Thievery Corporation

The sample-minded artists of Detritus.net celebrate the fine art of cultural reappropriation

On Nov. 12 at Art Rattan, an Oakland performance space, a one-man band called Wobbly fidgeted behind a multitrack digital workstation, churning out a sonic stew comprised predominantly of samples culled from local hip-hop station Wild 94.9. He generated a ludicrous chorus of rappers chanting "yo"; throughout the set, hundreds of semirecognizable urban pop shards were juxtaposed, often bizarrely. The performance, titled Wild Why, was both amusingly surreal and jarring, an engaging combination of tongue-in-cheek whimsy, dadaist collage, and social commentary.

The evening's show was billed as "Detritus Night." Detritus.net is a San Francisco-based Web site dedicated to recycled culture and the issues that surround it, with a particular focus on sound, and all the artists who performed reworked pre-existing materials. In addition to Wobbly's hip-hop blenderization, the Jet Black Hair People and Thomas Dimuzio chewed up a lengthy sample shopping list that included a hand-washing instructional film, Cantonese pop, Aldo Nova, and the Ohio Players, while, using only a PowerBook, Carl Stone ground "Barbie Girl" by Swede-popsters Aqua into utter unrecognizability. Detritus.net founder and Webmaster Steev Hise chose, for his part, to recycle his own voice. Proceeds from the show went to the newly established Detritus Copyright Infringement Legal Defense Fund -- at the end of the night, Hise joked that the audience had ponied up maybe two hours' worth of legal fees. It's a start.

Hise runs four servers, including Detritus.net, out of his North Mission flat via a T1 line. The Detritus Web site is a sort of informational clearinghouse of all things appropriative; and most audio on the Web site is copyright-free and available for reuse. Hise provides server space for several recombinant audio artists referred to as "detrivores," including the Evolution Control Committee, the Aggressive School of Cultural Workers, and San Francisco's own Bob Ostertag. As the site puts it, "a detrivore takes pre-existing materials, breaks them down, and uses them as building blocks to form something new." Detritus.net features "banned" audio à la John Oswald's Plunderphonics and Negativland's infamous U2 EP, as well as a sprawling bibliography covering the many facets of appropriation in art.

Detrivores: Carl Stone, Peter Conheim, Jon Leidecker, Steev Hise.
Akim Aginsky
Detrivores: Carl Stone, Peter Conheim, Jon Leidecker, Steev Hise.

Details

RELATED LINKS

detritus.net
Dedicated to recycled culture

Over the Edge
Access RealAudio broadcasts of Don Joyce's radio show.


AUDIO

The letter U and the number 2
Download U2 by Negativland in MP3 and RealAudio formats

Detritus Night @ Art Rattan
Download an MP3 of Hise's performance at Art Rattan

"Ferrante, Zeppelin & Teicher"
Download an MP3 track from Hise's Original

"Wild Why"
Download an MP3 sample from Jon Leidecker, aka Wobbly


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"Steev's an important focus point for the scene," says Stone. "He's working to bring the scene together, he's publishing articles, putting the issues forward. [He's] kind of a legal service agent, providing the groundwork by putting forward these case studies and legal briefs about sampling and so on."

Hise, who established Detritus.net in 1997, started out playing guitar in punk bands before discovering electronics and tape loops while doing a live radio show at the University of Michigan. Soon after, he began delving into appropriated music, and the people making it. "The people who most inspired me, in terms of contemporary artists, were Negativland, John Oswald, and Tape-Beatles," he says. "Then I started getting into the ideology of it, and realizing that there was an inherent sort of subversiveness to appropriation. Because you're taking something that used to be a part of something else, and putting it in a different context. Just on that simple transformation, it says something different. And since I first realized that, it's gotten a lot more popular, especially as electronica has turned into a big trend. Everybody samples, and so it's no longer just automatically subversive -- it's become more of a technique."

The Bay Area has long been a fertile breeding ground for found-sound experimenters, from stalwarts like Negativland to newer electronic artists like Matmos, Tipsy, and Kit Clayton, not to mention turntablists like the Invisible Skratch Piklz. Several factors probably contribute, from the area's large techie contingent to a long-standing, adventuresome avant-garde art scene and the presence of leading lights like collage filmmaker Craig Baldwin.

Negativland's Peter Conheim, who performs under the moniker the Jet Black Hair People and works with the all-projector orchestra Wet Gate, points to Negativland member Don Joyce's Over the Edge radio program on KPFA as one of the major influences on a generation of Bay Area sound artists. "For almost 20 years we've been able to hear that program making mincemeat of radio as we know it every damn week," he says. "It opened a lot of doors, along with much of Negativland's work on their early LPs, and some of us who listened to it found ourselves working on the show over the years."

He adds: "I do think we're lucky to be in a community which consistently seems to support plundered and recycled sound art and visual art. Over the years, it has seemed to me that this sort of work actually maintains an audience. Of course, a huge problem in the Bay Area is a dearth of venues in which to present this sort of work. The best joints are those operating under the radar of 'legitimacy' in one way or another, and thus they are prone to vanish."

Jon Leidecker, aka Wobbly, estimates he works on Joyce's radio show seven or eight times a year; he's also collaborated with local artists like Big City Orchestra. His current Wild Why project came about in part because his tape player broke, forcing him to listen to the radio. Leidecker soon realized the sound beds of popular hip-hop tracks were ripe fodder for plunder. "By taking the amazing sound worlds they're coming up with in each of these three-minute songs and isolating them, chopping them up, and freeing them from the strict tempo, and also by detourn-ing the lyrical content so that it doesn't make sense anymore, you can hear commercial rap as experimental music a little more readily than you can in its pop shape," he explains.

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