Stream of Tumblr: Learning About the Curator Through Their Collection

In an article on Pitchfork, Mark Richardson, used comments about the lack of originality in Tumblr photoblogs made by Canadian rapper and singer Drake as a jumping-off point to talk about how we use pop iconography to define who we are, and how advances in technology have made recycled culture common in music-making. I had plans to write something similar, though, what I had originally hoped to zoom in on was sampling, because, like samples, Tumblr blogs are often comprised of re-purposed material.

The authors take images they like from around the web and simply repost them. That’s not to say Tumblr blogs don’t have value. One thing that makes them so stalk-worthy is how much they reveal of the author (or more appropriately curator), especially when taken out of context.

Publishing a Tumblr photoblog is like inverse impressionistic painting. Since you can “follow” these blogs like you would a Twitter account, each post, or brush stroke, is typically viewed amongst many other posts from other accounts. But when you back up and scan through a hundred pages of a single Tumblr patterns begin to emerge. You end up staring directly into the curator’s exposed soul in a way that’s only possible because these post-Facebook people don’t care if the whole Internet knows they smoke weed, or fetishize cutting themselves, or worship Tyler, the Creator. The resulting piece of stream of consciousness impressionistic art can be extremely frank, and I can’t help but wonder if they’ve ever stepped back to look at themselves in this way. The resulting gallery, which represents a series of choices over time, really is creative.

All of this reminds me of Gregg Gillis. For those of you who haven’t listened to a Girl Talk record, or been to one of his hot, sweaty, basketball-jersey-riddled live shows, Gillis makes fun, sample-fueled, dance party hyper mashups. Often quoting dozens of songs in a single track. This is painstaking work, and Gillis spends a tremendous amount of time on each album.

So what happens when we apply the reverse-Monet trick to Girl Talk’s body of work by ploughing through his entire catalogue, one brush stroke at a time? The painting that comes into focus is as revealing as a hundred-page Tumblr binge, especially when you think about his career arc.

His first release as Girl Talk, 2002’s Secret Diary, is a jarring and challenging experiment in the technique of sampling, with caustic electronic sounds that attack randomly and no discernible beat to hold your hand as you make your way through. Over time though, Gillis has become a master of finding the most fist-pump-worthy snapshots of songs and combining them to create elaborate and continuous dance tracks that are so viscerally pleasing, they might as well be deep fried and dipped in pop rocks. And he keeps giving us more sweets at a time — his latest release, All Day, beat out its predecessor, Feed the Animals, by almost 20 minutes. In doing so, he genuinely embodies a core aspect of pop music — give people what they want to hear.

When you look at the choices he makes in what he samples, trends emerge that reinforce this notion, namely that he’s a musical omnivore… almost. He is, by his own admission, a voracious pop music consumer, and his compositions evidence that fact, with samples drawn from a variety of genres and decades.

But the styles and time periods he doesn’t reblog speak volumes about who he is and who he’s trying to please. For example, you won’t hear much country. Though, when you consider how walled off the country and non-country audiences can be (Exhibit A: The prominence of the expression “everything but country”), this may say more about pop music fans than it does about Gillis. You also won’t find obscure classical or klezmer or Mongolian throat singing. He’s not trying to impress us with his knowledge of music or the diversity of his musical palate. He’s feeding the animals. He’s giving us what we want, and in turn, he’s painting us a picture, one sample at a time, of ourselves.

After all, that’s his greatest creation — a collective, impressionistic pop music self-portrait that manifests itself in euphoric scenes — the beautiful chaos found at his shows or the way that putting on one of his records makes cleaning up the kitchen after a messy meal seem like fun (can’t recommend this highly enough). It’s a living, breathing, dancing, sweating work of pop art that’s constantly changing as new popular music is released, and even if none of it is his music, the sweaty painting is.

David is 27 year old writer/musician who covers the flourishing music scene in Richmond, Virginia over on You Hear That?!? as well as wider topics. If you want to know about the music scene in Virginia there isn’t a better place to go.

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One thought on “Stream of Tumblr: Learning About the Curator Through Their Collection

  1. Pingback: The Phonograph | You hear that?!?

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