24 Cutler

Plunderphonia

Chris Cutler (b. 1947) has been a key figure in vanguard music and a significant presence on the British free improvisation scene. Equally important as a musical organizer, distributor, and theorist, he responsible for the formation of "Rock in Opposition" and the founding of Recommended Records. (138)

"Until 1877, when the first sound recording was made, sound was a thing predicated on its own immediate disappearance; today it is increasingly an object that will outlast its makers and consumers" (138). Recording has extended the lifespan of music which would otherwise be fleeting and instantaneous. "Whatever living music does, chances are that the results will be recorded— and this will be their immortality" (152). Yet a sound recording "has no depths, reveals no process and is no palimpsest. It's just there; always the first, always a copy. It has no aura, nor any connection to a preset source" (144) which makes it prime raw material. Recording technology renders " the clear distinction between performance and composition null" (140) and so the questions begin to arise. Amidst these questions of legality, "plunderphonics was proposing routinely to appropriate as its raw material not merely other people's tines or styles but finished recordings of them" (140). This might sound absurd, but where then is the line drawn? A certain length? "As a pirated cultural artefact, a found object, as debris from the sonic environment, a plundered sound also holds out an invitation to be used because of its cause and because of all the associations and cultural apparatus that surround it" (146). Sound is not recycled for no reason, or necessarily for spite, but to create something more. "The moral and legal boundaries which currently constitute important determinants in claims for musical legitimacy, impede and restrain some of the most exciting possibilities in the changed circumstances of the age of recording" (141). "Plundered sound carries, above all, the unique ability not just to refer but to be; it offers not just a new means but a new meaning. It is this dual character that confuses the debates about originality which so vex it" (146).

"Plagiarism, once rejected as insupportable, has today emerged both as a standard procedure and as a consciously self-reflexive activity, raising vexed debates about ownership, originality, copyright, skill and cultural exhaustion" (138). "Montage, collage, borrowing, bricolage have been endemic in the visual arts since at least the turn of the century. The importation of readymade fragments into original works was a staple of cubism" (144). So why, then, is it frowned upon when carried to music? I agree that "when 'the same thing' is so different that it constitutes a new thing, it isn't 'the same thing' anymore" (142), and so it should be recognized as something new, though again the question of where to draw the line arises (something which I have not yet decided for myself). "Several currents run together here. There is a new technological aspect: plundering is impossible in the absence of sound recording. There is the cultural aspect: since the turn of the century the importance of readymade materials into artworks has been a common practice, and one which has accumulated eloquence and significance. The re-seeing or re-hearing of familiar material is a well-established practice and, in high-art at least, accusations of plagiarism are seldom raised" (155).

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