Oswald, John

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Oswald, John

Oswald, John, provocative Canadian composer and sound engineer; b. Kitchener-Water loo, May 30, 1953. In 1989 he produced and distributed, free of charge, Plunderphonic, a CD anthology of original pieces made up of “plunderphones” (“electroquotes or macro-samples of familiar sound”) derived from revised performances of recordings by well-known artists, including James Brown, Lorin Maazel with the Cleveland Orch., George Harrison, Dolly Parton, Glenn Gould, Bing Crosby, Michael Jackson, and Count Basie. Oswald’s “plunderphones” are the substance of each of his 24 tracks, themselves sequenced into typical genre groupings, with the exception of “compilation tracks of a particular performer, juxtapositions of complimentary performances by unrelated performers, unusual rearrangements of existing compositions, and the James Brown tracks, which are vehicles for various types and sources of appropriation.” Virtually no extraneous music is added, all of the sounds heard being accurate, unprocessed reproductions of the originals. The overall effect is both less and more complicated than Oswald’s explanation—repelling and compelling, with referential musical modules flitting around like bytes of information in the bowels of a computer. Oswald is actively involved in the issue of copyright morality; he has lectured widely on the subject and also wrote extensively for a variety of publications (Keyboard, The Whole Earth Review, Grammy Pulse, etc.). Plunderphonic itself carries no copyright warning; in its place is a “shareri-ght” insignia, which encourages reproduction but prohibits sale. Since 1980 Oswald has been director of Mystery Laboratory of Toronto, the “aural research, production, and dissemination facility” where Plunderphonic was produced; he is also music director of the North American Experience Dance Co. (from 1987) and co-founder of Musicworks, an informative Canadian journal which emphasizes the experimental and avant-garde. Oswald is currently designing the soundtrack for Stress, an 8-screen movie by Bruce Mau, and also composing a one-note electroacousmatic work entitled Jues for the Rien a Voir festival in Montreal. He himself also appeared in two feature films, John Greyson’s un©ut and Craig Baldwin’s Sonic Outlaws. Oswald has been critically touted as both “Canada’s most important composer-musician” (Montreal Mirror) and “the maddest man on the planet” (London Observer).


VT, monophonie recording (1973); Burrows, monostomatic recording (1974); Go, Stop for 2 Musicians (1975); Mrs. Schultz Overdubbing, stereo recording (1976); Animal Voices Human, monostomatic recording (1977); Moose and Salmon, stereo recording (1978); Warm Wind Pressure and Aura for Ensemble without Instruments (1979); Alto Sax, monostomatic recording (1980); Beat, recording for dance (1981); Jazz Edit, monophonie recording (1981); Jazz Edit, monophonie recording (1982); Bell Speeds, stereo recording (1983); Pitch, environment (1976–84); Fossils, monostomatic recording (1985); Para De, stereo recording for dance (1986); Skindling Shades, stereo recording for dance (1987); Wounded for Miming Musicians with Recording (1988); Zorro for Soprano and Bass Vocalists for dance (19889); Plunderphonic, recordings (1979–89); Spectre for String Quartet with Stereo Recording (1990); Acupuncture, sextet (1991); Fence, recording for dance (1991); Pitch Pivot, dark edifice (1991); die Öffnung, trompe l’oreille recording for dance (1992; also an orch. arrangement as Classic, 1994); Plexure, stereo recording (1992–93); Mach for String Quartet with Recording (1993; rev. 1995); (m)utterD & (m)utterK for Mezzo-soprano and Recording (1993; rev. 1995); Aphasia for Silent Woodwind Quintet (1994); Early 20th Century Woodwind Quintet (1994); Orchestral Tunning Arrangement for Orch. (1994); Exquisite Corpse, stereo recording for dance (1994–95); Gray Folded, stereo recording (1994–95); Senacade, sonic motorcade (1994–95); 24f/s, stereo recording for dance (1994–95); Bildbescreibung/Surveillance, trilingual play (1996); Brazilianaires, quadralingual radio play recording (1996); Metropolis, recording for silent play (1996); Fore for String Quartet (1997); Homonymy for Mixed Ensemble and Bilingual Cinema (1998); /(delta gradient) for Ondes Marti-not and Brass Octet (1999); The Idea of This for Vocal Recordings, Piano, and Orch. (1999); Janéad O’]akriel, vision (Moving Stills) (2000); Jues, octophonal recording (2000); Stress, dodecaphonal recording for 8 cinemas (2000).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire