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The Che Guevara of Copyright: Johannes Kreidler's 'Product Placements'

By Logan K. Young l.young@classicalite.com on Mar 19, 2016 08:59 PM EDT

When Brahms did it, it was art. When Negativland did it, it was funny. (And when 2 Live Crew did it to Roy Orbison, in a way, it was artfully funny.) But when Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis plunders the entirety of recorded popular music and emerges with the perfect riff x to complement just the right lick y, somehow, it's a borderline illegal calculus.

What your Modernist grandpa experimented with as "allusion," and your post-modern old man extolled as "pastiche," the idea of the sample has peppered intelligent discourse since the last fin de siècle. And just as your kids won't know a time without DRM, Auto-Tune, or scarlet Bieber Fever, the actual practice of sampling--for anyone post-Big Audio Dynamite at least--has always been around. Ever the fetishists, we've erected monuments to the masterpieces, incinerated the duds and rushed with a scribe's haste to compile those we fear posterity just won't understand.

Enter, stage richtig, German composer Johannes Kreidler.

Depending on which music/IT nerd you read, there are between 373 and 420 (haha, get it?) noticeably sampled songs that constitute Girl Talk's latest name-your-own-pricer, All Day. On Herr Kreidler's Product Placements, however, there are precisely 70,200! And in a laborious (i.e. hilarious) coup, each sample is fully registered, on paper, with Germany's über-strict licensing agency Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte. ("GEMA" for short; imagine a disgruntled wing of ASCAP, or a more guerrilla faction of BMI.)

But wait, here's the real punchline: Product Placements is only 33 seconds long.

With roughly 2,127 samples every second, it's a cognitive mess, indeed. Akin to a too eager turn of one of Stockhausen's shortwave radios, you will not hear snippets of your favorite Flo Rida ringback tone here, or even an obscure Irwin Chusid WFMU broadcast there. Boiled down beyond the marrow's marrow, Kreidler's piece--in all its aphoristic and conceptual beauty--exists as pure, unadulterated digital information. And regardless of its legality, the message inherent in his signal is more than clear: The sample has become this generation's guitar...and all it's fuggin' playing is Noise.

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TagsJohannes Kreidler, Product Placements, GEMA