Ideas

The Wire: The digital democracy of sound

Digital technology has changed how we find, how we make and how we listen to music. Today it's easier to get a hold of your favourite track than it is to get a good cup of coffee. Sounds are sampled, mixed, and shared on a scale that eclipses our wildest dreams from even a decade ago. This has created wonderful and terrible consequences, opening the door to pirates but also to a new world of music - the fourth world, where anything is possible.
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Listen to the full episode53:59

Digital technology has changed how we find, how we make and how we listen to music. Today it's easier to get a hold of your favourite track than it is to get a good cup of coffee. Sounds are sampled, mixed, and shared on a scale that eclipses our wildest dreams from even a decade ago. This has created wonderful and terrible consequences, opening the door to pirates but also to a new world of music – the fourth world, where anything is possible.

The Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music first aired on CBC Radio in 2005. Each episode tells the story of how electricity changed music in the 20th century, focusing on a particular new technology. On Episode 8, it's the sampler. The series was a 2005 Peabody Award winner.

The Wire is presented by Jowi Taylor.

**Note: this series is not available for download and is available for listening in Canada only due to music copyright restrictions. 

Sampling, Filesharing and the Future of Music
"David Toop said something back in Episode 1 that really struck me. He was talking about how early folk musicians would have been entirely aware of their social and physical context when they played but once they were recorded they'd have no idea who might be listening to their music in what context. I mean, I guess the same would be true for classical musicians or anyone really.  But it's more than that. If you extend the idea of simply recording to the tape loop or the collage or digital sampling – you can take things out of every context and put them where you want them. You can pluck a note out from the context of the one it used to sit next to. You can move a phrase from one song into a whole new musical neighbourhood. And you can lift a sound from all of its musical and social and cultural surroundings and plunk it down somewhere new like an accidental tourist. And each of these tourists sends out a kind of postcard of itself. All these music samples can be like little audio postcards from places you know that you arrange into a picture of a place you've never been – the fourth world. That's what it's like listening to David Byrne and Brian Eno's 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts'. – Jowi Taylor


Guests in this episode:

  • Steve Reich is an American composer and electronic music pioneer famous for his experimentation with tape looping techniques and minimalist compositional style.
     
  • Beverly Diamond is an ethnomusicologist, Professor Emeritus of Ethnomusicology at Memorial University of Newfoundland known for, among other things, her research on indigenous music cultures and cultural appropriation in music.
     
  • John Oswald is a Canadian composer known for his pioneering work with sampling.
     
  • Lawrence Lessig is a prominent American academic and attorney. He is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. In 2001, Lessig founded the Creative Commons movement.
     
  • Mira Sundara Rajan is a Professor of Intellectual Property Law at Glasgow University Law School (and formerly a law professor at the University of British Columbia.)
     
  • Paul Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky, is an American electronic music producer and experimental hip hop musician as well as a turntablist, philosopher, author and university professor.
     
  • Marc Leclair, a.k.a. Akufen, is a Canadian electronic musician known for his pioneering work with microsampling.
     
  • Brian Whitman is an American scientist and musician who worked on developing computer-generated music in the Music, Mind and Machine Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
     
  • Andrew Kaiser is an American sound designer and composer who has worked with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) community to create a composed outbound message that could be recognized by aliens as having been created by a self-aware, intelligent species.
     
  • Jennifer Morton is a cultural commentator and photographer based in Toronto.
     
  • David Toop is an English musician, cultural critic and author of several books including Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds.


The following tracks were used in this episode:

  • Brian Eno & David Byrne - The Carrier - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)
  • Enigma featuring Kuo Ying-Nan and Kuo Hsiu-Chu - Return to Innocence - Enigma 2: The Cross of Changes (1993)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony no. 9, 4th movt
  • Steve Reich - Electric Counterpoint (played by Pat Metheny, 1989)
  • The Orb - Little Fluffy Clouds - The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (1991)
  • Steve Reich - Eight Lines (Howie B remix) - Reich Remixed (1999)
  • John Oswald/Plunderphonics/Joao Gilberto - Brazilianaires Theme - 69 Plunderphonics 96 (1996)
  • Public Enemy - Fight the Power - Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
  • John Oswald/Plunderphonics/The Beatles - Way - Plunderphonics (1989)
  • Matmos - Action at a Distance - The Wired CD: Rip. Sample. Mash. Share. (2004)
  • Akufen - Deck the House - My Way (2002)
  • Eigenradio samples (Special thanks to Brian Whitman, MIT)
  • Fibonacci Series Draft Messages for SETI by Andrew Kaiser and Douglas Vakoch
  • Radiohead - The Gloaming - Hail to the Thief (2003)
  • Talvin Singh - Butterfly - OK (1998)


The Wire Episode 8 Remix was produced by Akufen. The series is produced by Chris Brookes, Paolo Pietropaolo and Jowi Taylor. It originally aired March 28, 2005 on CBC Radio 1.

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