Today's mash-up craze -- where artists graft the a cappella version of one popular tune to the well-known instrumental backing of another -- inspired a "band" like Columbus, Ohio's Evolution Control Committee to up the ante beyond anything that London's Freelance Hellraiser introduced to dance floors last year. Simply pasting Christina Aguilera's voice over the Strokes ("Genius in a Bottle") might be fun for fans of interchangeable pop culture, but in the end, it's about as artistically significant as that parody of Edward Hopper's late-night diner with Elvis, Marilyn and James Dean all sitting around, looking cool and eating banana splits.
Like looters in a sonic wasteland, true found-sound artists steal whatever the hell isn't nailed down, elevating something as mindless as a cereal ad into a thought-provoking remix with fresh hooks, a killer backbeat and some socio-political significance. "Rocked by Rape," the ECC's masterpiece of disinformation, scores huge points on that front, setting the bar for what a "mash-up" can accomplish satirically. By juxtaposing CBS newscaster Dan Rather's voice against snippets of AC/DC's "Back in Black," the hilarious, riff-heavy ode to current events remangles Kenneth's otherwise matter-of-fact, nightly spoon-fed atrocities into seamless, lyrical bling-hop: "Good evening/Danger/War/Killer/Fraud/CIA/ Mayhem/ Crisis/Horrible...Prison/Disaster/Economic collapse/Mountains of cocaine and credit-card debt/Nazi war criminals/CIA/Cancer/Time for us to bug out." Narrowly avoiding a lawsuit from CBS for issuing the song, the members of the ECC maintain their right to recontextualize such clearance-free "property" in the name of art and research; they even wear little white lab coats to back up their claim.
Co-released on Negativland's Seeland imprint, Plagiarythm Nation credits several unlikely sources in its lengthy audiography, including Mary Kay Cosmetics, Flavor Flav, the Muppets, Janet Jackson, DJ Spooky and Vincent Price. More interesting than any celebrity cameos, however, are the little-known motivational speakers: On "I Want a Cookie," assertiveness trainer Susan Cocco (who, through the magic of sound collage, appears as an unlikely frontwoman for Sammy Davis Jr.'s original television soundtrack) offers levelheaded advice against a backdrop of hard-charging brass and explosive screaming. Elsewhere, an unidentified Ronald Reagan sound-alike warps the mind of a youngster during a '50s-era discussion of the birds and the bees ("Sex Re-Education"), and the Oscar Mayer jingle replaces Francis Scott Key's words to the national anthem ("Star Spangled Bologna").
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Drawing from fifteen years' worth of experience reconfiguring audio or altering MIDI files, the ECC takes the listener from breakfast to supper with pranksterish abandon, splitting time between being civic-minded and irritatingly clever. It's funny and astonishing stuff -- right up there with John Oswald's Plunderphonics. Hey, 51 million Napster cut-ups can't be wrong.