One of the most controversial artists working in music today, Girl Talk, is inspiring fans to build digital expressions of what they hear. Pittsburgh native Gregg Gillis bases his work as Girl Talk on mashing together hundreds of samples lifted from other artists’ recordings into something new from what they were before. Some of his fans then go a step beyond listening, and they enjoy the gamification of dissecting Girl Talk’s albums into their component parts.

Mashup Breakdown, a new project by Benjamin Rahn, was born from wanting to turn this impulse into a kinetic experience. “Mashup Breakdown is an attempt to visually describe the musical wizardry that goes into a mashup,” he explained. “For each track, you’ll see the timeline of samples used, and with the currently active samples highlighted in real time as the track plays.”

Rahn uses SoundCloud for the audio, and all of Girl Talk’s albums are released under a Creative Commons license that permits remixing and duplication, so the site is legal. Which is a point worth making, given that some lawyers would argue that Girl Talk’s music is not legal since Gillis doesn’t license any of the samples.

Other lawyers would counter that Girl Talk’s music falls under the definition of fair use due to the transformative purpose and character of its use.  Gillis hasn’t been sued, so the lawyers can still argue it among themselves. Some even doubt Gillis will ever get sued. Peter Friedman, for example, said in 2009 that he would advise any client of his not to sue Girl Talk: “Gillis’s argument that he has transformed the copyrighted materials sufficiently that his work constitutes non-inringing fair use is just too good. I’d go after someone I am more likely to beat. Otherwise, I’d lose all the leverage I have with the existence, as yet undisputed in case law, of the decisions in Grand Upright Music and Bridgeport Music.”

All Day, Girl Talk’s fifth and most recent album, incorporates clips from 372 songs by other artists. Travis McLeskey built an online player at AllDaySamples that shows the details as the music plays, from where Rahn got the data for the All Day page on Mashup Breakdown. Rahn also cites a Wired infographic by Angela Watercutter of Girl Talk’s 2008 track “What It’s All About” as another inspiration.

Gillis and his label, Illegal Art, released All Day as a pay-what-you-want download in Nov. 2010, and among other hyperbolic expressions of its immediate popularity the city of Pittsburgh declared Dec. 7, 2010, as Gregg Gillis Day. Girl Talk will be performing at The Voodoo Experience 2011, which will be held at City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 28–30, 2011.

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Photo of Girl Talk by Andrew Strasser, used with permission