Last week I found out on the Internet a great resource for all of you interested in sampling and making music, sound art and sound collages without violating copyright laws. “Samples for the Children of the World,” a huge collection (up to 10 GB) of new and original samples (sound recordings) has been released under the Creative Commons license by a group of students, professors and alumni from The Berklee College of Music. Although the samples are originally donated to support the One Laptop Per Child project, the Creative Commons license that all these samples have makes them available to everybody. The only condition for sampling them is to attribute the work in the manner specified by the author.
As DJ C says in the DJ Culture video exemplar we produced last year here in NML, “Sampling in music is when you take a piece of pre-recorded music and you then use it, as an element, to make a new piece of music.” Musicians and sound artists use these pieces of recorded sound as the building blocks of their works. Nowadays, the music production technology is based on this practice. The sampler is actually one of the standard instruments for music studios and for live performances both as hardware and software. You store recorded sounds inside a sampler and then you play them, change them, and trigger them as the notes of a grand piano. Imagine that, any recorded sound can become a note in a keyboard or in a drum machine.
The problem with sampling is of course copyright, the property of the sounds. Sounds belong to the people who hold the copyright of them. As DJ C says, “A big dilemma with this electronic music culture is that when you are sampling music that you don’t own the rights to, because someone else is the copyright holder of that music, then you are putting yourself in danger of being sued.” Since the final decades of the last century, many musicians and sound artist have been fighting for a more free culture concerning the sharing of sounds.
In the 80s, Negativeland and John Oswald made a big buzzzzzzzzz in the margins of popular music and goose-bumped the music industry with their quite subversive works. The speech “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative” presented by Oswald to the Wired Society Electro-Acoustic Conference in Toronto in 1985 stands as a digital sampling manifesto. Of course, both Negativeland and John Oswald were sued. Closer to the main stream media and the trends of popular music are many examples of sampling practices, from hip hop to ambient, from house to drum and bass, sampling is everywhere.
In the 21st century copyright is changing and thanks to the creation of the Creative Commons licenses, sound recordings can be shared with others. Actually, any kind of creative work can be shared. Pictures, poems, novels, songs and videos could be remixed and copied if they have these licenses. Making collages, remixes, cut-ups and mashups wont be anymore an infringement of copyright if one uses works that have Creative Commons licenses such as Atribution or Sampling Plus. We can share these works (copy, distribute, transmit) and we can remix them (adapt them, make something new from them). Of course, there are also public domain works and royalty free songs that are available for sampling and remixing (you can find these kind of works in the internet archive and in pdinfo).
The giant library of sounds that the people from The Berklee College of Music have released under the Attribution 3.0 license is not an isolated island in the culture of sharing and sampling. A quick look at CCMixter (the Creative Commons website that supports audio sampling, sharing, remixing and cutting-up) reveals several projects that are worth looking for all the children and creative people who wants to sample and remix audio. I definitely recommend checking the freesoundproject and as well the Wired CD. The first one, a expanding collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds; the second, an album released by Wired magazine, Creative Commons, and sixteen artist (including Matmos, Thievery Corporation and the Beastie Boys).
[This entry was cross-posted at the Project NML blog]