Breaking Your Sound Barriers #4: Stolen Sounds

Breaking Your Sound Barriers is a series of blog posts related to the upcoming Sound Edge Festival, which takes place from February 10th - 18th in locations all over Birmingham, including Seasick Records. This piece comes courtesy of Sam Prickett, the Music Editor for Weld

Let’s talk plunderphonics. It’s a fun (if kind of pretentious) term that pretty broadly refers to recordings that sample other recordings. It’s attributed to Canadian composer John Oswald, whose music — for instance, 1993’s Plexure — comes pretty close to simulating the experience of being beaten to death with an FM radio playing the hits of the ‘80s. 

It’s not quite definable in genre terms because it’s all about taking older music, stripping it of context, and throwing it into a new one. The Avalanches' 2000 classic Since I Left You, for instance, samples dozens of recordings — including the 1950s  pop song “Tammy” and a routine by sketched comedy duo Wayne and Shuster — to create a seamless mix of instrumental hip-hop. (DJ Shadow accomplished something similar with his seminal 1996 record ...Endtroducing).

Swedish electronic musician The Field has built a career on transforming songs on a micro level. His best work — and it’s hard to beat his first record, From Here We Go Sublime, is built on pulsing, seconds-long samples woven into a hypnotic musical fabric. You can tell it’s a guitar at the foundation of the dreamy pulse of  “A Paw in My Face,” and the sample coyly flirts with familiarity until it finally unspools at the song’s ending — it’s the guitar solo from Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” 

Death Grips’ Niggas on the Moon does something similar with the vocals of Björk, chopping her otherworldly croons into barely recognizable samples, then having drummer Zach Hill turn them into machine-gun blasts of percussion to form the album’s beats. 

There’s also the recent internet trend of vaporwave, which like “A Paw in My Face” narcotized vintage pop into something decidedly stranger. (There’s apparently a sort of satirical commentary on capitalism going on here, but as with anything that grew to popularity through sites like 4chan, it’s best to probably not take that too seriously.) Here’s the song “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” by Macintosh Plus, which heavily samples Diana Ross’s “It’s Your Move.” (It’s arguably an improvement.) As one YouTube commenter suggests, “this is what drowning in a shopping mall fountain sounds like .”