Kutiman’s “Thru You” as an example of Reconstructivist Art
YouTube debuted in 2005, an online public forum for people to share their own homemade videos. It soon became a destination of choice for millions of amateur musicians and singers who donated their performances to the world in the hopes that someone somewhere would appreciate them. Four years later, a wide cross-section of those performers received the audience they had hoped for with the debut of ThruYOU, perhaps the first great reconstructivist artwork of the “do it yourself” era. A labor-intensive mashup created by Israeli musician and producer Kutiman, it wove together hundreds of short audio and visual clips, produced independently, into a series of internally cohesive, impeccably produced pop songs.
Nod to Artifice: Kutiman’s songs are presented exactly as what they are: Cut-and-pasted assemblages of bands and songs that never existed in analog reality. The jerky editing, and the split screens all attest to the illusionary nature of what we cannot help but perceive as a unified collaborative effort.
Classic Structure: The music itself is not overly experimental in its form. Although several of the pieces are most akin to extended jams, they all present as recognizable songs in identifiable genres, and many even feature some variant of the familiar verse-chorus-bridge structure.
Transcontextual and Iconic Elements: Kutiman’s videos have some strong similarities to previous YouTube hits, including One Man Band which showcases a single musician, playing a multitracked piece with himself on splitscreen, music project Playing For Change’s Stand By Me, which weaves together footage of musicians playing Stand By Me from all around the world, and rock band Weezer’s Pork and Beans, which features the stars of many viral hit YouTube videos performing together over Weezer’s song. The biggest difference, however, is that all the elements used in the earlier videos were created specifically for their eventual use. They were recorded in order to fit together into a larger whole. Similarly, while Weezer’s video transcontexualizes the icons of viral video into a new setting, the performances of those icons are all recreated to match their new context. In contrast, each performance used by Kutiman was intended purely by the original artist as a stand-alone presentation, with no foreknowledge of the use to which it would be placed. Thus, these audiovisual elements are truly and genuinely transcontextualized to create the rich fabric of the final presentations.
Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: What makes ThruYOU function truly as reconstructivist art is the caliber and the originality of the music and the way it grows directly and organically from the process that created it. One contributing factor is that Kutiman has located some diamonds in the rough –scraps of music that have real flair, yet that otherwise lacked the context, the presentation or the completion to ever reach a wider audience in their initial form –such as the spooky blues sung by the young mother in “Someday,” the clever rhymes laid down by the rapper of “I’m New,” and the rueful tribute to a troubled relationship in “Just a Lady.” The other factor is that he has taken the digital editing era to its logical conclusion, using his own musicianship to synthesize entire riffs and melodies –sometimes a single note at at time. The result is songs that, like all good music, stick in the head and demand to be replayed.
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