John Oswald - Plunderphonic
Record Label: (No Official Distributor / Not for Sale)
Release Date: 1989
Reviewers tend to liken their subjected album and artist to the famous pioneers of the sound, or on the other side of the spectrum, superannuated music that nobody, probably not even the artist, knew. Either way, reviewers do this to show how well-informed they are with the genre, telling the world that reviewers such as them shouldn't be messed with. That's a good thing, though.
John Oswald is a particular asset to such music assessors. Whilst being one of the most atmospheric spearheads to the experimental electronic, he remains relatively unheard of by the masses. The fact that his music is simply chopping up snippets from a single song and stuffing them in uncanny time signatures, has 1) led the public to exemplify his music as garbage, and also 2) has called on a copyright infringement bazaar for every release.
Enter Plunderphonic, the album that "started it all." A tiring 25-song mixtape that stays true to Oswald's idea of Plunderphonics, where the sample of a song is its singular source. Alliterations elsewhere, it simply means that a musical piece is created from just one song, only served shaken.
The album starts off with an interesting take on Michael Jackson's "Bad", tentatively titled "Dab". "Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad," the repeated word opens up a closet full of schizophrenic homosexuals. The song generates an overview of the whole album: Ridiculously familiar sounds in a ridiculously unfamiliar arrangement. Before thoughts on the mish-mashedness could carry on any further, "Dab" strains into a never-ending fall of ambient sounds based on Jacko's voice, bringing up a moot point: "Is Plunderphonic the madness it truly showboats itself to be, or does it also have a mysterious, repressed soul amongst the clatter?"
As your ideas on musicality delve, the track list trudges down Elvis Presley, James Brown, and like an unwanted child you secretly love, in comes Metallica. The Metallica-based piece is "Net," a cantankerous glitch-metal noise that sets itself out to wake you up from your train of thought.
It also serves as a signal, informant that Plunderphonic is far from over. The next song is "Birth," based from Birthday from the Beatles, a five-minute smorgasbord of nonsensical guitar riffs put together as if they made sense. The songs after "Birth" indicate a change in Oswald's style, a more relaxed, saccharine approach to his own style, less restrictive and more rhythmic.
Plunderphonic lasts an hour and ten minutes. It is simply insurmountable by the first listen, and it would take years of listening before one could even break down the whole cadence of "Brown," a Public Enemy-derived track full of gunshots, screams and insane patterns. But as far as musicianship goes, is this style of music truly difficult to make? It probably was back in the 1980s. Computers could only do so much back then and it would require a lot of them in an orchestrated free jazz to compose such tunes. Yet, in the modern age, a Garageband and a persistent refusal to sleep for a night is all that is required to produce something akin to Plunderphonic. Why should Oswald be known for his micro-sampling when it's currently as simple as ABC in a layman's eyes to replicate?
We could ask that to the Beach Boys or the Beatles, or any other founding father of an elementarily uncomplicated music genre for that matter.
The album closes with a six-minute movement that could pass for drone music, humming back off into abyss, just like "Dab." It's almost as if John Oswald wanted us to ponder about how music works as we progress through his album.