PLUNDERPHONICS IN SOUND UNSEEN
This new section of the Festival features several composers and filmmakers from a growing, but still largely underground, genre of creative activity - one which challenges conventional notions of authorship and intellectual property by creating new works of art from bits and pieces of pre-existing culture. Their work involves cutting sounds and images from their original context - mass media and other sources - and "pasting" them into new contexts.
These artists use a variety of words to describe their practice - sample-based composition, collage, cultural recycling, and more, but they are presented here under the moniker of "plunderphonics", a word coined by John Oswald in the early 1980s. Oswald had been making music that used "found sound" of various kinds since the late 60s, but he first publicly presented his ideas on this sort of work in a 1985 essay called "Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative". Four years later, he released his Plunderphonic CD which demonstrated these ideas. (The disc was soon effectively banned by the Canadian Recording Industry Association for alleged copyright infringement, but it became quite well-known as a result.)
The word plunderphonics continues to be a provocative and convenient way to refer to what these artists and others do; however, the term is probably not ideal, for two reasons. First, as formulated by Oswald it has a quite specific definition, one which many of the other artists presented here are stretching considerably. As explained in various interviews and writings, Oswald's plunderphonics is required to involve "recognizable sonic quotes" of pre-existing music, and it must source from the work of only one artist at a time (for works that quote more sources, he reserves the term polyplunderphonic).
The second problem is that it carries a connotation of wrongdoing, since the definition of plunder is "to seize wrongfully or by force; steal". In order to achieve some sort of respectability, those who engage in cultural re-use should probably stop describing themselves with words that imply that what they are doing is immoral. The powerful forces who would curtail this type of culture are working hard to teach the average "consumer" that "unauthorized reproduction" is something to be ashamed of, but this sort of cultural activity is not wrong. In fact, it is similar in spirit, if not in form, to folk music and other oral traditions which make use of more intertextual practices than our own print-based and commodified society. However, people love the thrill of transgression, even in today's modern mediasphere, where we're already virtually soaking in rebellion. And so, verbiage that carries the exquisite frisson of rule-breaking and ethical controversy also carries the day.
At any rate, whatever we call these legally risky activities, these artists have been brought here from around the globe to present them to you. Enjoy, and please, try it at home. It's only natural.
--Steev Hise, August 2001