The Electroacoustic Music Store

Artists John Oswald

Multifaceted artist John Oswald nearly always incorporates an electroacoustic element to his productions. His works are part of the regular repertoire of Kronos Quartet, Culberg Ballet of Sweden, Ballet of Monaco, Deutsche Opera Ballet Berlin, Modern Quartet and Penderecki Quartet. Among his recent activities are a sound procession for Brazilia; a choregraphic work for twenty two choregraphers (among which Bill T Jones, Margie Gillis and Holly Small); commissions from groups such as Ballet de l’Opéra of Lyon, Change of Heart, SMCQ as well as Dutch National Radio and the CBC.

He has just completed a work for orchestra, robot piano and the sung and disincarnate voice of Glenn Gould for the National Ballet of Canada. In the recent years, he has created a collection of photographic portraits for a series of Moving Stills. One of his “plunderphonics” (audio-video collages made from existing works) was presented at Hayward Gallery of London in May 2000. He is currently creating the soundtrack for Stress, a Bruce Mau film which will be projected onto eight screens, to be presented in Vienna in May. Among his recent productions, there is a radiophonic creation in four languages (Brazillian, Dutch, English and German); writing of the animation and score for Homonymy (for chamber music and cinema); writing of a music for the classic silent film Metropolis; production of a soundtrack for the gay porn movie Hustler White; as well as his participation in the movies Un©ut by John Greyson and Sonic Outlaws by Craig Baldwin.

John Oswald’s work is all about metamorphosis, “détournement” and eclectism often realised from existing materials. In 1990, his most famous recording, Plunderphonics (sound collage made from existing musics) whose cover artwork represented a naked Michael Jackson with a woman’s body, has been destroyed by the prudes of the recording industry. Since then, his music was published by Elektra, Avant, ReR Megacorp, Blast First, Swell and empreintes DIGITALes transforming the musics and performances of Stravinsky, Metallica, James Brown, György Ligeti, Dolly Parton and many others. A retrospective of his Pluderphonics is currently under preparation. The first disc of his production around the Grateful Dead, Grayfolded, was chosen as the number one international production of the decade by the Toronto Sun. The final version of Grayfolded, finished this year, was selected as the best productions of the year by Rolling Stone, New York Times and many others. That same year, his recording of improvised music, Acoustics, was the first choice of critics at Coda magazine.

[English translation: David Turgeon, iii-00]

John Oswald

Kitchener (Ontario, Canada), 1953

Residence: Toronto (Ontario, Canada)

  • Composer
  • Performer (saxophone)

Associated Groups

On the Web

John Oswald, 1999

Selected Works

Main Releases

Fony / FONY 82 / 2010
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 034 / 2004
Fony / FONY 68/92 / 2004
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0368 / 2003
  • Temporarily out of stock
Victo / VICTO 074/075/076 / 2001
Seeland / SEELAND 515 / 2000
Victo / VICTO 063 / 1998
Victo / VICTO 025 / 1994
Avant / AVAN 016 / 1993

Appearances

Various artists
Sub Rosa / SR 300 / 2013
  • Temporarily out of stock
Various artists
Cambridge Street Records / CSR 0501 / 2005
Various artists
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 022 / 2001
Various artists
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9604 / 1996

Complements

University of Alberta Press / UAP 9780888644749 / 2009
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 042 / 2007
  • Not in catalogue
Dazibao / DAZ 01 / 2006
  • Not in catalogue
Ashgate Publications / ASH 0754604268 / 2004
  • Not in catalogue
Spool Music / SPL 116 / 2001
  • Out of print
OHM / Avatar / OBZ 07 / 1997
  • Not in catalogue
Incus / INCUS 26 / 1996
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 001 / 1995
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
ReR / Recommended Records / RER CMCD / 1991
  • Not in catalogue
ReR / Recommended Records / RER JOCD / 1991
  • Not in catalogue
Various artists
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 9004 / 1990

Folio

Fony / FONY 82 / 2010
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 034 / 2004
Fony / FONY 68/92 / 2004
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0368 / 2003
  • Temporarily out of stock
Seeland / SEELAND 515 / 2000
Avant / AVAN 016 / 1993

In the Press

A Time to Hear for Here — John Oswald’s Sound Installation at the Royal Ontario Museum’s Spirit House

Kelvin Browne, Musicworks, no. 98, June 1, 2007

[Article Summary] John Oswald’s circadian sound installation, a time to hear for here, is a permanent installation in the Spirit House in the new Daniel Libeskind Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, which opened in June, 2007. The Spirit House is criss-crossed on five levels by bridges that join the galleries on either side traversing an empty harp-shaped void. From these bridges, visitors hear the audio installation. Some sounds can be heard only in a specific location, others are audible from many places. Oswald creates a mobile sculpture of sounds — the timings of sound moments and their combinations are fluid. A sidebar by Anne Bourne discusses Oswald’s artistic process, the contributions of project co-ordinator Laurel McDonald, and the voicing of Qui, a twenty-four part canon that occurs once a day as part of the soundscape. Each of the parts is sung in a different language, representing the diversity of the world cultures existing in Canada.

… an experience like nothing else in the world…

Chronophotic, cinéma del l’immobile / moving stills

Neural, December 29, 2006

Time-based media art is a generic label applied to all the arts involving time as one of the mandatory coordinates to experience the works. John Oswald involves time at the very center of his own work, making it the hidden fulcrum of the reality he interprets, slowing down or accelerating his own concept of 'reality'. In Chronophotic [Arc d’apparition; Whisperfield] there's an altered immobility reflected in the continuos almost perceptible changes that very slowly add persons to a sort of group picture, shifting, also slowly their dressed/naked image. The nakedness and the being dressed can be seen as two faces of the same reality, the public/private, the official/intimate, the endlessly alterable/the given one. The avoid misunderstandings, the work is not voyeuristic at all, showing human bodies of all ages in their most natural and neutral shape. Furthermore it simply seem to question our conventional daily perspective and the time we spend observing and relating to other humans. It's an ancestral species' issue: dealing with our own essence and our own temporal and instinctually mutual recognition.

The avoid misunderstandings, the work is not voyeuristic at all, showing human bodies of all ages in their most natural and neutral shape.

Oswald is the future of music

Udo Kasemets, Musicworks, no. 89, June 1, 2004

“Perhaps the earliest sound O remembers noticing was the summer cicada. Later there was a dilemma — was the cicada biological or electrical? Where did it come from?” O is none other than John Oswald, and this quote appears early on in An Aparathentic Bio, an autobiographical memoir included in the package containing a compact disc featuring a most extraordinary, imaginative, and intelligent work of sonic art. (Indeed, I could continue with a whole series of alliterative i-words to describe the qualities of the CD: inspired, inquisitive, intimate, inviting, involving, illuminating, informing, and on and on.) When I call it a package, I don’t mean it’s packaging in the commercial sense. Sure, it has an appealing cover design. But that, too, is part of the completeness of the whole presentation. Not only is there one of Oswald’s inimitable (another i-word) photo-images on the exterior of the slide-in case, but there are also hidden images inside the cover tube. The autobiographical notes are printed on the hard covers that protect the CD. And a folded three quarters of a meter-long sheet carries, in small print, two columns of text on each side of an interview where John Oswald discusses in great detail the making and contents of the recording. Nothing of the above is window- dressing. Oswald’s work is never compartmentalized. Every aspect of research, preparation, realization, and presentation is part of a whole. So, when he writes about O’s curiosity about the cicada; or how O explored the innards of a transistor radio to understand its secrets; or how O experimented with the variable speeds of a phonograph and of reel-to-reel tape recorders; Oswald suggests to the reader that intimate involvement (yes, the i-words) with the reality of sounds and their sources is the foundation of any true musical experience. He invites (i-word!) the reader to enter into O’s world, where what appears to be simple and mundane will eventually emerge as intricate (another i-word) and even quite miraculous. Mind you, the music on the CD can be enjoyed without knowing anything about its maker and makings. Its sounds are organized so sensitively, elegantly, and competently, that their pure physicality draws the listener into the soundscape, and holds her or him there until the almost inaudible fadeout which brings both of the pieces on the disc to a close. Any attempt to describe the pieces in the framework of a brief review is doomed to failure. The parting points for the pieces are the most elementary tunings known to anybody with even the most cursory interest in sonic reality. The first Aparanthesi is based on the frequency 440 Hz — the fundamental tuning tone (named ‘A’) of the Western musical system. For the second aporanthesi Oswald chose the North American electrical standard, 60 Hz as its tuning base. As a plain sine tone, or a piano or cello sound (the only two “conventional” instruments employed), their choice may appear utterly mundane. But the commonality disappears when Oswald exploits the numerous variables underwhich these materials can be exhibited. For instance, there is a delicate but definite difference between hearing the piano range’s eight As as struck on the keyboard, and as they are modulated from a single-source A. Oswald describes one of his processes where the eighty-eight keys of a piano are all tuned to one A (“which sounds like a three-inch long guitar”). By “pitching up” or “pitching down” each of the eighty-eight keys one can imagine a “virtual” grand piano that can grow from its initial length of just ten inches to a monster of over one hundred feet. Not only does Oswald tune the sine, piano, and cello tones to the basic pitch (or its multiples) of the piece, but he does the same with the sounds of thunder, birds, foghorns, and cattle. But it is not just the choice of the sounds — synthetic, instrumental, and of nature — that makes listening to the two Aparanthesi such a special experience; it is also John Oswald’s ability to handle the fadings in and out, the blendings and unblendings, and the spacings and timings of the various materials and their combinations with exquisite taste and acoustic sensitivity. In other words, it is the supreme artistry of John Oswald that gives Aparanthesi its uniquely special quality. I suggested earlier that listening to this CD is thoroughly enjoyable even without reading any of the texts included in the package. (By the way, the package is bilingual: An Aparathentic Bio is in French, the interview in English. Nevertheless, much is to be gained by taking time and with O’s formative years and his personality through his own words. It is not an autobiography like most. It is not about “Look what I have achieved”; it is about “Look — everything, even the smallest, the simplest, is interesting.” And the three-meters-long transcript of the descriptive interview provides a wonderful guide to the listener on how to become an informed partner of a musical process from its genesis in the researcher’s mind to the final consummation in the listener’s ear. Every serious music student should spend hours (and days) with Aparanthesi. Elsewhere in this issue of Musicworks I suggest that we are at the end of an era of musical development in Western culture, and that a new era is in the primal stage of its making. If the clarity of mind, intellectual discipline, and aural sensitivity that went into the process of the production of Aparanthesi is an indication of the direction music of the twenty-first century will take, the future is bright.

… a most extraordinary, imaginative, and intelligent work of sonic art.

Prix du Gouverneur général

Réjean Beaucage, La Scena Musicale, no. 9:7, April 1, 2004

L’édition 2004 de la remise des Prix du Gouverneur général en arts visuels et en arts médiatiques a soulevé des remous alors que deux des prix, d’une valeur de 15 000$ chacun, ont été remis à des artistes connus, entre autres, pour leurs travaux sur la musique (ou le son): John Oswald et Istvan Kantor (alias Monty Cantsin). Artiste anarchiste se qualifiant de «néoiste», Kantor est connu pour des performances d’une grande violence où la vidéo, la musique électronique et les bruits en direct convergent dans une esthétique de la destruction. Ses performances, réalisées avec le MachineSexActionGroup, ont été présentées maintes fois à Montréal et Toronto. L’artiste a connu plusieurs fois des démêlés avec la justice, notamment en 1991, alors qu’il avait aspergé un mur du Musée des beaux-arts du Canada de son sang, tachant au passage une œuvre de Picasso (le lauréat serait depuis cet incident interdit de séjour au Musée…).

John Oswald, s’il est moins intempestif, n’en a pas moins eu lui aussi maille à partir avec la justice, qui le forçait en 1990 à détruire tous les enregistrements disponibles de son œuvre Plunderphonics («pillage sonore»), faite à partir de bribes d’œuvres existantes et que l’artiste distribuait gratuitement. Ses premières œuvres ont déclenché un débat sur la propriété (le copyright) qui dure toujours et à propos duquel le musicien Chris Cutler a un jour déclaré: «Si la créativité est un champ, alors le copyright est une clôture». Loin d’être un vulgaire plagiaire, John Oswald, qui est par ailleurs aussi un saxophoniste de haut calibre, fait preuve depuis toujours d’une imagination débordante dans l’élaboration d’un corpus d’œuvres multiformes et extrêmement personnelles.

… fait preuve depuis toujours d’une imagination débordante dans l’élaboration d’un corpus d’œuvres multiformes et extrêmement personnelles.

More Texts

The WholeNote no. 8:8

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