Sunday, July 26, 2020

am@random – Something You Haven’t Heard Of – And May Not Want To


The Dada-ist, or anti-art, Movement began with Marcel Duchamp in the 1920s. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is fortunate to have one of the world’s greatest collection of the “anti-artist." His most famous work was meant to be viewed in a much different manner than it has been these past 100 years. The glasswork piece, “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,” 1915-23, was set for installation in the museum’s north wing façade when the fragile work was smashed into little pieces. In a Kintsugi manner, Duchamp spent four years piecing the work back together. More controversial, though, is Duchamp’s "found object, “Fountain,” one his “readymade” pieces, was simply a urinal purchased from the J. L. Mott Iron Works, 118 Fifth Avenue, N.Y. The artist brought the urinal to his studio at 33 West 67th Street and signed the porcelain, "R. Mutt 1917.” Despite its prominence at PMA, there are many who question whether the piece is art or not. I won’t argue that here.
Instead, I bring to your attention the non-music, Plunderphonics. Essentially created by British artist John Osborne, and explained in an essay titled, “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative.” The short of it: Plunderphonics is the musical equivalent of Duchamp’s "found" object art (hence "plunder"). Plunderphonics is “any music made by taking one or more existing audio recordings and altering them in some way to make a new composition;” essentially, sampling to the nth degree. Kirby’s work is exhausting, utilizing in his recordings thousands of sampled – i.e. plagiarized – sounds from known works. The samples are left as snippets, sped up or slowed down.
Here, I have to take ownership for the idea long before Osborne. Those of you from the era may have discovered the genre simultaneously. It was common practice to create our own mixtapes by borrowing records or recording songs from the radio. When you tired of them, you tape over what you had, each iteration leaving snippets of sounds from previous recordings. The tapes included samples, half-songs, soundbites and audio ephemera that I’d call accidental rather than found music.
But is it music or just nonsense that will go away? As mentioned, Osborne’s work is exhausting, and yet there is an artistic factor in the time invested in creating the found work. Not so much with James Kirby’s work. Of his early work, Kirby called it a “horrific family fortieth birthday party where all of a sudden fights erupt…” His most recent work, a piece some six hours long, “Everywhere at the End of Time,” is something altogether more perplexing, and lazy. Don’t get me wrong, I kind of enjoy its ambient, elevator, ballroom at the Overlook Hotel dreaminess (The Shining), but is it music? What Kirby has done is to merely take American standards lifted from 78rpm records and added a haunted mansion-esque distortion to it. The piece is supposedly a soundtrack to dementia, and while I can see that, is this just piracy of those long gone unable to fight for their intellectual property? I love it and hate it, and like the work of Duchamp, if it weren’t “art,” I’d probably pee on/in it.

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