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The Plundering Heard

A Chat With John Oswald

By Lee Gardner | Posted 6/6/2001

City Paper: So what do you think about Seeland's appropriation of your work? John Oswald: I think it's fantastic. I think it's a better deal for consumers and less administration hassles for my company.

CP: Will you receive any profits from it yourself?

JO: No. The way it works, there might just be enough money to keep re-pressing it if it keeps selling.

CP: Many of the tracks, including the much-disputed Plunderphonic material, are available for free download on your Web site. Why a boxed set?

JO: Well, MP3 sounds kind of lousy to me. But I think mostly because I'm still attracted to the album format as an artifact. You can pile in a whole lot of text and illustrations, and we could also make something that would be [filed with other boxed sets] and made available next to any kind of music. I'm so happy when I find my name in the pop section in a record store, rather than the experimental-music section.

CP: You also compose music for dance, films, and so on. Hasn't your work in the "straight" music world made it easier to do your more subversive work, at least more so than if you were a plumber or something?

JO: That appears to be the case, but that's not the case at all. I'm a terrible person for taking orders and doing things to spec. If I worked as a plumber, I think a lot of people would have very strange plumbing.

CP: Do you have any lingering ill will or annoyance toward the artists or labels who have squashed your work in the past?

JO: No. I feel like in the few cases when anybody from the music industry has come up with a serious proposal where "We've got material, do you want to do something with this material?", we've come up with some kind of agreement and we've done it. I've read a couple of those books about high crime in the music business, but as far as making contractual agreements and making concessions to the way I want things, it's always worked fine. I seem to work "inside" a little bit more in the classical-musical industry, working with orchestras and things like that, in spite of the fact that, in my opinion, I'm much less skilled and much less versatile than I am in the recording industry.

CP: You got a spate of remixing work after the Plunderphonic controversy. What's your take on current remix culture?

JO: Well, I don't hear a lot of stuff. It [has] become difficult for plunderphonics. There are such a variety of versions available of a particular recorded work that there's no iconic example of that particular song or piece of music anymore. If I want to transform something, I want it to [be as iconic as the original recording], to be something people recognize. Well, if there's a whole pile of versions of the song around, what is the source? But what I'm trying to do, and perhaps what [most remixers are] trying to do, is to take a song and make it into something different and surprise you in some way.

CP: Given the potential complications, do you think that the 69 Plunderphonics 96 set will be able to deliver your work to record store shelves and maybe even keep it there for a while?

JO: Well, I'm always hoping that. And I'm always hoping that its something that listeners can find.

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