Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative

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Text of Oswald, Plunderphonics, 1985

From Nothing

Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative

by John Oswald

From: The Cassette Mythos, Autonomedia 1990

The newfangled, much-talked-about digital sound-sampling devices are, we are told, music mimics par excellence, able to render the whole orchestral panoply, plus all that grunts or squeaks. The noun sample is, in our commodified culture, often prefixed by the adjective free; but perhaps some thinking aloud on what is not allowable auditory appropriation is in order. Free Samples

Some of you, current and potential samplerists, are perhaps curious about the extent to which you can legally borrow from the ingredients of other people's sonic manifestations. Is a musical property properly private, and if so, when and how does one trespass upon it? Like myself, you may covet something similar to a particular chord played and recorded singularly well by the strings of the estimable Eastman-Rochester Orchestra on a long-deleted Mercury "Living Residence" LP of Charles Ives' Symphony #3, itself rampant with unsolicited procurements; or imagine how invigorating a few retrograde pygmy (no slur on primitivism intended) chants would sound in the quasi-funk section of your Emulator concerto. Or perhaps you would simply like to transfer an octave of hiccups from the stock sound library disc of a Mirage to the spring-loaded tape catapults of your Mellotron.

Can the sounding materials that inspire composition sometimes be considered compositions themselves? Is the piano the musical creation of Bartolommeo Christofori (1655-1731), or merely the vehicle engineered by him for Ludwig Van and others to maneuver through their musical territory? Some memorable compositions were created specifically for the digital recorder of that era, the music box. Are the preset sounds in today's sequencers and synthesizers free samples, or the musical property of the manufacturer? Is a timbre any less definably possessible than a melody? A composer who claims divine inspiration is perhaps exempt from responsibility to this inventory of the layers of authorship, but what about the unblessed rest of us? Let's see what the powers that be have to say. Authorship is copyrightspeak for any creative progenitor, no matter whether they program software or compose hardcore. To wit: "an author is entitled to claim authorship and to preserve the integrity of the work by restraining any distortion, mutilation, or other modification that is prejudicial to the author's honor or reputation." That's called the Right of Integrity, and it's from the Canada Copyright Act. A recently published report on the proposed revision of the Act uses the metaphor of a landowner's rights, where unauthorized use is synonymous with trespassing. The territory is limited. Only recently have sound recordings been considered a part of this real estate.

"Blank Tape Is Derivative, Nothing of Itself"

Way back in 1976, ninety-nine years after Edison went into the record business, the U.S. Copyright Act was revised to protect sound recordings in that country for the first time. Before this, only written music was considered eligible for protection. Forms of music that were not intelligible to the human eye were deemed ineligible. The traditional attitude was that recordings were not artistic creations, but mere uses or applications of creative works in the form of physical objects.

Some music-oriented organizations still retain this "view." The current Canadian Act came into being in 1924, an electric eon later than the original U.S. Act of 1909, and up here "copyright does subsist in records, perforated rolls, and other contrivances by means of which sounds can be mechanically reproduced."

Of course the capabilities of mechanical contrivances are now more diverse than anyone back at the turn of the century forecasted, but now the real headache for the writers of copyright has been the new electronic contrivances, including digital samplers of sound and their accountant cousins, computers. Amongst "the intimate cultural secretions of electronic, biological, and written communicative media," the electronic brain business is cultivating, by grace of its relative youth, pioneering creativity, and a corresponding conniving ingenuity. The popular intrigue of computer theft has inspired cinematic and paperback thrillers, while the robbery of music is seen as mundane poaching and blundering innocence. The plots are trivial: Disney accuses Sony of conspiring with consumers to make unauthorized mice; former Beatle George Harrison is found guilty of an indescretion in choosing a vaguely familiar sequence of pitches.

The dubbing-in-the-privacy-of-your-own-home controversy is actually the tip of a hot iceberg of rudimentary creativity. After decades of being the passive recipients of music in packages, listeners now have the means to assemble their own choices, to separate pleasures from the filler. They are dubbing a variety of sounds from around the world, or at least from the breadth of their record collections, making compilations of a diversity unavailable from the music industry, with its circumscribed stables of artists, and an ever-more-pervasive policy of only supplying the common denominator.

The Chiffons/Harrison case, and the general accountability of melodic originality, indicates a continuing concern for what amounts to the equivalent of a squabble over the patents to the Edison cylinder.

The Commerce of Noise

The precarious commodity in music today is no longer the tune. A fan can recognize a hit from a ten-millisecond burst faster than a Fairlight can whistle Dixie. Notes with their rhythm and pitch values are trivial components in the corporate harmonization of cacophony. Few pop musicians can read music with any facility. The Art of Noise, a studio-based, mass-market-targeted recording firm, strings atonal arrays of timbres on the line of an always inevitable beat. The Emulator fills the bill. Singers with original material aren't studying Bruce Springsteen's melodic contours; they're trying to sound just like him. And sonic impersonation is quite legal. While performing rights organizations continue to farm for proceeds to tunesters and poetricians, those who are shaping the way the buck says the music should be-rhythmatists, timbralists, and mixologists under various monikers-have rarely been given compositional credit.

At what some would like to consider the opposite end of the field, amongst academics and the salaried technicians of the orchestral swarms, an orderly display of fermatas and hemidemisemiquavers on a page is still often thought indespensible to a definition of music, even though some earnest composers rarely if ever peck these things out anymore. (Of course, if appearances are necessary, a computer program and printer can do it for them.) Musical language has an extensive repertoire of punctuation devices but nothing equivalent to literature's quotation marks. Jazz musicians do not wiggle two fingers of each hand in the air, as lecturers sometimes do, when cross-referencing during their extemporizations, as on most instruments this would present some technical difficulties.

Without a quotation system, well-intended correspondences cannot be distinguished from plagiarism and fraud. But anyway, the quoting of notes is but a small and insignificant portion of common appropriation.

Am I underestimating the value of melody writing? Well, I expect that before long we'll have marketable expert tune-writing software which will be able to generate the banalities of catchy permutations of the diatonic scale in endless arrays of tuneable tunes, from which a not-necessarily-fluent songwriter can choose (with perhaps a built-in checking lexicon of used-up tunes which would advise Beatle George not to make the same blunder again).

Chimeras of Sound

Some composers have long considered the tape recorder a musical instrument capable of more than the faithful hi-fi transcriber role to which manufacturers have traditionally limited its function. Now there are hybrids of the electric offspring of acoustic insruments and the digital clones of these tape recorders. Audio mimicry by digital means is nothing new; mechanical manticores from the nineteenth century with names like the Violano-Virtuoso and the Orchestrion are quaintly similar to the Synclavier digital music system and the Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument). In the case of Synclavier, what is touted as a combination multi-track recording studio and simulated symphony orchestra looks like a piano with a built-in accordian chordboard and LED clock radio.

The composer who plucks a blade of grass and, in cupped hands to pursed lips, creates a vibrating soniferous membrane and resonator, may be somewhat susceptible to comments on the order of "its been done before"--but he is in the potential position of bypassing previous technological achievement and communing directly with nature. Of music from tools, even the iconoclastic implements of a Harry Partch or a Hugh LeCaine are susceptible to the convention of distinction between instrument and composition. Sounding utensils, from the erh-hu to the Emulator, have traditionally provided such a potential for varied expression that they have not in themselves been considered musical manifestations. This is contrary to the great popularity of generic instrumental music (The Many Moods of The 101 Strings, Piano for Lovers, The Trucker's DX-7, etc.), not to mention instruments which play themselves, the most pervasive example in recent years being pre-programmed rhythm boxes. Such devices, as are found in lounge acts and organ consoles, are direct kin to the juke box: push a button and out comes music. J.S. Bach pointed out that with any instrument "all one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time and the thing plays itself." The distinction between sound producers and sound reproducers is easily blurred, and has been a conceivable area of musical pursuit at least since John Cage's use of radios in the forties.

Starting from Scratch

Just as sound-producing and sound-reproducing technology becomes more interactive, listeners, invited or not, are once again encroaching upon creative territory. This prerogative has been largely forgotten in recent decades. The now-primitive record-playing generation, themselves far removed from the days of lively renditions on the parlor piano, were a passive lot (the indigenous active form scratch belongs to the post-disc, blaster/walkman era).

Computers can take the expertise out of amateur music-making. A current music-minus-one program retards tempos and searches for the most ubiquitous chords to support the wanderings of a novice player. Some audio equipment geared for the consumer inadvertently offers interactive possibilities. But the manufacturers have discouraged compatibility between their amateur and pro equipment--passivity is still the dominant demographic. Thus the atrophied microphone inputs which have now all but disappeared from premium stereo cassette decks.

As a listener my own preference is the option to experiment. My listening system has a mixer instead of a receiver, an infinitely-variable-speed turntable, filters, reverse capability, and a pair of ears.

An active listener might speed up a piece of music in order to more clearly perceive its macrostructure, or slow it down to hear articulation and detail more precisely. Portions of pieces are juxtaposed for comparison or played simultaneously, tracing the motifs of the Indian raga "Darbar" over Sengalese drumming recorded in Paris and a background mosaic of frozen moments from an exotic Hollywood orchestration in the 1950's--a sonic texture like a Mona Lisa which in close-up reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal.

During World War II, concurrent with Cage's re-establishing the percussive status of the piano, Trinidadians were discovering that discarded oil barrels could be cheap, available alternatives to their traditional percussion instruments which were, because of their socially invigorating potential, banned. The steel drum eventually became a national asset. Meanwhile, back in the States, for perhaps similar reasons, scratch and dub have in the eighties percolated through the Black American ghettos. Within an environmentally-imposed limited repertoire of possessions, a portable disco may have a folk music potential exceeding that of the guitar. Pawned and ripped-off electronics are usually not accompanied by users' guides or consumer warnings like "this blaster is a passive reproducer." Any performance potential found in an appliance is often exploited. A record can be played like an electronic washboard. Radio and disco jockeys layer the sounds of several recordings simultaneously. The sound of music conveyed with a new authority over the airwaves is dubbed, embellished, and manipulated in kind.

The Medium is Magnetic

Piracy or plagiarism of a work occurs, according to Milton, "if it is not bettered by the borrower." Stravinsky added the right of possession to Milton's distinction when he said, "A good composer does not imitate, he steals." An example of this better borrowing is Jim Tenney's "Collage 1" (1961) in which Elvis Presley's hit record "Blue Suede Shoes" (itself borrowed from Carl Perkins) is transformed by means of multi-speed tape recorders and razor blade. In the same way that Pierre Schaeffer found musical potential in his "objet sonor?," which could be (for instance) a footstep, heavy with associations, Tenney took an everyday music and allowed us to hear it differently. At the same time, all that was inherently Elvis radically influenced our perception of Jim's piece.

Fair use and fair dealing are respectively the American and the Canadian terms for instances in which appropriation without permission might be considered legal. Quoting extracts of music for pedagogical, illustrative, and critical purposes has been upheld as legal fair use. So has borrowing for the purpose of parody. Fair dealing assumes use which does not interfere with the economic viability of the initial work.

In addition to economic rights, moral rights exist in copyright, and in Canada these are receiving a greater emphasis in the current recommendations for revision. So Elvis's estate, for example, can claim the right to privacy and the right to protection of the special significance of sounds peculiar to a particular artist. The uniqueness of these sounds might be harmed by inferior unauthorized recordings, which might tend to confuse the public about an artist's abilities.

At present, in Canada, a work can serve as a matrix for independent deviations. Section 17(2)(b) of the Copyright Act of Canada provides "that an artist who does not retain the copyright in a work may use certain materials used to produce that work to produce a subsequent work, without infringing copyright in the earlier work, if the subsequent taken as a whole does not repeat the same design as the previous work."

My observation is that Tenney's "Blue Suede Shoes" fulfills Milton's stipulation, is supported by Stravinsky's aphorism, and does not contravene Elvis' morality or Section 17(2)(b) of the Copyright Act.

Aural Wilderness

The reuse of existing recorded materials is not restricted to the street and the esoteric. The single guitar chord occuring infrequently on Herbie Hancock's hit arrangement "Rocket" was not struck by an in-studio union guitarist but was sampled directly from an old Led Zeppelin record. Similarly, Michael Jackson unwittingly turns up on Hancock's follow-up clone "Hard Rock." Now that keyboardists are getting instruments with the button for this appropriation built in, they're going to push it, which is a lot easier than reconstructing the ideal sound from oscillation one. These players are used to fingertip replication, as in the case of the organ that had the titles of the songs from which the timbres were derived printed on the stops. So the equipment is available, and everybody's doing it, blatantly or otherwise. Melodic invention is nothing to lose sleep over (look what sleep did for Tartini). There's a certain amount of legal leeway for imitation; now can we, like Charles Ives, borrow merrily and blatantly from all the music in the air?

Ives composed in an era in which much of music existed in the public domain. Public domain is now legally defined, although it maintains a distance from the present which varies from country to country. In order to follow Ives' model we would be restricted to using "oldies" that in his time were current. Nonetheless, music in the public domain can become very popular, perhaps in part because the composer is no longer entitled to exclusivity, or royalty payments, for the song. Or as This Business of Music puts it, "The public domain is like a vast national park without a guard to stop wanton looting, without a guide for a lost traveler, and in fact, without clearly defined roads or even borders to stop the helpless visitor from being sued for trespass by private abutting owners."

Professional developers of the musical landscape know and lobby for the loopholes in copyright. On the other hand, many artistic endeavors would benefit creatively from a state of music without fences, but where, as in scholarship, acknowledgement is insisted upon.

"The Buzzing of a Titanic Bumblebee"

The property metaphor used to illustrate an artist's rights is difficult to pursue through publication and mass dissemination. The hit parade promenades the aural floats of pop on public display, and as curious tourists should we not be able to take our own snapshots though the crowd ("tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal") rather than be restricted to the official souvenir postcards and programs?

All popular music (and all folk music by definition) exists in the public domain, essentially if not legally. Listening to pop music isn't a matter of choice. Asked for or not, we're bombarded by it. In its most insidious state, filtered to an incessant bass line, it seeps through apartment walls and out of the heads of walkpeople. Although people in general are making more noise than ever before, fewer people are making more of the total noise: specifically, in music, those with megawatt PAs, triple-platinum sales, and heavy rotation. Difficult to ignore, pointlessly redundant to imitate, how does one not become a passive recipient?

Proposing their game plan to apprehend the Titanic once it had been located at the bottom of the Atlantic, oceanographer Bob Ballard of the Deep Emergence Laboratory suggested "you pound the hell out of it with every imaging system you have."

[David Mandl's note: In 1989, Oswald released Plunderphonic, a CD containing manipulations of music by The Beatles, Dolly Parton, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson, and others (and an unflatteringly manipulated photo of Michael Jackson on the cover to drive the point home). Sources were scrupulously credited, with catalog numbers, etc., provided. One thousand copies were produced, with Oswald footing the bill himself and giving them away for free (and specifically stipulating that no copies should be bought or sold). In February 1990, the Canadian Recording Industry Association demanded that Oswald cease distribution and destroy the three hundred remaining copies. Not wanting to fight a potentially costly lawsuit, Oswald complied.]

Mr. Oswald also wrote an essay for Cassette Mythos called Cassetricity Here is the index of this electronic book.

Click on the logo to return to Cassette Mythos Home Page, table of contents


Footnote 01

Mercury SR90149. The question of user (as opposed to listener) accessibility to the recording is a bit complicated, and the answer varies from country to country. Recordings fixed before 1972 are not protected by federal copyright in the U.S., but in some cases are protected under common law and state anti-piracy statutes. Symphony #3 was published and copyrighted in 1947 by Arrow Music Press. That the copyright was assigned to the publisher instead of the composers was the result of Ives' disdain for copyright in relation to his own work, and his desire to have his music distributed as widely as possible. At first, he self-published and distributed volumes of his music free of charge. In the postscript of 114 Songs, he refers to the possessor as the "gentle borrower." Sometime following these offerings, Ives granted permission for the publication of his music in the periodical New Music with the condition that he pay all the costs.

It seems he had been incensed to find that, according to its custom, New Music has taken out a copyright in the composer's name for the part of his Fourth Symphony that it had issued. Ives stalked up and down the room growing red in the face and flailing the air with his cane: "Everybody who wants a copy is to have one! If anyone wants to copy or reprint these pieces, that's fine! This music is not to make money but to be known and heard. Why should I interfere with its life by hanging on to some sort of personal legal right in it?" (From Charles Ives and His Music, by Henry and Sidney Cowell [Oxford University Press, 1955], pp. 121-2.) Later in his life Ives did allow for commercial publication, but always assigned royalties to other composers. Ives admired the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson who, in his essay "Quotation and Originality" said, "A man will not draw on his invention when his memory serves with a word as good; and, what you owe to me--you will vary the phrase, but I shall still recognize my thought. But what you say from the same idea, will have to me also the expected unexpectedness which belongs to every new work of nature. back

Footnote 02

The words emulator and mirage accurately describe the machines which bear their names. Window Recorder is a more ambitious cognomen for a device that can store longer programs than can most samplers, and therefore bridges the sense of the terms sampler and digital recorder. At the other end, digital delay units are in effect short-term samplers. back

Footnote 03

The following quotes are excerpts from a forum which took place during January 1986 on PAN, a musicians' computer bulletin board. Hensley: the opinion of the legal profesionals was that, because the hardware served to limit the number of possible sounds, and because it was not only possible but probable that two individuals could independently program identical sounds...because of all that, patches for synthesizers did not fall into the realm of material for which a copyright could be effectively protected.

R. Hodge: If everyone "has" and is using a particular sound, then what good is it? (Well that wouldn't make it bad, but it would lose its impact.) SPBSP: What good is a great sound if it is available to the "masses"? Well...what good is a Hammond B-3, a Stratocaster, a Fender Rhodes, or a Stradivarius? Great players and programmers give sounds freely, confident perhaps that it's not the size, it's the motion. Dave at Keyboard: I don't think a sound should be thought of in the same terms as a book, or a musical composition. Really fine work in any field would be greatly diminished by changing a word, removing a note, or resculpturing an appendage. A sound is more subjective, more like a recipe.

Bill Monk: My outlook has been that, while a patch is copyrightable (melodies are, though they are produced with far fewer parameters), it doesn't really matter. Those interested in "stealing" patches are probably unlikely to be able to make their own or to alter the stolen one in any significant way. But I can make plenty more with a little time and effort. It's the continuing ability that counts, not just having a few great patches.

M. Fischer: At this point it is not entirely clear that "sounds" are copyrightable, but a strong case can be made for their protection under copyright. The closest reported legal decision was one involving the Chexx hockey game (booing and cheering noises). That case held the sounds to be protectable sound recordings. Southworth: Various DX-7 programmers have told me that they "bury" useless data in their sounds so that they can prove ownership later. Sometimes the data is obvious, like weird keyboard scalings or inaudible operators, and sometimes it's not, like the nonsense characters (I seem to recall someone once thought they were Kanji) in a program name. Of course, any pirate worth his salt would find all these things and change them...Synth programmers are skilled craftspeople just like violin makers, so if they go to the trouble of making new and wonderful sounds that other people can use, they should be compensated for their efforts. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just selling the damn violin.

I also found the following quote on Sweetwater, a swapping network for the Kurzweill sampler (heavily promoted as a great piano mimic): "We cross-sampled most of the Emulator II's library (nothing is sacred)..." And then there's this quote from Digidesign's promo literature for the Sound Designer (software support for the Emulator): "Sound Designer's `pencil' lets you draw waveforms from scratch or repair sampled sounds. Have a click in a sound sampled from a record? Just draw out the waveform..."

Whose record? Samples are recordings and theoretically are copy-protected as such. But as PAN correspondent Bill Monk says, being able to prove ownership and actually going to court over a voice are two different things. back

Footnote 04

A Charter of Rights For Creators, Report of the Subcommittee on Revision of Copyright. This is the latest of sixteen studies published by the Canadian government in anticipation of a revised Canada Copyright Act. It follows From Gutenberg to Telidon, the final statement from the preceding party in power. The following quotes are from A Charter of Rights for Creators:

There is more at stake in the exploitation of a work than economic reward. Creative works are very much the expression of the personality of their authors. There is an identification between authors and their works. The Subcommittee agrees with the many witnesses who stated that creators cannot be fully protected unless their moral rights are recognized and enhanced.

Another consequence of the language used in the present Act is that moral rights appear to be protected only during the life of the author, rather than the usual term of life of the author plus fifty years. If moral rights are to be recognized as being as important as economic rights, the term of protection should be the same. (P. 6.) Witnesses before the Subcommittee also supported the recommendation in From Guttenberg to Telidon that: unauthorized modification of the original of an artistic work should be an infringement of the moral right of integrity, even in the absence of evidence of prejudice to the artist's honor of reputation. The Subcommittee agrees that this recommendation should be adopted together with its limitations relating to physical relocation, alteration of the structure containing the work, and legitimate restoration and preservation activities.

The Subcommittee wishes to make clear, however, that respect for works of the mind and their creators should not take the form of paternalism. Creation is after all one of the most self-assertive pursuits that can be imagined, precisely because it is a process fraught with considerable risk. Artists and other creators will always have to go through a struggle in which many fail and where there cannot be any guarantee of success. (P. 7.) back

Footnote 05

Of the numerous works covered by the Copyright Act, only one-a musical work{}is specifically defined. All the others are described by way of examples-a method of legal drafting which gives scope for flexibility if circumstances change. Because musical works are presently defined as "combinations of melody and harmony, or either of them, which have been printed, reduced to writing, or otherwise graphically produced or reproduced," much contemporary music may not be protected by copyright because it is never written down:

It is time for the law to apply the orientation of criteria of fixation as flexibly to musical works as it does to other works. It is irrelevant that a musical work is fixed by recording as opposed to written notation. A law revised in this manner would be consistent in treating, insofar as possible, all subject matter in the same manner. (Pp. 30-31.)

The present law assimilates sound recordings to musical, literary, or dramatic works, This categorization is outdated. It is time to protect sound recordings as a separate category of subject matter. In addition, the law should specify that the protection of a sound recording is totally independent of what is recorded. It is irrelevant whether what is recorded is a work which is protected by copyright or is in the public domain. For example, bird sounds do not constitute subject matter protected by copyright because such sounds are not works. But a sound recording of the same bird sounds would be protected as falling within the new category of copyright subject matter suggested in this recommendation. (P. 49.)

(References to the U.S. Copyright Act are taken from This Business of Music, by Shermel and Krasilovsky (Billboard Publications, 1979) and A Treatise on the Wages of Sinning for Sound, by Tom Schulteiss.) back

Footnote 06

This is Chris Cutler's poignant phrase, from File Under Popular (November Books, 1985), which also includes a good analysis of attemped definitions of popular music, and a definition of folk music integral to the use of that term in Plunderphonics:

First, the medium of its musical generation and perpetuation is tradition and is based in human, which is to say biological, memory. This mode centers around the ear, and can exist only in two forms: as sound and as memory of sound.

Second, the practice of music is in all cases an expressive attribute of a whole community which adapts and changes as the concerns and realities it expresses-or as the vocabulary of the collective aesthetic-adapt and change. There is no other external pressure upon it.

Third, there can be no such thing as a finished or definitive piece of music. At most there could be said to be "matrixes" or "fields." Consequently, there is also no element of personal property, though there is of course individual contribution. (File Under Popular, pp. 133-4.) back

Footnote 07

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Betamax decision on a suit by Walt Disney and Universal Studios against Sony. The courts decided that home taping off air television was breaking the law. Curiously, the record industry never filed a similar suit against audio recorder manufacturers. "Parasitic and predatory," says Stanly Gortikov, President of RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), regarding the blank tape industry. "Home taping has exploded. The shrapnel of that explosion drains the lifeblood of the musical renders weak the recording companies whose works have become a worldwide means of communication."

Our subhead "Blank Tape Is Derivative, Nothing of Itself" is by David Horowitz, of Warner Communications (from "The War Against Home Taping," in Rolling Stone, Sept 16, 1982, p. 62). back

Footnote 08

George Harrison was found guilty of subconsciously plagiarizing the 1962 tune "He's So Fine" by the Chiffons in his song "My Sweet Lord" (1970). In his speculative story Melancholy Elephants (Penguin Books, 1984), Spider Robinson writes about the pros and cons of rigorous copyright. The setting is half a century from now. Population has increased dramatically, with many people living past 120. There are many composers. The story centers on one person's opposition to a bill which would extend copyrights to perpetuity. In Robinson's future, composition is already difficult, as most works are being deemed derivative by the copyright office. The Harrison case is cited as an important precedent. Then, in the late 1980's, the great Plagiarism Plague really gets started in the courts, and from then on it's open season on popular composers. But it really hits the fan at the turn of the century, when Brindle's Ringsong is shown to be "substantially similar" to one of Corelli's concertos.

Robinson points out that the currently prevalent system of composition has a limited number of specifiable notes which can be combined in a large but finite number of ways:

Artists have been deluding themselves for centuries with the notion that they create. In fact they do nothing of the sort. They discover. Inherent in the nature of reality are a number of combinations of musical tones that will be perceived as pleasing by a human central nervous system. For millennia we have been discovering them, implicit in the universe--and telling ourselves that we "create" them. To create implies infinite possibility. As a species, I think we will react poorly to having our noses rubbed in the fact that we are discoverers and not creators. (P. 16.) back

Footnote 09

The ten millisecond figure is not based on any psychophysical research I've seen, but rather is a duration near the faster threshold of musical sense, which is approached by the examples given in hit parade recognition contests.

Footnote 10

Unlike the more traditional vehicles of creative expression such as writing, drama, or art, the new media of the twentieth century-records, films, broadcasts, computers-often require more equipment and a large and diversified creative team. Creation is no longer a craft but also an industry. This change not only involves new forms of economic organization, but reaches into the creative process itself. For example, in a sound recording the creative aspects include the choice of works, the contribution of musicians and performers, the work of sound mixers, and so on. Here the contribution of each team member is distinct but not separable from the final product; the outcome is greater than the sum of its parts. (A Charter of Rights for Creators, p. 13.) back

Footnote 11

The Beatles, especially Harrison, are an interesting case of reciprocity between fair use and the amassing of possession and wealth. "We were the biggest nickers in town; plagiarists extraordinaire," says Paul McCartney (Musician, Feb. 1985, p. 62). He owns one of the world's most expensive song catalogs, including a couple of state anthems. John Lennon incorporated collage techniques onto pieces like "Revolution 9," which contains dozens of looped, unauthorized fragments taped from radio and television broadcasts. George obviously wasn't "subconsciously" plagiarizing in the case of his LP Electronic Sound. This release consisted of nothing more than a tape of a demonstration electronic musician Bernie Krause had given Harrison on the then-new Moog synthesizer.

Krause: "I asked him if he thought it was fair that I wasn't asked to share in the disc's credits and royalties. His answer was to trust him, that I shouldn't come on like Marlon Brando, that his name alone on the album would do my career good, and that if the album sold, he would give me `a couple of quid.'" The record was released with George's name in big letters, while Krause's was obscured. back

Footnote 12

The PAUSE button on home cassette recorders is used for editing and collaging on the fly, i.e., selective editing in real time. This has led to a connoisseurism of the personality of the PAUSE on various decks. Each makes a different-sounding edit. Some can be operated more quickly and precisely than others. Several composers prefer the long-discontinued Sony TC 153-158 line to all others.

The Sony saga of consumer-targeted digital recorders is an interesting case of maintaining the pro/amateur gap. The relatively inexpensive PCM-F1 portable digital/analog converter was probably bought by more professionals than home recordists. It was essentially compatable with, and could substitute for, much more expensive professional equipment. Sony discontinued the F1, replacing it with the 701 E, which was not portable and did not have mic inputs. But it could still be adaped as a professional studio convertor. So Sony emasculated it, introducing the 501 E, similar but for most purposes studio-incompatible. back

Footnote 13

Quoted from Jon Hassell's essay "Magic Realism." The passage refers in an evocative way to some appropriations and transformations in Hassell's recordings. In some cases this type of use obscures the identity of the original, and at other times the sources are recognizable. back

Footnote 14

He" invented the technique of `slip-cueing': holding the disc with his thumb whilst the turntable whirled beneath, insulated by a felt pad. He'd locate with an earphone the best spot to make the splice, then release the next side precisely on the beat...His tour de force was playing two records simultaneously for as long as two minutes at a stretch. He would super the drum break of 'I'm a Man' over the orgasmic moans of Led Zeppelin's `Whole Lotta Love' to make a powerfully erotic mix...That anticipated the formula of bass drum beats and love one of the cliches of the disco mix." (Referring to DJ Francis Grosso at the Salvation club in New York in the mid-seventies, from Disco by Albert Goldman. Also referred to in "Behind the Groove," by Steven Harvey, in Collusion #5. back

Footnote 15

I have been unable to relocate the reference to this device which had, for example, a "96 Tears" stop. According to one source, it may have been only a one-off mockup in ads for the Roland Juno-60 synthesizer. back

Footnote 16

"A musical note like the buzzing of a titanic bumblebee which sped through space," was one account of the sounds that radio amateurs were receiving along the east American seaboard in 1914, a year after the "Rite of Spring" riot. No one knew what these sounds were until one experimenter recorded them on a hand-cranked Edison cylinder phonograph. When he accidentally played the recording back with the machine undercranked, he heard the slowing turning cylinder resolve the high-pitched whistles into the dots and dashes of Morse code.

Further investigation revealed that an American radio station was broadcasting these signals to German U-boats off the coast. A war happened to be going on at the time. The U.S. Navy seized the station, and a lid of secrecy was clamped on the recordings until recent times, when the Freedom of Information Act allowed the National Archives to make them available.

The Freedom of Information Act has made the titanic bumblebee available, but Alvin the Chipmunk, a character created by means of a specific tape recorder technique-double speed playback of the human voice-continues to retain exclusive rights. back

This article also appeared in Musicworks #34, The R? Records Quarterly, and Whole Earth Review.

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