Appropriation and Remix Culture in our Technological Times

Here’s the entire film via UbuWeb

In “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative” John Oswald disguises the technologies that are changing the way we see piracy. As I read this essay I couldn’t help but think of the fact that this essay was written in 1985. In 85 I was a young child and totally obsessed groups like Eric B & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions, and Public Enemy. The hip-hop music of that time was heavily sample driven music and now from this class I realize what has caused the death of the music I loved as a child. If I start to think of some of the best albums of that time (Bestie Boys “Paul’s Boutique”) I know that albums like that will never made again because I would be too expensive to get all the rights for the samples. I also see that the main difference now is that they stopped going after the artist for a cut of their new art form and started going after their fans.

This essay makes me sad because the optimism that Oswald has that laws will change with the growth of technology.But here we are over twenty years latter and it has not happened. It has only escalated to turning ordinary every day people into criminals for downloading or sharing the music that they love. I agree with Oswald that music is pounded into or heads without our consent yet, if we happen to take it in and use it we are wrong. I also agree with the idea that someone owning a sequence of note is just ridiculous.

On a completely different note I just say a mash-up on the Oscars. I will try to find it and post it on the blog.


The first concept Oswald mentions, to plain and simply “reproduce sound”, is a mainstream, (and perhaps out of date) term which society interprets as their reaction to sounds they are exposed to in the actual worldwide media. Reproduction of such media allows a viewer/listener/interpreter to become a filter; however, the main dichotomy that perhaps the interpreter may or may not recognize is what this reproduction means to the original artist who created the work, and also, how the the public recognizes such modifications as: A.) A valid as a sort of ode to the original piece, or B.) Perhaps misleading, or straying too far from the original artist’s vision.

Further into the article, Oswald also brings up the mentality that original artists may view people who tamper with their, or others’ original public works as “the unblessed”. These one-sided solely (or as they may claim) “genuine” artists, haven’t quite convinced those a part of remixing culture that they are participating in a less significant or less meaningful movement to reconstruct previous works. These genuine artists are hard to 100% agree with. This being because, obviously such artists had to have had previous inspiration, and stylistic influences that impacted his/her own work. Not saying that the artist couldn’t produce an original melody of their own, but most likely what they create will branch off of sounds they are already familiar with. Inspiration is something that is universal, and it’s not natural to have that being restricted to play with, it’s how you claim to present your version of it, and how you choose to accredit the sources which you collected and used.

In 1976, “U.S. Copyright Act was revised to protect sound recordings in that country for the first time.” This seemed to be around the time where there was a defined yearning amongst society who were being bombarded with culture and media every day, to have their say for how they would express it, and recontextualize it. Once the issue was announced as an actual “Act”, it obviously was becoming an phenomenal idea which was hard to sustain amongst all people. It’s hard to say how much of a difference the government has to do with preventing people the liberty to express their interest in something they recognize as special, and inspirational. Whether or not that liberty turns into a personal project, or a subcultural phenomenon, is another concern which taps in to the concept of personal vs. external use.

Oswald then drops in the quotation: “recordings were not artistic creations.”

I don’t know what else to say about this quote, except that it pretty much stands as an outrageous statement to me. I mean, I suppose that it was an ambitiously defiant approach to mention when recording was first becoming mainstream, because nowadays, recordings are considered/oftentimes recognizable works of art. The art of recording has grown since technologies advanced. Instead of creating a song to perform over and over again, modern artists visualize how they can create a single perfect recording. In this sense, it gives a different way of looking at a song. It makes it seem more like a package, rather than a performance that may change slightly every time. The duration and the melody of a recording differs on a level of effecting the audio, than in contrast, presenting it raw.

The concept of the remix culture ties into the nature of mimicry. However the mimicking is blurred by the modifications that the remixer has made to the original source. Whether being declared only a remixer, or an artist who appropriates certain riffs of melodies, there is a direct drive that comes from the desire to pursue this replication.

I also found it fascinating to hear a bit from a historical perspective when Oswald mentions: the “mechanical manticores from the 19th century”. In referencing this, It projects that mimicry was a desire of past generations, only, the technology we are familiar with today could not be imagined in their time, so they had to work with the tools that were accessible to them, or invent new ones. It’s also amazing how the same idea can span back thousands of years in history, but the way these ideas were presented, if they were even ever pursued, was in the most popular medium of the time.

The more a listener can listen, and re-listen to a recording, the more familiar they become with it. This in response, can enthuse a listener to take the song/recording/melody in their own hands and interpret it in their own way. This concept is represented as Oswald says: “as producing and sound reproducing technology becomes more interactive, listeners are once again, if not invited, nonetheless encroaching upon creative territory.”

Towards the end of the article, the terms “fair use” and “fair dealing” are presented. This is sort of the middle ground of interpreting/modifying/recreating an original idea or source material. It seems like fair use is a term for personal usage of an original work, rather than exposing it to a public audience. It’s as if you created a video, reinacting a scene from a movie, or doing a cover of an already-made song, but never posting it anywhere on the internet, such as sites like YouTube.

As Oswald makes a concluding statement by saying that “there’s a certain amount of legal leeway for imitation.” I think that, in the end, a listener decides what their limitations are, nearly based on individual morals, which may be impacted by external forces, or more so driven by a personal prerogative.

-Nicole R