The Grey Album

The Grey Album

I had forgotten about The Grey Album but was reminded of it while watching the excellent TED talk on combinatorial creativity by Kirby Ferguson (of Everything is a Remix fame). The Grey Album (2004) is a very clever mash up of The Beatles’ White Album (1968) and Jay-Z’s Black Album (2003) by Brian Burton (aka DJ Danger Mouse). On foot of The Black Album’s commercial success, the rapper had released an a capella version of the album for potential remixes by DJs. The Grey Album is the end result of one of the many remixes released at the time.

Danger Mouse’s initial objective was to highlight the legal limitations of existing copyright and patent laws when it came to de-constructing, sampling and remixing existing material into a new creation. The Grey Album was never released commercially and was only meant to be distributed confidentially over the internet. Word of mouth and widespread critical acclaim nevertheless turned the project into an internet sensation and a cultural landmark.

“The Grey Album” is a remix. It is new media created from old media. It was made using these three techniques: copy, transform and combine. It’s how you remix. You take existing songs, you chop them up, you transform the pieces, you combine them back together again, and you’ve got a new song, but that new song is clearly comprised of old songs.

But I think these aren’t just the components of remixing. I think these are the basic elements of all creativity. I think everything is a remix, and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity.  Kirby Ferguson – Embracing the remix

The Grey Video

To promote the project, a “Grey Video” featuring the song “Encore” was also released anonymously at the end of 2004 as a separate endeavour. “Encore” borrows from the eponymous song by Jay-Z as well as from two songs in The White Album, namely “Glass onion” and “Savoy truffle”. The video itself is a brilliant mash up featuring footage from Jay-Z performing the song, from the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night and new computer generated images.

This exhilarating homage was designed by the Lausanne-based creative agency Ramon & Pedro (aka Antoine Tinguely and Laurent Fauchère). The video circulated “illicitly” on the net for years (acquiring a cult status along the way) before finding a permanent home on various video sharing platforms, all of them now hosting countless remixes and mash ups.

The Grey Album can still be streamed or downloaded here.