Panopticist had a posting this week on Akufen, the Quebec producer known for his technique of microsampling (Take a look at the post here, which includes an MP3). I found it interesting and immediately thought of another Canadian cut-and-paste artiste, John Oswald. I don’t know if Oswald was the very first person to take music samples and re-contextualize them into another work, but he was certainly one of the key pioneers. Interestingly, sampling is best known as a hip-hop technique, but Oswald works an entirely different area of the art, a technique he calls plunderphonics. The thing that he has in common with people working in a more pop vein of sampling is that the sampling is based on taking a work that people may recognize and then using it in new ways. Some would argue that sampling is theft and uncreative, but it is based on the principle of presenting the familiar in new ways.
Anyway, here are two examples, taken from the Plunderphonics 69/96 collection. “madmod” is drawn from Madonna and “philosophry” from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, but there’s a great deal more as well.
John Oswald – madmod — BUY John Oswald – philosophry — BUY
Update: From the liner notes to Plunderphonics 69/96:
Norman Igma: Do you approve of what rappers and house DJs are doing with samples?
John Oswald: I’m not very familiar with the genre, but some of what I’ve heard is definitely plunderphonic in that it puts recognizable audio quotes in a varied context, but they don’t seem to follow through on our principles about this activity, which is to clearly label sources. In order to achieve some respectability, electroquoting must follow the literary example of reference and citation. … these partnerships aren’t plundering in the best sense of the word — blatantly. They’re being sneaky about it.
Of course, Oswald himself went through tremendous legal problems with the original release of Plunderphonic. Hip-hop producers have been limited because they face legal liability for unauthorized sampling and legal sampling can get very expensive. But Oswald is right in a different way, because the DJ tradition is to hide where your samples come from. Stories abound of DJs who would cover the labels of records to disguise their source from other DJs. The reaction they want is for the listener to say, “That sample is amazing! Where did it come from?”