John Oswald (composer)

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John Oswald (born May 30, 1953 in Kitchener, Ontario) is a Canadian composer, saxophonist, media artist and dancer. His best known project is Plunderphonics, the practice of making new music out of previously existing recordings (see sound collage and musical montage).

Contents

Philosophy

Oswald coined the term "plunderphonics" to describe his craft in a paper called "Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative" which he presented at the Wired Society Electro-Acoustic Conference in Toronto in 1985. Inspired by William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique, Oswald had been devising plunderphonic-style compositions since the late '60s. In an interview with Norman Igma following the release of the Plunderphonics EP in 1988, he described the concept as follows:

A plunderphone is a recognizable sonic quote, using the actual sound of something familiar which has already been recorded. Whistling a bar of "Density 21.5" is a traditional musical quote. Taking Madonna singing "Like a Virgin" and rerecording it backwards or slower is plunderphonics, as long as you can reasonably recognize the source. The plundering has to be blatant though. There's a lot of samplepocketing, parroting, plagiarism and tune thievery going on these days which is not what we're doing.

Plunderphonics is related to but distinct from sampling used in genres such as hip-hop.

Works

His 1975 track "Power" married frenetic Led Zeppelin guitars to the impassioned exhortations of a Southern US evangelist years before hip hop discovered the potency of the same (and related) ingredients. Similarly, his 1990 track "Vane", which pitted two different versions of the song "You're So Vain" (the Carly Simon original and a cover by Faster Pussycat) against each other, was a blueprint for the contemporary pop subgenre, 'glitch pop' or 'mashup (music)'.

In 1980, Oswald founded the Mystery Tapes Laboratory, which created unnamed, unattributed works on cassette, described on the plunderphonics website as "little boxes of sonifericity specifically formulated for the curious listener. Available in your choice of aural flavors: subliminal, blasted, excerpted, repeatpeateatattttttedly, these cinemaphonically-concocted aggregates of très different but exquisitely manifest, unprecedentedly varied festerings of audio quality fine magnetic cassette tapes are the best of whatever you've been listening for". Oswald continues to be Director of Research at Mystery Tapes.

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