Discover the exciting world of electroacoustic music and learn to make music with sounds.


The name Plunderphonics is made up of two individual words,

  • ‘Plunder’: to take or steal (think pirates), and
  • ‘phonics’: a word that indicates sounds or sounding objects.

Therefore, the name means to compose works with stolen sounds. John Oswald, the man who invented the name, also called it ‘Audio Piracy’.

Audio Piracy

In works of plunderphonics the composer uses samples from existing recordings of musical works as the source material to create new works. By changing the playback speed, transposing the samples or filtering them, one can explore the qualities of the sounds that are available and in doing this you can create new music. For example, to take a pop song and time stretch it.

George Martin / Beatles

Listen to this example in which John Oswald took two famous clips from music by the Beatles, looped and pitch-shifted (transposed) them.


A work of art that is made by assembling pieces of different materials together.

The visual arts have often used excerpts and clips from media such as advertising, popular culture and the news in the creation of “new” artworks, through techniques such as collage.

Pablo Picasso – Fruit Dish with Fruit, Violin and a Glass.

Musicians and those working with sound took longer, but soon realised that the could do the same with samples. And as soon as sounds are recorded they become trapped, objects that can be controlled. In plunderphonics, artists take the archives of sound recordings, extract samples and use these to make new music.

Pop and Hip Hop

Pop music and hip hop often make use of samples, just like plunderphonics. Old songs or samples made from famous quotes from films, news or media are taken and used within a new piece of music.

One example is ’A Stroke of Genius’ by Freelance Hellraiser, an album made of popular songs mashed and mixed together.

A Stroke of Genuis (by Freelance Hellraiser)

This track is a mash-up of:

  • Christina Aguilera's Genie in a Bottle


  • The Strokes' Hard To Explain.


But to whom does the track belong?

  • Would you say that it is still a track by one of the original artists?
  • Or does it belong to the person who made the mash-up?

What other issues might be associated with taking and using someone else’s music in your own work?



Plunderphonics is a political style of music which challenges copyright law and questions the ownership of sounds.


An artwork in which small fragments are cut and pasted together to make a larger final work. In sound-based music this may concern extremely brief elements of sound material up to musical fragments. [EARS]

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The process of selection, cutting, layering and ordering through which elements are combined and polished in the creation of a final work.

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A filter changes the frequency makeup of a sound by making parts of it weaker. Filters allow you to focus on parts of a sound that are of interest to you, or to take away parts that you don’t like.

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A compositional approach in which different sound textures are placed alongside one another.

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To loop a sound is to continuously repeat it.

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Pitch Shifting

This refers to the changing of the pitch in either direction. Traditionally pitch shifting went hand in hand with the change of speed of a tape recorder.

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