Interview With Wermut on Sampling Music

I’ve conducted an e-mail interview with Wermut, who appropriated a C64-song by Mindflow, to see what their view is on sampling and music ownership. The purpose is not to discuss formal issues or moralize, but to explore the reasons for sampling (chip)music and not attributing. The interview corresponds with ideas I have sketched before; Wermut comes from a culture based on sonic exchanges whereas the dominant (outspoken) discourse in chipmusic seems to be more about individual ownership.

WERMUT > First of all let me say that we are quite amazed by the reactions which are caused by a 5 year old song. And quite frankly we have the impression that there are other motivations behind all this witch-hunting than a mere copyright problem. But anyway, we will try to answer your questions… Before we burn on a stake!

CHIPFLIP > Could you tell us how you found Timewaster? Are you connected with the demoscene, or 8-bit music?

WERMUT > In 2003 I discovered the SID-Collection on the internet and listened to all of the 27087 songs in order to pick out my personal favourites. One of them turned out to be MINDFLOW’s “Wooloop”. I love this song for its simplicity and minimalism, yet it is so effective!

In the 80s I already was a musician for a small group of wannabe hackers on the Commodore Amiga. Since then I wrote songs (and still do, even if my Amiga 500 is showing signs of passing away soon) on the legendary soundtracker… And of course I was into the Amiga demo scene! I never had a C64 though… But I wish I had :(

CHIPFLIP > Is your Amiga music available somewhere online?

It once was online, for years, but our provider erased everything.

CHIPFLIP > Have you used 9-second-samples for other music you have made?

WERMUT > Sincerely, I do not keep track of all the things I sample. I consider myself an artist, not a “thief”… If I like a sound or a melody, and if I think that this will do good in a song, than it can help create something different and new, then I use it. This is, incidentally, the way 99,9 % of techno music is made! Funnily enough, the people who have a problem with this are rarely musicians themselves…

There are not many samples in the music of WERMUT though… And we consider the song “Away” more than just a 9 second sample! The sample may be the basis of the song, but there is a whole additional instrumentation and vocals, which makes it something very different… I hope that the guys behind MINDFLOW agree to that.

CHIPFLIP > Are you getting more attention for the Timewaster-sample than other samples you’ve used?

WERMUT > We’ve never had any kind of “attention” about any samples we’ve used before… Not that we used that many… And quite frankly we’re still amazed by the reactions created by this one. Maybe that is due to the fact that we come from the techno and industrial scene, where a sampler is an instrument like any other. And I think this particular reaction has largely to do with that forum phenomenon, which seems to get somehow “out of hand”!

CHIPFLIP > Do you usually contact authors when using sampled material? Why did you choose not to contact the authors of Timewaster?

WERMUT > No. Having been a musician for quite a long time, I’ve had several times the pleasure of recognizing samples which were taken from my music in songs of other people, who did not contact me… And frankly, I was flattered every time. And anyway I do not consider the work I do my “property”… It goes way beyond that!!!

On the other hand I think it was YELLO who once said, that if somebody “steals” from you, this only means that there is “something” to steal, meaning that being sampled should be considered a compliment… Or am I (or YELLO) wrong?

CHIPFLIP > I understand your copyleft-perspective, but isn’t there a difference between using 9 seconds and 1 second? What I mean is – in the extreme case – people copy 100% of another work, and say that they made it themself. How do you make a distinction between sampling and plagiarism?

WERMUT > Well, this is the problem when one starts making laws, scales and charts for everything, isn’t it? Where to begin and where to stop? At 1 second or 1 minute? 2 per cent or 20? Sorry, but this is a dilemma we’d rather leave to other people. We do not think a piece of music is something you can evaluate with percentages. It is a question of feeling and spirit. Even if a lot of people would like to make it otherwise.

Since we listen to techno, industrial, noise, experimental, field recordings, musique concrete and ambient, we do not ask ourselves such questions as “what is music and what is noise”, or what is sampled and what is played live (which, by the way, would be quite head-splitting). We listen to music to feel what is beyond the sound. Not to investigate how every second of it was made!

CHIPFLIP > Do you think that composers in general think it’s more okay to sample large parts of 8-bit music? Why?

WERMUT > 8-bit or 16-bit, what difference does it make, as long as you sample things, because you like what you sample, and create something new out of it. Being interrogated like that, I feel like being accused of making profit of whatever I did wrong…

CHIPFLIP > While Mindflow offers his music for free, and feeding remix culture, you are putting it on vinyl (and supposedly, making atleast some money). You do not share your work for free, even when the 7″ is sold out. Why is that?

WERMUT > Just for the record and for people who might not know what we are talking about here: the 7″ in question was released (not by us) in a 300 copies edition, we haven’t received any money for it but artist copies, as it is usual in the scene we’re involved in, a scene in which, by the way, no big money is made and where one rarely makes any profit at all. We do not receive money for our work as artists, and the little money we earn with our own label is barely enough to pay the production of the next records. So, I don’t think we can talk about profit here!

We make vinyl because we love vinyl, because for us it is the “medium of choice” on which we wish our music to be experienced. As for sharing our work for free on the internet: most of our music is already available for free online on different P2P servers, which we are perfectly happy about, so I don’t see why we should bother doing it ourselves… We have other things to do…. Like making music or, for the reason stated above, earning a living with a tedious job which has nothing to do with music, sampling or anything of that kind…

CHIPFLIP > Earlier you said that there seems to be other motivations than copyright issues. What did you mean by that?

WERMUT > Well, we strongly suspect reasons of a more personal nature behind all this. One more of those silly little vendettas, as they often seem to exist within alternative music scenes. The smaller the scene, the bigger the “clans”. Some people do have a boring life away from the screen.

As far as we are concerned, we use art as a container to transport emotional and spiritual values and we are not very much interested in such materialistic issues as copyright.

We think the whole copyright thing is a chimera, invented by the industry to make even more money than they already do. There is no such thing as true artistic property anyway, meaning the songs we did as WERMUT are not “ours”. The work has been ours, the profit is to the listener… And for God the glory!

That said, steeling other people’s work for personal gain is, obviously, an entirely different matter and we surely don’t condone it. We just don’t believe that copyright can provide a big help.

11 Responses to “Interview With Wermut on Sampling Music”

  1. peter Says:

    Awfully defensive replies from wermut there. I don’t pretend to have an firm opinion on the sampling debate, but as an outsider from the electronic and dance music scenes, i’ve always found it funny how much samplers act as gatekeepers for digital audio.

    I understand your record collection may be your edge when it comes to competing with other djs, but if you like it enough to sample, why not promote your sources to turn people onto cool music? I think thats the real issue, not jealously over other clans appropriating our scene mates.

  2. Philip Cunningham Says:

    Whilst, in some respects, I agree with Wermut’s opinions on sampling, I feel that the sample makes up a significant part of the finished product. So much so that I feel it is without a doubt the most significant element of the track and shows little or no attempt at really re-contextualising it.

    Also, I feel that the notion of copyright being an invention of the music industry in lining their own pockets is a bit misguided. And perhaps if Wermut were to investigate their national Performing Rights Socitiety they might be able to earn a little more $$$ than they would make from record sales and concerts alone.

  3. chipflip Says:

    There are definitely good points in there. But sometimes it feels like the whole debate is broken into two fundamentalist camps, and I guess these questions might have pushed Wermut into the copyleft-corner. It would be great to see more discussions on the practical ethics of sampling – beyond law and moralism. Or maybe it would just be boring. :D

    The introduction of copyright probably had good intentions, apart from censorship/control, but the way its been transformed over the years is what enabled a music industry in the first place, I guess.

  4. Philip Cunningham Says:

    I think sampling is very much an alien concept to most chipmusicians. The limitations of the hardware make sampling generally quite awkward. I don’t really mean sampling square waves or other wave forms to make musical parts. I mean taking whole musical fragments and using them in a piece of music. Whereas, in hip-hop, the tool of choice might have been something like the MPC which revolves around this concept.

    It would be interesting to review a selection of chipmusic that makes use of sampled material.

    Also, like you had noted in a previous post, chipmusic isn’t alien to the concept of plagiarism. Just because a melody has been transcribed for C64 doesn’t mean that it is any less of a copyright violation.

    I do personally feel that the freedom of information and re-contextualisation of musical material to be a very liberating and powerful form of expression. The difficulty is differentiating this from theft and when or why it should be necessary to persue someone who does it.

  5. chipflip Says:

    I agree. Chipmusic is often about crafting music from scratch, byte by byte – something which makes it rather unique. I think this was first conditioned by hardware/software, and has gradually turned into some sort of craft aesthetics.

    But (long) samples were very popular on Amiga, and when soundchips started getting “emulated” by sampled waveforms, covers were very popular. But I think that many times they pretty obviously refered to the original – remix-style. It seems to be similar today – if you make a cover, you’re doing it to refer to the original, not to claim it.

    Would be nice to review some sampled chipmusic, yeah. I know plenty on C64 and Amiga, but not as much elsewhere. Any suggestions?

  6. Philip Cunningham Says:

    In terms of lengthy sampled material, the only music that springs to mind is entry002.nsf from Famicompo Vol. 5 (http://www.famicompo-mini.com).

    Aside from that, ittle-scale has made some effort to educate people on sample use with LSDJ by showing them how to prepare their own samples and providing kits with harmonic and melodic content ie. Chopin and Debussy kits (http://little-scale.blogspot.com/search?q=kit).

  7. Philip Cunningham Says:

    I actually quite like how this Debussy kit sounds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJM82vtgu48 but it seems somehow counter-intuitive to the process.

  8. chipflip Says:

    nice song! do you know who made it? with nintendo-music and samples, i come to think of overthruster. hmm.

  9. chipflip Says:

    I was listening back to some older chipstuff, and found my way back to DMG Plantlife! Great slow gameboy techno stuff, with lots of samples. :)

  10. Random Says:

    Well, the big problem is not giving credit, isn’t it? No one would have blamed Timbaland for anything if he gave credit to Tempest/GRG to begin with, the same goes for Crystal Castles, Wermut anyone else. I mean, look at Daft Punk. A lot of thir music relies 100% on one single sample loop, but they always make sure to give detailed information on where the sample is from.

    When I started making mods in 2002/2003, I always put a sample credits in the sample names, and those were not even melodic/rhytmic chains of sound, but just raw waveforms or single drum hits! (Anyway, that’s a bad point, since I don’t really do that very often any more. But it happens. I just came to think about it :))

    And also, DMG Plantlife was great. Quite unique use of sampled loops for Game Boy music!

  11. chipflip Says:

    Yeah, for me attribution is the most important. But even if attribution is part of copyright law and maybe even a “global” (ie, Western) ethical value, it’s not very clear how it’s supposed to relate to economy, remix culture, etc.

    Even if it would be great if my name was mentioned everytime my music was used, I also realize that it’s not possible. Either because attribution doesn’t fit (into a radio jingle, TV commercial..) or because people forget who made the original, or don’t really think it’s important, or doesn’t want to get into trouble, etc.

    Daft Punk can credit the source (on a record sleeve that is read by 5% of the people that hear the song) because they can afford it, and because they would get so sued if they didn’t, maybe.

    There is something rational and demystifying about stating sources. Just like you, I used to be quite picky about crediting even an 80 byte waveform. But nowadays I sometimes don’t even credit long samples.

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