Jon Leidecker / Wobbly - Variations
Presented in collaboration with Radio Web MACBA
A seven part series history of appropriative collage in music, compositions made using recordings of older ones. It's a practice that in the '80s became known sampling — after the digital sampler — a breakthrough instrument which was designed to mimic traditional musical instruments by allowing the player to trigger recordings of them back on a keyboard. But it didn't take long for musicians to realize that the true strength of the sampler was the way in which it made it easy easy to collage and manipulate the best sounds from their favorite records into new pieces of music. This practice entered the popular mainstream by the 80s, long after observers had already identified collage as the defining new art form of the 20th century — and the roots of this music go back just as far. Over the course of this series, Leidecker looks at these roots, as appropriative collage developed across experimental and mainstream paths.
VARIATIONS #1. Transition. 28.04.2009 (58' 08'')
The first episode of this overview of appropriative collage in music covers the years 1908 through 1961.
The idea of a completely original piece of music is fairly recent. Music was passed on through sound, through generations, even for centuries after the invention of written music. Only in the 14th century did it become standard practice for a composer to sign his name to a piece of music and claim it entirely as his own, giving rise to the cult of the individual composer. But as recording supplanted sheet music in the 20th century, the presence of communal influence became unavoidably obvious once again as composers began to use recordings to make new recordings. We can now hear the presence of more than one voice. And there is a reason why people don't say they listen to a record – they say that they play a record. From the beginning, recordings have been instruments.
The first episode of this overview of appropriative collage in music covers the years 1909 through 1961, beginning with Charles Ives, who composed in a cut and paste style with sheet music in a way that anticipated what later composers would do with multi-track tapes and mixers. We skip through decades to arrive at "Twisting the Dials", the Happiness Boys' 1928 tribute to late night radio surfing, before moving to John Cage's proto-sampling pieces for radio and tape, "Credo in US" and the "Imaginary Landscapes". We witness the million-selling cut-in records of Buchanan and Goodman and the resulting lawsuits, Richard Maxfield's tape cut-ups of a sermonizing preacher, and conclude with James Tenney's dedicated dissection of a single recording of Elvis: "Collage No. 1", the first 'remix'.
VARIATIONS #2. The Globe. 12.06.2009 (58' 46'')
An overview of sound collage during the sixties: from world music collages to the impact of John Cage and Marshall McLuhan on the Beatles.
If music initially hesitated to follow the lead of the visual arts in the field of collage, it made up for lost time in the sixties. Breakthroughs in high fidelity sound, an influx of consumer level tape recorders, and the continued influence of television building the notion of the Global Village were among the factors that led to an explosion in collage based composition. The most obvious of the shared qualities in these pieces was a tendency towards the use of World music, culled from as many disparate locations as possible. If the new availability of ethnological recordings from around the world had shattered the notion that music was a universal language, musical collage can be seen as an instant response to the rest of the world as it became unignorable – a way to explore things held in common and the potential for hybrid identities.
VARIATIONS #3. The Approach. 28.08.2009 (59' 51'')
In the seventies the avant-garde crosses the line into wholesale plundering of pop, and disco and dub become comfortable with manipulating released music.
As the sixties came to a close, the progressive optimism of World music collages were met and tempered by a new strain of self-examination and critique. Composers shifted away from using obscure, generic, or safely public domain sources for their pieces, and began to work with instantly recognizable samples from commercial pop music on a much wider scale. As the focus turned from global to cultural, Utopian visions gave way to a pragmatic sense of musical research and development. This episode documents the collages of the 70's that began demolishing the distinctions between art and popular music, from concrète to dub to disco to the attention-deficit-disordering world of FM radio.
VARIATIONS #4. The Explosion. 07.01.2010 (59' 57'')
The art music tradition of collage music is joined by the popular culture tradition of hip-hop, which established many of the same aesthetics solidly in the mainstream.
The late seventies saw the experimental tradition of collage continue in the form of Industrial Music & the cassette underground. But it took the sudden emergence of hip-hop culture for collage to make inroads towards the form of popular music, as DJs in the Bronx developed the mixer and the turntable into performative musical instruments for the stage. At the same time, academic and commercial firms brought a new and steadily more affordable device to the marketplace: a keyboard based, computer controlled instrument that came to be known as the Digital Sampler. Separate threads from different cultural backgrounds, traced as they rise to converge.
VARIATIONS #5. The Discipline. 28.07.2010 (58' 12'')
As art and industrial practitioners formally map out the discipline, hip-hop's discovery of digital sampling technology in the mid-80's provides a reintroduction to its original roots.
As art and industrial practitioners formally map out the discipline, hip-hop's discovery of digital sampling technology in the mid-80's provided a reintroduction its original roots in block party DJ collage. The international success of the new genre then prompts a legal backlash against the art form, with a rash of lawsuits filed against both commercially successful pop artists like De La Soul, Biz Markie & 2 Live Crew and left-field provocateurs like the KLF, Negativland and John Oswald.
The audience that had come of age during the era of the studio-produced pop song was ready for a genre of music which made explicit use of earlier recordings to construct new music. A song with recognizable but altered samples reveals to the listener the same editing techniques used by engineers to compose music from disparate elements in the studio. The audience's growing comfort with the definition of a recording as the true site of a musical composition, instead of merely a document of a live performance, gives rise to a music that can now be made from any sound, including those made by any previous artist, sourced from any recorded age.
VARIATIONS #6. The Library. 03.03.2011 (58' 37'')
Sounds increasingly detach from their sources and are used by new authors less as references than as simple objects.
We encounter the establishment of sound libraries, collections explicitly curated for further use: sound objects presented as authorless, unfinished ingredients. Though some libraries contain newly commissioned generic sounds, specifically designed for maximum flexibility, the most widely used sounds are often sourced from commercial recordings, freed from their original context to propagate across dozens to hundreds of songs. From presets for digital samplers to data CD ROMs to hip-hop battle records, sounds increasingly detach from their sources, used less as references to any original moment, and more as objects in a continuous public domain.
As hip-hop undergoes a conservative retrenchment in the wake of the early 90's sampling lawsuits, a widening variety of composers and groups expand the practice of appropriative audio collage as a formal discipline. The aesthetic of the sound libraries gives rise to recombinant genres like drum and bass, the use of sampling as romanticized representation leads to the first quadruple platinum World Music collage, and we encounter a novelty single that quietly heralds a musical form that would soon become known as the mashup.
VARIATIONS #7. The Composer. 19.06.2012 (58' 18'')
Mainstream audiences recognize appropriation once artists begin practicing it as self-expression.
In the nineties, sampling technology reached a level of sophistication and control that allowed musicians to truly assert themselves over their materials. While some collagists innovated by conifdently stepping into the traditional role of the romantic composer, presenting the resulting music as an expression of self, others continued to explore the intrinsic meanings suggested by the craft itself.
In this episode we trace through examples of the popular music that brought the term 'remix' into the popular lexicon, hear the CD player joining the turntable as a live performance instrument, and connect digital sampling to the history of musical borrowing: written notation’s classical equivalent to the editing techniques that modern composers use to transform existing music into new compositions.
Jon Leidecker / Wobbly - Main Page on UbuWeb Sound
Jon Leidecker / Wobbly and Barbara Golden - Women In Electronic Music
People Like Us, Matmos and Wobbly - Wide Open Spaces (2003)
People Like Us and Wobbly - There Goes Nothing (2002)
People Like Us and Wobbly - Live at Black Box (2002)
People Like Us and Wobbly - Live At ATA, 12 October 2002 (2002)
People Like Us, Wobbly and Don Joyce - Baby Makes Three 2 on Over The Edge, KPFA (2002)
People Like Us, The Jet Black Hair People and Wobbly - Campfire Special on KZSU (2000)