WATCH: Israeli Musician Uses YouTube to Create New Music

Ben Shalev
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Ben Shalev

Thru You, the Internet music project by musician-producer Ophir Kutiel (Kutiman), which has chalked up millions of views on YouTube since it was posted about a month ago, is genuinely brilliant: an astonishly simple idea that has given rise to a wonderful work of art. From his home studio, using a computer and relatively simple electronic equipment, Kutiel has created a cultural intersection that gathers together, in a completely incidental manner - and lots of groove - serious issues of identity and technology. The doctoral dissertations in sociology are already in the works.

How come nobody thought of it before? That's the first question that Thru You raises. But there you go, no one did. Kutiel, 27, is the first to have conceived of trawling the endless ocean of YouTube, fishing out of it more than 100 homemade music video clips of vocals or a single instrument and then editing them into seven videos. Each video is a kind of orchestra of individuals, a symphony of the anonymous. The bass player who looks like George Costanza from "Seinfeld" does not know the black girl who has heard too much Rihanna, but thanks to Kutiman they are making moving music together. And this is just one of many examples.

The connection among all these unknown people provokes two contrasting feelings. On the one hand, it is moving, because it rescues the lonely from the isolation of their wretched room - which of course is no different from that of their online audience - and makes them part of something larger. On the other hand, it further underscores their anonymity and its irredeemability.

The "stars" of Thru You don't just sing and play instruments: They bare their souls. The young mother with the baby in her lap singing "One day I will find my soul, there must be one for me too," a different black girl who sings "I'm New" and a white boy who delivers an impassioned speech in favor of the legalization of cannabis in a perfect Jamaican accent, because that is how he feels, Jamaican, even though his appearance place his origins in Germany or Sweden or the United States.

Thru You of course touches upon the seamy side of reality shows in its various manifestations and in its modest way it even offers a momentary remedy for it. The clips recorded in bedrooms are reminiscent of "Big Brother" as well as of questionable Internet video diaries, but the participants in Thru You are not turned into animals and they don't strip. Their desire to be heard and to become famous is reminiscent of "American Idol" and its Israeli clone, "Kochav Nolad," but their way of expressing themselves is different from that of the young contestants on these shows. They are not making saccharine dramas out of nothing, they are not faking emotions and they are not trying to sound larger than life. Most of the young female singers who appear in Thru You are far more reminiscent of spaced-out young English trip-hop singers than of Celine Dion. Not that there is a dearth of young women on YouTube who are trying to sound like Celine Dion. They simply don't interest Kutiel.

Another interesting thing about "Thru You" is the way it combines the two greatest revolutions in music in recent years. The first is that of sampling. "Thru You," like innumerable albums from the past 20 years, is a collage of cut-and-paste. This technique has pretty much worn itself out in the past few years, and now Kutiel has come along and grafted it to a newer revolution, the Internet revolution, and has made it newly fresh and vital.

Alongside its conceptual depth, Thru You is also an excellent musical creation - haute couture from simple scraps of fabric. It is true that funk rhythms, which serve as the foundation for most of the clips, are characterized by the fact that whatever you lay on top of them sounds good, but nevertheless one cannot but marvel at Kutiel's engineering of the clips. This is a technical achievement, but it is primarily an aesthetic achievement.

Even though Kutiel himself did not play a single note in Thru You, it is very reminiscent of his debut album, and particularly of its fascinating combination of a tight and focused soul groove and a hallucinatory, psychedelic aspect. The groove expresses joy and freedom; the psychedelia adds a significant dose of melancholy. This is a perfect soundtrack for a work like Thru You, which presents the basic human longing to sing and to make music, with its beauty and its pain.

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