Friday, November 04, 2005

2001 Sound Unseen - II


Back to the Plunderphonics section of the 2001 Sound Unseen underground film and music festival...

Its all coming back to me now. I've organized a few shows since, and its not really as exciting as it used to be, but that first one - three days at the Oak Street and Bryant Lake Bowl, meeting so many artists I admired - was really very exciting. I had taken about a week off of work and just spent the entire time arranging shows or hanging out with the artists. I just wish I had taken more pictures!

After the Tape-beatles performance at the Oak Street on Sunday, October 30th, we were all pretty excited to see Wobbly perform with John Oswald at the Bryant Lake Bowl - the next day. I pretty much knew exactly what to expect from Wobbly, having played his live recordings on Some Assembly Required, but I had no idea what John Oswald was going to bring to the table.

Plunderphonics is Oswald's term, by the way, pretty much exclusively. Though of course, like so many words, its becoming a part of the vernacular (like xerox, or bandaid, which were originally words used to describe specific products - we now use these terms to describe many similar products). We had a very interesting email dialogue about the history and definition of the term, in preparation for his appearance at the festival - and he did give us permission to use it as loosely as it was applied to this series: as an umbrella title for what all the sound collage artists (Tape-beatles, Escape Mechanism, John Oswald, Wobbly, Wet Gate and Steev Hise) were doing.

It makes sense, from the perspective of plunder=to appropriate, and phonics=sounds, as we all are all taking (appropriating) sounds from the media environment, to create new compositions. Historically, however, as Steev Hise put it so well in his introduction to the Plunderphonic section of that year's festival, "Plunderphonics," as John Oswald intended the word to describe his own work, refers to creations which utilize obvious "sonic quotes" from the previously recorded work of ONE specific artist at a time. So, say I sample three or four seconds from each of the 12 tracks found on DJ Food's "Kaleidoscope." The resulting sound collage would be "Plunderphonic." However, if I took that collage and added samples from the Avalanches, Big City Orchestra and Cut Chemist, the resulting work would be a composition which Oswald referred to as POLYplunderphonic - as it samples from more than one artists work.

I'm sure Oswald must feel honored to have his term used to describe the entire "movement," as it were. He's not the first to create this type of work, but he's certainly one of the most recognized names associated with it - which is why we were all so pleased to be peforming with him in the festival. I was particularly happy to have been able to arrange for Wobbly to perform on the same stage with him on Monday, November 1st, as the album Wobbly had just released ("Wild Why"), he had told me, was in fact inspired by Oswald and his album "Funky X." (It makes even more sense if you spell "Why," as "Y"). (sorry if that was pretty obvious!)

That night, Oswald took the stage first, and we were all treated to a rather dramatic presentation on Plunderphonics, by way of versions of his 1993 release, Plexure. The theater was almost completely dark as he lectured, and a very subtly evolving projection of a photocollage shifted silently behind him as he alternately spoke, answered questions and presented examples of his work. Wobbly went on right afterward, with the polar opposite of Oswald's presentation, in tone. Brightly lit and at a break neck pace, he pounded through a spectacular performance of his Wild Why composition, using three small commercial samplers, whose blinking "red buttons" were fondly admired by the Tape-beatles, et al, after the show.

There was a feeling of revelrie afterwards, as The Tape-beatles, Wobbly, John Oswald, Steev Hise and myself (joined by Kevin Karpinski, who had been shooting footage of the festival) took to the lanes next door at the Bryant Lake Bowl (the theater space and lanes are all part of the same small complex on Lake Street, here in Minneapolis). Some of us bowled barefoot, and we all drank beer, completely oblivious to the fact that the ball rack was slowly, but surely, overflowing. It turned out someone was sampling a new ball with every throw! How appropriate. Here are some photos, taken by the Tape-beatles, of our bowling match. I was the only one trying, apparently, as the scorecard seems to indicate.

Two events down, two to go (from 2001's Sound Unseen). Tune in next time. Thanks for reading!
Jon Nelson


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