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How one musician makes music from the sounds of YouTube

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There are millions of people on the Internet making music by themselves. They focus cameras on their hands as they dance across fretboards, set them further back as they sit behind a drum kit with earbuds in place, stare into their lens as they sing soulfully, with no music playing along.

Ophir Kutiel has spent several months of his life looking for their videos on YouTube. Kutiel is an Israeli musician who found viral internet fame in 2009 when, in a fit of inspiration, he turned off his phone and locked himself in his apartment for two straight months, working on a project he called ThruYOU. Under his stage name, Kutiman, Kutiel released a seven-video YouTube playlist consisting of music he made from unrelated YouTube videos he edited together to make complete songs.

Five years and several million hits later, Kutiman is at it again. On Wednesday morning, the artist released his long gestating follow-up to ThruYOU, and introduced it to the world in a way that’s familiar to those who know his work: through the voices of dozens of people he found on YouTube.

Called ThruYOU Too, the project is another set of six songs made up of YouTube videos spliced together to make entirely new songs, each layered and textured enough to listen to on repeat without video. But add the video and watch all these disparate, normal people brought together to make music, and each track becomes mesmerizing.

“I think that it’s probably the human part of it,” says Kutiman when asked about what draws him to making music this way. “It all started by searching for samples, but soon enough it became searching for people. Like, you see people, and you see their bedrooms, or their living rooms, and they talk to you. It’s really fascinating, you know? I’m not sure I fully understand it.”

A song like “Give It Up” can feature clips from up to 23 different musicians. So how does Kutiman get started?

“Most of the stuff in this one, I found it just when I wasn’t even working on it,” says Kutiman. He’ll be browsing YouTube, looking for unrelated content—like tutorials to improve his own playing—when he finds what will become a ThruYOU song. “I think, wow, this is amazing, it’s got no views at all and I love it and I must create a song out of it!”

But Kutiman doesn’t just look for sounds in his samples. Their source matters to him. “A lot of the times, I search for certain samples, and I find a perfect match musically, but something about this person, for some reason I won’t like. Maybe it’s something they said, or something they did, that I find—I don’t like it. So I have to let it go and keep on searching.”

The opposite, he says, is also true. “Sometimes I see someone that is not the best player, but there’s something about them that I really love, so I’m going to do my best to edit them and make them the best drummer, or the best guitar player.”

Kutiman’s interest in the people he samples goes a long way toward making the songs on ThruYOU Too feel inviting and warm.This time around, Kutiman  reined in the manic energy of his first ThruYOU project, focusing more on the music and less on the concept. But still, there’s something naked and vulnerable about the music that is made from countless people recording themselves alone. In a way, what Kutiman doesn’t just make music, but stitch together a community.

“I’m trying my best to show people that there is so much stuff on YouTube and so much talent out there,” says Kutiman. “The rhythm of things is so fast. People want to get excited in one second, and if it’s not exciting then they just move on to the next thing.”

“But if you go deep enough, you find really amazing stuff with almost no views at all. I’m looking for the ones with the least hits on YouTube. It’s like, in a way, the same as someone who’s creating music from records. He would want to find this record that nobody knows about, and it’s amazing that nobody knows about it.”

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