John Oswald (composer)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

John Oswald (born May 30, 1953 in Kitchener, Ontario) is a Canadian composer, saxophonist, media artist, and dancer. His best known project is Plunderphonics, the practice of making new music out of previously existing recordings (see sound collage and musical montage).

Oswald has been devising plunderphonic-style compositions since the late '60s. His 1975 track "Power" married frenetic Led Zeppelin guitars to the impassioned exhortations of a Southern US evangelist years before hip hop discovered the potency of the same (and related) ingredients. Similarly, his 1990 track "Vane", which pitted two different versions of the song "You're So Vain" (the Carly Simon original and a cover by Faster Pussycat) against each other, was a blueprint for the contemporary pop subgenre, 'glitch pop' or 'mashup (music)'. Oswald coined the term "plunderphonics" to describe his craft. In 1993 Oswald released Plexure. Arguably his most ambitious composition to date, it attempted to microsample the history of CD music up to that point (1982 - 1992) in a 20 minute collage of bewildering complexity. The ambition of this piece would later be recalled by the British bootlegger Osymyso, whose "Intro-Inspection" captured the pop-junkie feel of Plexure. Osymyso, who at the time was unaware of Oswald's work, used the same structure of an accelerando (putting his source material in an order from the slowest tempo to the fastest), to link a few bars each of 100 songs, creating a simpler sound than the thousands of overlapping and morphing pop "electroquotations" in Plexure.

In addition to his extensive work in "plunderphonics", Oswald is also involved with acoustic music, as a composer and improviser. His compositions for orchestra often do include electronic elements, such as Concerto for Wired Conductor and Orchestra (?), but has also composed for acoustic ensembles, such as Acupuncture (1991). Oswald improvises with the saxophone. Oswald is also actively involved in dance, as a composer for dance works, as a collaborator with choreographers, and as an active Contact Improviser.

Oswald founded the record label fony, which produced the retrospective box set 69 plunderphonics 96 (a.k.a. Plunderphonics 69/96) and reissued Grayfolded.



  • "If creativity is a field, copyright is the fence"


List of Works

  • aparanthesi A (2000-03)
  • aparanthesi B (2000-03)
  • Bell Speeds (1983, 90)
  • Blur (Bolton Chili Overdire); 1 Moment, 2 Wow, 3 Nest
  • Burrows (1974-75)
  • Compact (R.E.M.T.V. Hammercamp); 1 Phase, 2 Snap
  • Cyfer (Depeche Mould)
  • from Burrows: silence to say (1974)
  • Grayfolded (1995)
  • Homonymy (1998), flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trombone, percussion, violin, cello, doublebass and video tape
  • Mad Mod (Jello Bellafonte)
  • Manifold (Bing Stingspreen); 1 Philosophy, 2 Phase
  • Massive (Ozzie Osmond); 1 Hazzard, 2 Warning, 3 Treacherous
  • Ohmigone (2001)
  • Open (Bo No Ma); 1 Suck, 2 Rip
  • Ridge (2001)
  • Skindling Shadés (1987)
  • "Spectre" (1990)
  • Temperature (Beastie Shop Beach); 1 Tempus Amoré (Hyper Love Time), 2 Tempo Pact
  • Un paysage (Ouverture) (1996)
  • Urge (Marianne Faith No Morrisey); 1 Slow, 2 Slice, 3 Blink
  • Velocity (Aretha Vanilli); 1 Tremendous, 2 Tremulous
  • Worse (Anthrax Squeeze Factory)
  • Zoom (Sinead O'Connick Jr); 1 Alone, 2 Gogh

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "John Oswald (composer)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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