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Contextual incongruity and musical congruity: the aesthetics and humour of mash-ups

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2012

Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen
Affiliation:
Department of Musicology, University of Oslo, Box 1017, Blindern, N0315 Oslo, Norway E-mail: ragnhild.brovig-hanssen@imv.uio.no
Paul Harkins
Affiliation:
School of Arts & Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University, Craighouse Road, Edinburgh EH10 5LG, UK E-mail: p.harkins@napier.ac.uk

Abstract

The academic literature on mash-ups has been dominated by discussions about issues relating to their illegal nature and infringement of copyright. We aim to appraise this musical style with a socio-musicological approach to focus on its aesthetics. We argue that mash-ups are characterised by two underlying principles, namely contextual incongruity of recognisable samples and musical congruity between the mashed tracks. Through our close analyses of The Evolution Control Committee's ‘The Whipped Cream Mixes’ and Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, we describe how contextual incongruity often creates a humorous effect, which explains why many listeners react with smiles and laughter when hearing a new mash-up. In successful mash-ups, the combination of musical congruity and contextual incongruity results in the paradoxical response: ‘these two songs should definitely not work together … but they do!’

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Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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