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’.
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.
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.
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.