Mash Ups

For our Digital Media module, we had an interesting lecture on ‘mash ups’, and how that phrase relates to the world of digital technology. The concept of a mash up has been around for a very long time, but it hasn’t always been expressed as informally. First witnessed around the 1800s, photomontage has been around for a very long time. Fuelled by the creativity and surrealism of the Dadaist movement, photomontage (and film montage) has given the world of art a new channel to express itself, from artists such as Man Ray and David Hockney, to experimental Soviet film-makers such as Sergei Eisenstein. Here is an example of one of Eisenstein most famous films, Battleship Potempkin:

In this short clip, the montage technique is used to add to the emotions of the piece. While this isn’t necessarily an example of ‘mash-up’, its a simple way of showing how different items (in this case shots from a camera) can be combined to achieve a different effect. The image below is an example of one David Hockney’s photomontage, one of my favourite artists that uses this technique. In this piece, a large collection of photographs from the same location but at different angles have been combined to re-create the original scene. This is a brilliant example of how photographs can be ‘mashed-up’ into something new and surreal that still reflects the original scene, but in a different and surreal way.

In the modern world, ‘mash up’ can mean a variety of things. An initial example would be the application called Delicious, which is self-described as a social bookmarks manager. In essence, it is an online application that allows the user to store all of their bookmarks in one place so they can access them when on a different computer. It also allows for discovery of new links and bookmarks from other users. This is a simply way of expressing a mash-up, and more complex ways can result in extremely unique websites and ideas.

Another mash-up idea is a website called Tune Glue. This website combines Spotify and amazon, to combine the links between bands and music, with internet shopping. The application allows the suer to input a band for example Radiohead, and by pressing the ‘expand’ button, the site shows the bands that are linked either through band member connections, side projects, contemporaries or influences. The user can then access the bands merchandise and release through another link, and purchase items off amazon. This style of mash-up is possible due to things called APIs – Application Programming Interface. These are some of the code structures that build up websites and allow them to interact with others, such as recommendations on amazon or adverts on Facebook. These are all linked using ‘cookies’ that track where the user has been, and creates unique recommendations depending on your browsing history. These API’s con be combined to create something like Tune Glue, or a combination of social media sites for example.

Sticking with the idea of musical mash-ups, here is a good example of how HTML and music can combine to create art. The track ‘We Used To Wait’ by Arcade Fire has been mixed up by Chris Milk into an interactive online film. The user inputs their postcode of the place they grew up, and utilising internet pop ups, the site creates a visual music video incorporating the users post code through google maps. It creates a really impressive and emotional atmosphere, and is a great use of simple HTML coding.

Another interesting concept in the world of mash-ups is the idea of Rotoscoping. This is where frames from a film are drawn over by hand or by computer software to  create a uniquely strange look. Here is a good example from the film A Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater, staring Keanu Reeves and others.

This scene shows the incredibly interesting effect that rotoscoping can give, and so I have done some follow-up research on this technique. An official definition of Rotoscoping gives:

“In 3D animation, rotoscoping is a technique that allows you to create animation that mimics live action video. For example, a live actor may be filmed doing a series of actions, and the animator would have the digital character mimic the actions of the human actor for a realistic animated scene.” –

Many early cartoons used the rotoscoping technique to create more realistic animation, but the process is incredibly time-consuming, with the process being more of an art-form today than a legitimate production process. The technique can be used by drawing on film by hand, with paints or other chemicals, or it can be done digitally using a combination of image editing software. In Adobe’s After Effects program, there’s a Roto-Brush tool, that can be used to seperate foreground and background from video frames and mask them out, allowing either on to be draw on or adjusted. The process is still time consuming however, because even though the software comes with motion tracking assistance, the computer is still ‘stupid’ in some instances, makes mistake or misses out frames. This means that each frame will have to be examined to ensure that it is correctly masked.

For this reason I plan to use rotoscoping for one of the three themes we have been set. I plan to use it for ‘Play’, as I believe video is a good representation of this, with the obvious connection being that a video is ‘played’ by the viewer. I plan to create a simple short video, and use this technique in the digital method, which will link with the theme of digital media.

Overall my response to this lecture has been a positive one. I enjoy using montage as I believe it’s a really interesting technique with a vast amount of possibilities, in both the digital and analogue world. It’s also a great example of how old techniques can be adapted to create something new using new media, but still making something that’s unique in its own right.


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