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Thursday, May 21, 2009

“Where Your Treasure is, There Will Your Heart Be Also”

We all have our small treasures… Those things that make our hearts swell and evoke knowing smiles with only a mere glance. Ah those trinkets, baubles, reminders, mementos, souvenirs, and collectibles that fill our desk drawers and line our bookshelves. They are the physical reminders of our lives lived. They symbolize our very experiences, our reminiscences and special occasions. Oh what vivid stories these ornaments can and do evoke. That is their magic.

It is specifically those stories that I am compelled to tell and hopefully so will some of you that read this- Now, considering the numbers of personal treasures I have currently lining my bookshelves et al, I might just turn this into a semi-regular feature. A brief preface is in order though. This whole concept came about after a recent “blipping” session on Blip.FM. (That being the social networking DJ/ VJ phenom that is currently ‘a sweepin’ the nations. (I posted about it earlier.)) One of the curious outcomes about said site is the users desire to share the music that they love; sometimes very obscure music. This is precisely what I did. I blipped a John Oswald (Plunderphonics) song, “O’Hell” and a short confession to fellow ‘Blipeur’ Barb the Bad Tempered Zombie spoke of my love for the avant garde musician/ artist. And thus the kernel for this post was born. His music is one of my treasures.

John Oswald is one of those artist/ musicians that truly speaks to the music lover in me. For the uninitiated John Oswald is a Canadian composer, saxophonist and media artist. His best known project is Plunderphonics, the practice of making new music out of previously existing recordings using “electroquotes”; (not unlike sound collage and musical montage). Inspired by William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique, Oswald had been devising plunderphonic-style compositions since the late '60s.

As a result of using music on these terms you can imagine this music is not without controversy The greatest of which was the 1988 release of the Plunderphonics EP, which he distributed to the press and to radio stations. It contained four plundered tracks: "Don't" by Elvis Presley, "Pocket" by Count Basie, "Pretender" featured Dolly Parton singing "The Great Pretender" but progressively slowed down so that she sounds like a man by the end, and "Spring", a version of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. In 1989, Oswald released an expanded version of the Plunderphonics album containing twenty-five tracks, each using material from a different artist. In 1990, notice was given to Oswald by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) on behalf of several of their clients (notably Michael Jackson, whose song "Bad" had been cut up, layered, and rearranged as "Dab") that all undistributed copies of Plunderphonics be destroyed under threat of legal action. An excerpt from a press release on the plunderphonics website is repeated below:

"I wasn't selling the disc in the stores, so I let listeners tape it off the radio for free," explains Oswald, who paid for the production and manufacture of the CD out of his own pocket. He receives no royalties or financial compensation for airplay. Brian Robertson, president of CRIA says, ``What this demonstrates is the vulnerability of the recording industry to new technology...All we see is just another example of theft." Oswald received notice from CRIA's lawyers demanding that he cease distributing Plunderphonic as of Xmas eve '89. "They insisted I quit playing Santa Claus," Oswald observes.
His body of work is one of the jewels of my music collection and I have gone to great lengths to track down his recorded output. To say that his CD’s and LP’s are rare is a huge understatement. He is not a traditional artist in any sense whatsoever and therefore distribution methods are often unorthodox. As a result, all of his CD’s have come to me from diverse areas of the world. (And yes, I have a copy of the famous aforementioned disc.) I have acquired most by luck, by fortuitousness and by sheer determination. From Paris, Vancouver, Seattle, London, San Francisco, Tokyo to Toronto these discs have seen more of the world than I have. All have a back story and each made me love music a little more. It is the stuff that enthralls me and totally captures my imagination. Consequently they constitute some of my greatest treasures.

I have also had the great fortune to have corresponded with Mr. Oswald on a couple of occasions although I have never met him in person. He has patiently answered my fanboy questions and even signed a number of my favourite discs. Admittedly, the art of John Oswald may not be for everyone but it is for me. Indeed my heart does swell when I see that section in my collection dedicated to him.

So that’s Volume I of this little segment. I’ll definitely do this again but I know that you have your own treasures to write about. Allison, Barbara, Amity and Matthew, tell us about your bookshelf treasures sometime. No deadlines though, when inspiration strikes...


Allison said...

What an inspired idea, and post! If I had a bookshelf, they'd be lined with treasures. :) I will have to mull over this idea, I think it would make for a fun post to write. I must get back to my Blipping too...

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thanks for sharing the full story of John Oswald's musical inventiveness, Sean. You know that you piqued my curiosity during that infamous blipping session, but I had no idea of the extent of the controversy that his experimentation caused. Fascinating tale indeed. No wonder your collection has become such a treasure to you.

I will have to share the story of one of my treasures quite soon as well.

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.