Although he’s a terrific saxophone improviser, I’ll always think of Canadian John Oswald as the man behind “plunderphonics,” a rigorous system of musical appropriation and reinvention that makes Negativland look subtle. In 1989 Oswald caused a commotion when he made a CD called Plunderphonic, on which he prodigiously manipulated entire pieces by big guns like the Beatles, Bing Crosby, Metallica, Bix Biederbecke, and Beethoven. (On “Pretender,” from Dolly Parton’s version of “The Great Pretender,” for instance, he fiddled with turntable speed to transform Parton into a tenor, offering an unusual gender perspective on the song.) Though Oswald meticulously credited his sources and didn’t make a dime on Plunderphonic–he gave it away to libraries, radio stations, musicians, and journalists–the Canadian recording industry came down hard on him on behalf of Michael Jackson, whose “Bad” was wittily reborn as “Dab” and whose face and leather jacket were superimposed on a nude white woman on the CD cover. Oswald was forced to surrender all his copies, which were eventually destroyed, but Plunderphonic can now be downloaded at The most commercially available example of plunderphonics is Plexure, on John Zorn’s Avant label. It’s a brain-frying work that in 20 minutes features more than 4,000 split-second samples of pop stars, a marathon session of “Name That Note.” For this rare local appearance Oswald will be playing sax, and as one might expect of a guy with the skills to make sense of so many sound fragments, he’s a remarkably intuitive musician. On last year’s Improvised (Vancouver) (Incus), a series of duets with guitarist Henry Kaiser, his playing bursts with knotty abstractions; one minute he’s unreeling long, astringent lines in his puckered alto tone, the next he’s spitting out spatters of percussive sound. Here he’ll duet with violinist David Prentice, who on the recent Legend Street One (CIMP) with Joe McPhee builds dark, densely textured slabs of sound without succumbing to their weight. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Holly Small.