Artistes John Oswald

John Oswald, artiste aux facettes multiples, incorpore presque toujours à ses productions un élément électroacoustique. Ses œuvres font partie du répertoire régulier du Kronos Quartet, du Culberg Ballet de Suède, du Ballet de Monaco, du Deutsche Opera Ballet Berlin, du Modern Quartet, du Penderecki String Quartet. Parmi ses activités récentes figurent un cortège sonore à Brasilia; une œuvre chorégraphique pour vingt-deux chorégraphes (dont Bill T Jones, Margie Gillis et Holly Small); des commandes du Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, du Change of Heart, de la SMCQ ainsi que du Dutch National Radio et de Radio-Canada.

Il vient de compléter une œuvre pour orchestre, piano robot et la voix chantée et désincarnée de Glenn Gould pour le Ballet national du Canada. Au cours des dernières années, il a créé une collection de portraits photographiques pour une série de Moving Stills. L’une de ses «plunderphonies» (collage audio-vidéo réalisé à partir d’œuvres existantes) sera présentée à la Hayward Gallery de Londres en mai 2000. Il réalise actuellement la bande sonore de Stress, un film projeté sur huit écrans de Bruce Mau qui sera présenté à Vienne, également en mai. Parmi ses productions récentes, on compte une création radiophonique pour quatre langues (brésilien, hollandais, anglais et allemand); l’écriture de l’animation et de la partition d’Homonymy (pour musique de chambre et cinéma); l’écriture d’une musique pour le film muet classique Metropolis; la production de la bande sonore du film gai porno Hustler White; ainsi que sa participation dans les films Un©ut de John Greyson et Sonic Outlaws de Craig Baldwin.

Le travail de John Oswald en est un de métamorphose, de détournement et d’éclectisme souvent réalisé à partir de matériaux existants. En 1990, son disque le plus célèbre, Plunderphonics (collage sonore réalisé à partir de musiques existantes) représentant Michael Jackson nu avec un corps de femme sur la pochette, a été détruit par les prudes de l’industrie discographique.

Depuis, sa musique a été éditée chez Elektra, Avant, ReR Megacorp, Blast First, Swell et empreintes DIGITALes transformant les musiques et les interprétations de Stravinski, Metallica, James Brown, György Ligeti, Dolly Parton et plusieurs autres. Une rétrospective de ses Pluderphonics est actuellement en préparation. Le premier disque de sa production autour des Grateful Dead, Grayfolded, a été choisi comme la production internationale numéro un de la décennie par le Toronto Sun. La version complète de Grayfolded, terminée cette année, a été sélectionnée parmi les meilleures productions de l’année par Rolling Stone, New York Times et plusieurs autres. Cette même année, le disque de musique improvisée Acoustics a été le premier choix des critiques de la revue Coda.


John Oswald

Kitchener (Ontario, Canada), 1953

Résidence: Toronto (Ontario, Canada)

  • Compositeur
  • Interprète (saxophone)
  • Improvisateur

Ensembles associés

Sur le web

John Oswald [1999]
John Oswald [1999]
  • John Oswald [2003]
  • John Oswald [1999]
  • John Oswald [juillet 1990]

Parutions principales

Fony / FONY 82 / 2010
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 034 / 2004
Fony / FONY 68/92 / 2004
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 0368, IMED 0368_NUM / 2003
Victo / VICTO 074/075/076 / 2001
Seeland / SEELAND 515 / 2000
Victo / VICTO 063 / 1998
Victo / VICTO 025 / 1994
Avant / AVAN 016 / 1993


Artistes divers
OHM / Avatar / AVTR 042 / 2007

La presse en parle

A Time to Hear for Here — John Oswald’s Sound Installation at the Royal Ontario Museum’s Spirit House

Kelvin Browne, Musicworks, no 98, 1 juin 2007

[Article Summary] John Oswald’s circadian sound installation, a time to hear for here, is a permanent installation in the Spirit House in the new Daniel Libeskind Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, which opened in June, 2007. The Spirit House is criss-crossed on five levels by bridges that join the galleries on either side traversing an empty harp-shaped void. From these bridges, visitors hear the audio installation. Some sounds can be heard only in a specific location, others are audible from many places. Oswald creates a mobile sculpture of sounds — the timings of sound moments and their combinations are fluid. A sidebar by Anne Bourne discusses Oswald’s artistic process, the contributions of project co-ordinator Laurel McDonald, and the voicing of Qui, a twenty-four part canon that occurs once a day as part of the soundscape. Each of the parts is sung in a different language, representing the diversity of the world cultures existing in Canada.

… an experience like nothing else in the world…

Chronophotic, cinéma del l’immobile / moving stills

Neural, 29 décembre 2006

Time-based media art is a generic label applied to all the arts involving time as one of the mandatory coordinates to experience the works. John Oswald involves time at the very center of his own work, making it the hidden fulcrum of the reality he interprets, slowing down or accelerating his own concept of ‘reality.’ In Chronophotic [Arc d’apparition; Whisperfield] there’s an altered immobility reflected in the continuos almost perceptible changes that very slowly add persons to a sort of group picture, shifting, also slowly their dressed/naked image. The nakedness and the being dressed can be seen as two faces of the same reality, the public/private, the official/intimate, the endlessly alterable/the given one. The avoid misunderstandings, the work is not voyeuristic at all, showing human bodies of all ages in their most natural and neutral shape. Furthermore it simply seem to question our conventional daily perspective and the time we spend observing and relating to other humans. It’s an ancestral species’ issue: dealing with our own essence and our own temporal and instinctually mutual recognition.

The avoid misunderstandings, the work is not voyeuristic at all, showing human bodies of all ages in their most natural and neutral shape.

Oswald is the future of music

Udo Kasemets, Musicworks, no 89, 1 juin 2004

“Perhaps the earliest sound O remembers noticing was the summer cicada. Later there was a dilemma — was the cicada biological or electrical? Where did it come from?” O is none other than John Oswald, and this quote appears early on in An Aparathentic Bio, an autobiographical memoir included in the package containing a compact disc featuring a most extraordinary, imaginative, and intelligent work of sonic art. (Indeed, I could continue with a whole series of alliterative i-words to describe the qualities of the CD: inspired, inquisitive, intimate, inviting, involving, illuminating, informing, and on and on.) When I call it a package, I don’t mean it’s packaging in the commercial sense. Sure, it has an appealing cover design. But that, too, is part of the completeness of the whole presentation. Not only is there one of Oswald’s inimitable (another i-word) photo-images on the exterior of the slide-in case, but there are also hidden images inside the cover tube. The autobiographical notes are printed on the hard covers that protect the CD. And a folded three quarters of a meter-long sheet carries, in small print, two columns of text on each side of an interview where John Oswald discusses in great detail the making and contents of the recording. Nothing of the above is window- dressing. Oswald’s work is never compartmentalized. Every aspect of research, preparation, realization, and presentation is part of a whole. So, when he writes about O’s curiosity about the cicada; or how O explored the innards of a transistor radio to understand its secrets; or how O experimented with the variable speeds of a phonograph and of reel-to-reel tape recorders; Oswald suggests to the reader that intimate involvement (yes, the i-words) with the reality of sounds and their sources is the foundation of any true musical experience. He invites (i-word!) the reader to enter into O’s world, where what appears to be simple and mundane will eventually emerge as intricate (another i-word) and even quite miraculous. Mind you, the music on the CD can be enjoyed without knowing anything about its maker and makings. Its sounds are organized so sensitively, elegantly, and competently, that their pure physicality draws the listener into the soundscape, and holds her or him there until the almost inaudible fadeout which brings both of the pieces on the disc to a close. Any attempt to describe the pieces in the framework of a brief review is doomed to failure. The parting points for the pieces are the most elementary tunings known to anybody with even the most cursory interest in sonic reality. The first Aparanthesi is based on the frequency 440 Hz — the fundamental tuning tone (named ‘A’) of the Western musical system. For the second aporanthesi Oswald chose the North American electrical standard, 60 Hz as its tuning base. As a plain sine tone, or a piano or cello sound (the only two “conventional” instruments employed), their choice may appear utterly mundane. But the commonality disappears when Oswald exploits the numerous variables underwhich these materials can be exhibited. For instance, there is a delicate but definite difference between hearing the piano range’s eight As as struck on the keyboard, and as they are modulated from a single-source A. Oswald describes one of his processes where the eighty-eight keys of a piano are all tuned to one A (“which sounds like a three-inch long guitar”). By “pitching up” or “pitching down” each of the eighty-eight keys one can imagine a “virtual” grand piano that can grow from its initial length of just ten inches to a monster of over one hundred feet. Not only does Oswald tune the sine, piano, and cello tones to the basic pitch (or its multiples) of the piece, but he does the same with the sounds of thunder, birds, foghorns, and cattle. But it is not just the choice of the sounds — synthetic, instrumental, and of nature — that makes listening to the two Aparanthesi such a special experience; it is also John Oswald’s ability to handle the fadings in and out, the blendings and unblendings, and the spacings and timings of the various materials and their combinations with exquisite taste and acoustic sensitivity. In other words, it is the supreme artistry of John Oswald that gives Aparanthesi its uniquely special quality. I suggested earlier that listening to this CD is thoroughly enjoyable even without reading any of the texts included in the package. (By the way, the package is bilingual: An Aparathentic Bio is in French, the interview in English. Nevertheless, much is to be gained by taking time and with O’s formative years and his personality through his own words. It is not an autobiography like most. It is not about “Look what I have achieved”; it is about “Look — everything, even the smallest, the simplest, is interesting.” And the three-meters-long transcript of the descriptive interview provides a wonderful guide to the listener on how to become an informed partner of a musical process from its genesis in the researcher’s mind to the final consummation in the listener’s ear. Every serious music student should spend hours (and days) with Aparanthesi. Elsewhere in this issue of Musicworks I suggest that we are at the end of an era of musical development in Western culture, and that a new era is in the primal stage of its making. If the clarity of mind, intellectual discipline, and aural sensitivity that went into the process of the production of Aparanthesi is an indication of the direction music of the twenty-first century will take, the future is bright.

… a most extraordinary, imaginative, and intelligent work of sonic art.

Prix du Gouverneur général

Réjean Beaucage, La Scena Musicale, no 9:7, 1 avril 2004

L’édition 2004 de la remise des Prix du Gouverneur général en arts visuels et en arts médiatiques a soulevé des remous alors que deux des prix, d’une valeur de 15 000$ chacun, ont été remis à des artistes connus, entre autres, pour leurs travaux sur la musique (ou le son): John Oswald et Istvan Kantor (alias Monty Cantsin). Artiste anarchiste se qualifiant de «néoiste», Kantor est connu pour des performances d’une grande violence où la vidéo, la musique électronique et les bruits en direct convergent dans une esthétique de la destruction. Ses performances, réalisées avec le MachineSexActionGroup, ont été présentées maintes fois à Montréal et Toronto. L’artiste a connu plusieurs fois des démêlés avec la justice, notamment en 1991, alors qu’il avait aspergé un mur du Musée des beaux-arts du Canada de son sang, tachant au passage une œuvre de Picasso (le lauréat serait depuis cet incident interdit de séjour au Musée…).

John Oswald, s’il est moins intempestif, n’en a pas moins eu lui aussi maille à partir avec la justice, qui le forçait en 1990 à détruire tous les enregistrements disponibles de son œuvre Plunderphonics («pillage sonore»), faite à partir de bribes d’œuvres existantes et que l’artiste distribuait gratuitement. Ses premières œuvres ont déclenché un débat sur la propriété (le copyright) qui dure toujours et à propos duquel le musicien Chris Cutler a un jour déclaré: «Si la créativité est un champ, alors le copyright est une clôture». Loin d’être un vulgaire plagiaire, John Oswald, qui est par ailleurs aussi un saxophoniste de haut calibre, fait preuve depuis toujours d’une imagination débordante dans l’élaboration d’un corpus d’œuvres multiformes et extrêmement personnelles.

… fait preuve depuis toujours d’une imagination débordante dans l’élaboration d’un corpus d’œuvres multiformes et extrêmement personnelles.

Autres textes

The WholeNote no 8:8


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