The musicians that appear together in Kutiman’s popular Youtube videos have never met each other. For the most part, they’re amateurs, performing in their homes for webcams or cellphone cameras.
But by editing, looping, and mixing these videos together, Kutiman – the artistic persona of globally-acclaimed Tel Aviv producer Ophir Kutiel – has created an Internet sensation, transforming obscure web footage into viral hits.
“For him to put me out there and get people to hear my voice... I just appreciate it so much,” said Samantha Montgomery, an aspiring singer from New Orleans whose homemade vocal clip opens Kutiman’s new hit video, “Give It Up.”
The video of the song from Kutiman’s new album that comes out Wednesday has gained more than 1.5 million views since its debut last month. It samples 23 Youtube clips, from instrument tutorials to homespun performances posted to the site.
Among them: a six-year-old masterfully improvising on the piano, a drum tutorial and a young man in what appears to be his bedroom, playing saxophone scales with an imperfect embouchure.
For each of these musicians, being featured in Kutiman’s videos is a surprise: they are not notified in advance.
Not all of them react positively.
Deryn Cullen, a professional cellist from Yorkshire, first found out she had been featured in “Give It Up” when a friend posted it to Facebook and tagged her.
“My initial reaction was pretty negative,” she said. “I saw somebody else using material copyrighted to me without my permission.”
Her feelings changed, she said, when Kutiman sent her a “long and gracious email describing exactly what the project was.”
In the email, Kutiman explained that the project was totally non-commercial.
“We don’t make any money out of it,” Boaz Murad, Kutiman’s manager, said. “We don’t sell it – we don’t even allow advertisements on Youtube.”
He added that both he and Kutiman, who declined to be interviewed, hope to gain exposure for the artists sampled in the videos.
Kutiman meticulously documents and posts links to the footage he samples from.
“I feel like I had my little time in the sun,” said Montgomery, who posts on Youtube under the stage name Princess Shaw.
The number of views on her acapella video, sampled in “Give It Up,” skyrocketed from under a thousand to nearly 30,000 after the song’s September 12 release. Many of the other samples saw similar surges.
Wednesday’s album release, titled Thru You Too, is a follow-up to his 2009 release of “Thru You,” a 10-video collection that garnered millions of views and turned Kutiman into web sensation.
“Thru You” landed Kutiman a spot on Time magazine’s list of the 50 best inventions of 2009. Reviewing “Give It Up,” The New York Times called praised the artists, saying Kutiel had “transformed sampling into a multimedia art.”
Aside from his mash-ups, Kutiel is a musical polyglot, playing keyboard, guitar, drums and (occasionally) saxophone, in addition to his work as a producer.
“He usually says that he’s not a master in any instrument,” Murad said. “I would say he has great skills.”
Kutiel leads the Kutiman Orchestra, a funk group that performs mainly in the Tel Aviv area. He also produces songs for Israeli singers Ester Rada and Karolina – who appear in the Kutiman Orchestra – among other local artists.
In 2007, he released a self-titled psychedelic funk album and in 2011 he partnered with Tel Aviv-based musician Ronen Sabbo on a reggae album titled Better Days.
Though his mash-ups don’t turn a profit, they allow both Kutiman and the artists he samples to spread their music to global audiences.
As Montgomery put it, “that’s what Youtube is all about.”