The Musical Solar System of Rick Rubin

Zach Kaiser, MFA ’13


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Name: Zach Kaiser

Graduation: 2013

Program: MFA

Rick Rubin is one of the most influential music producers of the last 30 years, having produced an expansive and diverse body of work. The Musical Solar System of Rick Rubin attempts to visualize his centrality in the history of contemporary popular music by making Rubin the “Sun” in a solar system that connects him with every song sampled on “Like This,” a song by Girl Talk, the ultimate mashup curator of pop music.

After listening to “Like This” and finding out what samples Girl Talk used, I hoped that I would be able to connect Rick Rubin in as few steps as possible to each song or artist sampled – a sort of “6 degrees of Rick Rubin.” I created a database to organize my research, finding, in most cases, that it only took a few steps to connect Rubin back to the artists and songs that Girl Talk sampled.

Each artist is a certain number of orbits, or degrees away from Rubin, according to the information in the database. Additionally, each artist has a tally of mentions in the database, and the more mentions, the larger the artist’s “planet.” For example, since each connection ends with Rubin, and there are 30 songs in the mashup, Rubin is mentioned 30 times, while Jay-Z is mentioned 10 times in the database, thus making his “planet” one third the size of Rubin’s.

At first glance, we begin to understand that there are a few artists that directly “orbit” Rubin, while other artists orbit those artists. Through scale we also begin to see artists that, like Rubin himself, serve as hubs of popular culture.

I also developed a system of color and pattern to denote types of connections and connectors – “connectors” being an album, a song, an organization or a performance; and “connections” being actions, such as produced, sampled, appeared with, or covered.

Visualizing Rubin’s role in the history of popular music through the work of Girl Talk, the foremost contemporary creative curator of pop music, was informative and served to underscore Rubin’s influence on today’s music.

Keywords: Mashup, data, mapping, music, system, visualization