings hinges squarely on meticulous timing ... and Kutiman’s sense of timing is impeccable. Without precision timing, his innovative interpretations and concepts would prove clever at best ... perhaps only annoying.
I expect Kutiman will inspire interest in this reemerging art form ... and the time is ripe. Over the past few decades only the fortunate or elite had access to the necessary video editing tools; today however we find capable tools on the average personal computer.
Although Kutiman handily "composes" a wide range of musical styles, there's nothing musically ground breaking about the finished pieces. Nevertheless they are engaging, fun, and full of heart ... and that's plenty for me!
Above all, Kutiman's creations reflect that many of us have artistic interests, and though our talents may be new, undiscovered, or undeveloped, our small accomplishments can be an integral part of a larger effort. In other words, appreciation, collaboration and recognition are sometimes closer than they appear, much closer than we realize ... and amazing things can happen when we allow ourselves be seen as artists and musicians ... even just by putting a small homemade video clip up on youTube.
Most inspiring is Kutiman's ability to peer deeply into another person's art. Thanks to his power of perception he elegantly framed this art so perhaps it becomes more accessible and well appreciated, even by those of us who might have otherwise failed to note the essential beauty therein.
We benefit from his ability to spot a diamond in the rough and reveal facets that may have gone unnoticed without his added craftsmanship.
I hope you enjoy Kutiman's projects as much as I have!
Sita Sings the Blues
Nina Paley wrote, animated, produced and directed Sita Sings the Blues, and she did so essentially single-handedly. The astonishing and spellbinding result is a engaging story that successfully combines a number of seemingly unrelated elements:
- the Hindu story of Sita and Rama (Ramayana)
- the sweet, light-hearted narration of a few shadow puppets attempting to recall and convey the details of the Ramayana story, sometimes with fautly memories, ande often with hilariously guesswork and lighthearted disagreement
- the torchy performances of American jazz singer Annette Hanshaw ("sung" by Sita "reincarnated" as Betty Boop)
- the story of a failed love life—animator/cartoonist Paley's own!
- Paley's cat's enduring equinimity throughout it all, except when hungry
- plenty of good humor and irony
The film and its central cultural/spiritual topic might not be your cup of tea, but I was transfixed, not only by the story lines, but by Paley's unobtrusive expertise in animational efficiency and her stunning visuals.
Paley is truly animator, illustrator, and cartoonist extraordinaire. Paley accomplishes reassuring realness with a minimum of motion. She continuously provides vast depths and shimmering backdrops worthy of framing.
Ulitmately she achieves a story and overall richness rarely found small studio projects. The level of her resounding success is a feat rarely produced by studios with multi-million dollar budgets. And there's no argument, her color, design, and pattern sensibilities are truly extraordinary!
To top it off, the recordings and voice of Annette Hanshaw are utterly wonderful!
By interweaving stories and song that live centuries apart Paley shines a golden light upon them, removing that flat, dank tendancies that could have easily shadowed them individually.
When you see this film you'll wonder how one person managed the entire project (with the exception of some voiceovers, the soundtrack, and some ancillary animation?) ... and you'll marvel at the stamina and dedication required in delivering uncompromising imagination, artistry and ingenuity throughout.
One confusing factor is that main characters—such as Sita and Rama—appear in four distinctly different animated forms. Fortunately they transform simultaneously so you probably won't feel terribly lost.
Enjoy the entire 1 hour, 22 minute Sita Sings the Blues, directly below.
Free Culture Activism
Nina Paley's Free Culture Activism is interesting indeed, as are the copyright technicalities that impeded her from receiving direct remuneration for her labor of love, this creative work. It's good to ponder the concept of ownership of "the expression of idea", particularly in an age where we have a huge bloom of information, creativity and the ability to copy and distribute it.
Watch an interesting Reel 13 interview (video below) regarding Paley's reasons for giving away Sita Sings the Blues for free, and her positions on Free Culture: