In early September, a YouTuber by the name of Kutiman released a video called “Give It Up,” which promptly went viral and clocked more than 1.4 million views. It features 23 clips of amateur musicians on YouTube, playing alone in various rooms to an unseen audience.
Kutiman stitched them together, so the discord becomes a song. Suddenly, these strangers were making music together.
Kutiman is Ophir Kutiel, a 32-year-old Israeli musician and producer, and this isn’t the first time he’s played matchmaker. In early 2009, he received quite a bit of media attention for his ThruYOU project, a seven-video collection of amateur musicians’ YouTube videos stitched together to create a series of vignettes. One track, “The Mother of All Funk Chords,” sweats like a Stones Throw b-side, building on drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s signature funk shuffle.
It was Kutiel’s revision on the concept album, and people started taking notice, including Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, who wrote about ThruYOU on his blog in March 2009 and compared it to David Post’s book In Search of Jefferson’s Moose:
“This video is Jefferson’s Moose. If you come to the Net armed with the idea that the old system of copyright is going to work just fine here, this more than anything is going to get you to recognize: you need some new ideas.”
In 2010, YouTube invited Kutiel to perform at the Guggenheim Museum as part of its YouTube Play event, and his solitary craft was put in front of another group of relative strangers. In the years after ThruYOU, Kutiel has continued to dig into YouTube’s source material. Not all his videos sample amateur musicians—he has an excellent series titled “SueYou,” which features edited-together music video and live performance clips from Questlove, Limp Bizkit, 3rd Bass, and Boss Hog.
Kutiel’s final projects feature elements of sampling, mashup culture, and looping, but it’s their creation process that proves the most taxing.
“Yeah, it’s just watching a lot of YouTube,” he says by phone from Tze’elim, the small village in Israel where he lives. “Most of the time it’s really fascinating, but it can also be really frustrating. I just find something that I want to start with and put it on loop with the software and then just have YouTube open with a lot of tabs until I hear something that I’m looking for.”
The Internet is “really, really, bad” in his village, but people live simply, and Kutiel says that’s one of the reasons he came to live there. He doesn’t identify as a crate-digger or music nerd, and didn’t really grow up obsessing over music. The Internet and YouTube were essentially his gateway into music, and he explains it’s helped him not only learn how to play better, but also how to do everyday things like cook pasta.
“Anything you want to know, just type it in and some kid shows you how to do it.”
He says he initially stumbled upon YouTube’s amateur musician subculture when he was looking for instrument tutorials to improve his own playing. He would often have several tabs open at once, and would hear a melody or harmony match together from two musicians in different tabs.
“A lot of the time, they’re playing like they’re actually playing together,” he added. “So I just need to put them together, you know?”
And so Kutiel went about matchmaking, editing together strangers, often performing alone in a room, into a band, creating a song only Kutiel knew about. He explains this is a very intense, solitary endeavor, and like many of us, he often gets sucked into a YouTube black hole. But for him, the black hole can offer inspiration. He’s lost track of how many clips he’s actually sifted through, and laments that YouTube doesn’t have a counter for that kind of thing yet.
The follow-up to ThruYOU will be released Oct. 1, and it continues that album’s theme of unrelatedness (edited together, he says, with Sony Vegas). ThruYOU Too is a six-song collage, and “No One in This World” is the second song from the album. As with many of his works, it starts with the drummer.
In sewing together these clips, he’s connecting strangers. Everybody can relate to sitting in front of a computer and trying to connect with an exchange of art or performance. In his collages, there’s a human thread. He always lists all the components of his remixes, so you can isolate a part and learn all about YouTube’s giant wind chimes subculture, or see this ecstatic performance with its raw nerve intact.
Kutiel understands this isn’t just about finding the right beat.
“It’s kind of tricky,” he said. “Me and all the other musicians just sit home alone in front of the computer, and after so many times I watch them and it’s like I know them by now. And yeah, eventually you get the feeling that everybody knows each other and they’re playing together. And a lot of the [comments] say that this is bringing people together.
“I want to believe that’s what it’s doing.”
Photo by Haim Yafim Barbalat