February 24th, 2011

More SoundClowning Around

Thanks for the continued conversation re: the limits to your love. I enjoy plotting to create better possible futures with y’all, and I <3 how the discussions here get amplified and “shopped” around. Ahem~

To keep the discussion moving (for I really don’t want the iron to cool too much, lest we lose our fire entirely), I want to talk about a couple interesting uploads I came across this week on SoundCloud.

Briefly, let me preface by noting that I’ve found it pretty remarkable throughout SoundCloud’s relatively short existence that I rarely if ever run across an example of flagrantly unauthorized filesharing. Some users occasionally upload other people’s tracks without explicit consent but more typically as a form of decentralized (and courted) promotional activity than in a yes-you-can-find-that-on-YouTube fashion. To me this seemed like evidence of a good faith approach, wherein SoundCloud was taking a gentle, supportive hand to remixed, DJ-mixed, and otherwise recontextualized music (including as part of field recordings) and balancing that strong stance toward fair use by vigorously removing any blatant examples of bald, untransformative filesharing.

Of course, December’s wave of automated take-downs let the air out of any dream of a concerted, coherent, or particularly robust defense of fair use on SoundCloud at the corporate level. Nevertheless, users of SoundCloud continue — both unintentionally and purposefully — to challenge terms of service, copyright law, practices of attribution, and notions of ownership. I’d like to examine here one example from each camp: the accidental and the intentional. (And, given the fraught status of each, we’ll see how long before this blogpost becomes yet another web2.0 graveyard.)

Here’s one that I would characterize as unintentional, though as I’ll explore, the lines get blurry:

Five Seconds Of Every #1 Pop Single Part 1 by mjs538

Pop archivist and professor Hugo Keesing, building on the work of radio DJ Mark Ford (post-post update: see here for a detailed parsing of the tape’s twists and turns), spliced together the audio “embedded” in the player up there, just below his portrait in triplicate. It’s a piece he named Chartsweep back when in the pre-Napster 90s, an hour-plus collage comprising short, recognizable samples of every #1 hit in the US from 1956 to 1992 (according to Billboard/Whitburn).

Apparently, the montage, which may or may not have been made from reel-to-reel recordings and/or 45s (see some mythology here [and again, here]), circulated informally and anonymously among radio heads for many years before someone finally solved the mystery and tracked down Keesing. [Though to update again, according to this, the piece was “heard in national syndication, annually, by millions and millions of listeners,” so obviously, and interestingly (given this week’s amnesiac reception), it has enjoyed a massive audience in the past.]

Keesing discusses the project, and his background, in this interview with Jon Nelson. Allow me to excerpt a bit to show how the assemblage, which Nelson says he “couldn’t help but think of as art,” emerges both out of Keesing’s capacious love for popular music and his embrace of mashup poetics, if you’ll permit the anachronism, as a form of multimedia pedagogy:

The concept and term “Chartsweep” both originated in the late 60s with a syndicated radio show called “The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I listened to it on WOR-FM in New York and recorded portions of it on an old Wollensack reel-to-reel tape recorder. As you know, the ‘sweep presented segments of every Billboard #1 single starting with “Memories Are Made of This” (Jan 1956). I don’t recall where it stopped, but it was around 1968/69. Six years later I began teaching an American Studies course at the University of Maryland called “Popular Music in American Society.” To provide a setting for each class I dusted off the concept, took it back to January 1950, added a number of songs based on Joel Whitburn’s re-definition of #1 songs, and continued where the original had stopped. I added each new #1 until fall, 1991 when I stopped teaching the course. “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” was the 900th. At the start of each class I played a portion of the ‘sweep that corresponded to the years we were covering that night. To accompany the tape I made 35mm slides of either the original sheet music, 45 rpm record sleeve or something similar, so that students could see as well as hear the pop music history. Copies of each night’s tape went to the undergraduate library. I assume that an enterprising student or two made their own copies and it is a copy of a copy of a copy that remains in circulation. That’s the story in a nutshell.

But, of course, the saga continues. In the last week Chartsweep has risen to “viral” prominence after a complicated — and possibly incestuous — round of re-posting and re-blogging and re-posting and re-blogging. Although uploaded to SoundCloud just two days ago, as of this writing, the two parts have cumulatively garnered nearly 150k plays!

Key to this unprecedented explosion of exposure is, of course, the unauthorized uploading of Chartsweep to SoundCloud, the special affordances of which — namely, embeddability and scalability — make it a lot easier for Keesing’s collage to travel and be heard and shared than if it were simply residing as mp3s on a server here or there.

Precisely because Chartsweep has been around for years, enjoying a more modest audience and addressing a narrower public, the piece’s performance on the so-called platforms of web 2.0 could prove instructive as we dispute what constitutes fair use, and what doesn’t, in an age of “automated diminishment.” At the moment, it remains to be seen what — and whether/when — Audible Magic will have to say about all the unauthorized samples it sniffs in this.

The samples are sitting there, clear as day. Here’s part 2, stretching from Men At Work’s “Land Down Under” (itself embroiled in silly copyright wrangling) to the fitting closer, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”:

Five Seconds Of Every #1 Pop Single Part 2 by mjs538

Now, Chartsweep It may not be the sort of thing you’d like to listen to all the time, and it’s certainly not a replacement for any, never mind all, of the songs it includes. I feel little need to explain why this sort of thing has the right to exist. The answer to that question is audible and obvious. Indeed, just a glance at the reactions Chartsweep elicits, whether at SoundCloud or on blogs, turns up a great variety of ways that such a transparently derivative and transformative work can reveal, uniquely even, all manner of things about pop and charts and us. Among other things it nicely demonstrates, as one commenter notes, “This is so awesome…you can actually hear the British Invasion happening in 1964″ (emphasis mine).

But what about questions of attribution and fair use and ownership not with regard to the maker of the montage but the uploader of the audio? It’s notable that mjs538 provided no information about who put the piece together — or anything else. Indeed, he even gave it a misleading (and erroneous) new title, “Five Seconds Of Every #1 Pop Single.” But despite these possibly suspect procedures, plenty of listeners recognized Chartsweep immediately, and some — like DJ Empirical — felt compelled to leave a comment providing proper attribution. (The confusion here seems to stem from a case of lazy reblogging and meta-data erasure by the very same affective laborer, Matt Stopera, who (re)posted it here — where he oddly indicates that it was “Made by” Ubuweb, who have merely done the simple, if awesome, [& actually, slightly misleading] service of re-archiving the audio and interview — and who also re-blogs stuff like “The 30 Best Pictures Of Asians Wearing Engrish Shirts” — clearly a man of taste and honor.)

Can we imagine a better set of practices for sharing Chartsweep with a new set of publics? I suspect we can. Would as many people have heard it this week if such a system were somehow automated? Doubtful, at least at this point. Does that matter?

These thorny questions echo in the second example I’d like to discuss here…

Earlier this week, Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson took to his website, Facebook, eager amplifiers like Mad Decent and Resident Advisor, and, yes, SoundCloud, in order to clown a couple Italian producers who centrally employ an obvious sample of Saunderson’s 1987 classic, “The Sound,” without giving credit (or publishing for that matter) where due. In response, Saunderson is giving away digital copies of the original track while posting a copy of the offending track to SoundCloud — for free, without Supernova’s permission, and in 82mb wav file splendor (not that it’s such a splendiferous track, a rather wan paint-by-numbers production rightly derided in comments as “beatport minimal” and “ableton techno”).

Here’s the story according to Saunderson (& hear the original here, if you don’t want to download it c/o his righteous largess); note the nuance in Saunderson’s position here — this is hardly copyright extremism:

I recorded “The Sound” back in 1987 and released it on my own KMS Records label. It was a massive hit at New York’s Paradise Garage and in Chicago and of course Detroit. Once it hit the UK it became one of the earliest Detroit anthems right acround Europe, a huge underground record across the globe – a true desert island techno track. It is such a special record to me because it was one of my first really successful productions and I hope that you all will enjoy this free, fresh digital download of my original 1987 version.

The reason I have decided to give this track away for free is because of a situation that recently developed involving the unauthorized sampling of “The Sound” by Italian producers Giacomo Godi & Emiliano Nencioni (Supernova) in their release “Beat Me Back” on Nirvana Recordings. It came to my attention that they are licensing and selling, with considerable success, this track which is nothing more than a continuous loop of the main hook from “The Sound.”

For me to hear ‘Supernova’ taking an extended loop of “The Sound” and claiming that this is their own original composition and production is both dishonest and disrespectful. My first thought was that they were perhaps naïve, but as they have apparently been recording together since 2002 this seems unlikely. In any event this is completely unacceptable, we cannot continue to let this kind of wholesale rip off go unchallenged and tolerate “artists” who completely sample recordings, add nothing of their own and then release the results as their own work.

I have a huge affection for sampling, it’s how some of the most inspiring and ground breaking tracks of our times were created. We’ve pretty much all sampled records at some time, and cleared the sample so we can use it on our releases, but it is just not cool to take someone else’s music, create a big old loop of it and then put your name on it and try to have success entirely off the back of another artist’s efforts. This really has got to stop. For this reason, I have uploaded the Godi/Nencioni version of “The Sound” to Soundcloud so that you all can download this for free if you so wish. These producers and their record label should not be profiting from my back catalogue… this is not their track to sell.

Here it is (and do note the title!), though I recommend clicking over to SoundCloud to check the convo happening there (and over at RA too):

The Sound rip off/now called Beat Me Back By Supernova, what the hell by Kevinsaunderson

As of this writing Saunderson’s instantiation of “Beat Me Back” at SoundCloud has been listened to over 10k times and downloaded almost 2k times. I can only hope that the original will enjoy a lush new life despite the strange circumstances of its revival. It’s definitely vexing that someone like Saunderson — who can be credibly described as an architect of the very sound, the very aesthetic conventions (never mind specific bassline), that Supernova are working in — might find himself so rudely excluded from deserved techno dividends in the age of Beatport. And I quite support the sort of public gesture he’s making.

I also look forward to hearing, if anything, what happens to something like this on SoundCloud. Will Supernova sue? Will they settle? Will SoundCloud / Audible Magic intervene first? It’s tricky terrain, to be sure. But I suspect there are plenty of “brave” lawyers ready to leap into the breach.

But before this seems like another round of ammunition for the copyright wars, I want to return to the importance of nuance and context when we make efforts to distinguish between fair and unfair uses of musical recordings. While I am sympathetic to Saunderson (and would happily help him make his case), I don’t think it’s so simple as to say that any track built on a loop in this way is necessarily subject to the kinds of ownership claims he’s making. In contrast, I can think of any number of hip-hop tracks that are similarly loop-based and yet still stand as undeniably “original” and perhaps even deserving of commercial (and, of course, non-commercial) lives of their own.

As it happens, this very example offers a fine test case, for Supernova are not the first to build a track around a central sample of “The Sound.” Way back in 1988, just months after “The Sound” started hitting clubs across the burgeoning post-disco diaspora, New York’s Todd Terry enlisted its distinctive bassline for one of his trademark sample-laced burners, “Back to the Beat” —

Listening to the three versions alongside each other, we’re invited to think about whether “Back to the Beat” > “Beat Me Back” — or, more precisely, what makes one loop hackish (and hence disrespectable) and another inspired (and thus tolerated). Note how this commenter on another instantiation attempts to tease out what Terry has borrowed from what he has created:

Of course, the amazingly amazing and idiosyncratic bassline was sampled from Reese & Santonio’s Detroit classic “The Sound” just as the the choirish sound has Kraftwerk circa anno? 1986 and “Electric Cafe” written all over it. However, the heavy rhythm, the eclectic melange of samples from everythere and – yes – the stuttering quality is very characteristic of Todd Terry productions.

I really appreciate the way a sense of community norms — however local or contested they may be — undergirds a comment like this, and it’s that sort of community-wide interpretation and peer-level censure (or approval) that should be at the heart of how we collectively regulate public culture in an age of click-and-drag remediation.


  • 1. Jon Leidecker  |  February 24th, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Hi. Love your blog. And thanks for the words on Chart Sweep, which I consider to be a true american masterpiece.

    Because of copyright issues, it’s been released, and therefore its provenance has been obscured. It’s very important to note that the bulk and the genesis of the piece, 1955-1977, is actually the creation of editor Mark Ford, while working for Drake-Chenault.


    Ford’s final version of the Time Sweep goes through 1981, and it was meticulously created by crossfading between sources to a reel to reel master which was then seamlessly spliced together. You can hear when it switches to Keesing’s extensions, who used a mechanical pause button on a tape deck.

    It was released on vinyl once for direct distribution to syndicated radio stations, disc 53 in a 53 LP set. I do not know how many copies were pressed.



  • 2. wayneandwax  |  February 24th, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    Thanks much for the comment, Jon. Before finding your comment in my spam folder (probably due to multiple links), I stumbled across the same info over at ilxor, and I’ve updated the post above to better reflect this part of the story — which further complicates questions of authorship and attribution, to be sure!

    Fascinating too, to hear that it was released, and in such circumstances. A niche product with mass appeal!

  • 3. wayneandwax.com » L&hellip  |  February 25th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    […] up on recent posts, I decided to do a little looking into how many remixes of James Blake’s “Limit to Your […]

  • 4. Oz  |  March 2nd, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Great post, inspiring thanks for the Chartsweep, never knw about it,
    Soundcloud is totally on my shit list right now, killing the people that built their site.
    other alternatives and suggestions? (seems like as soon as something gets popular and useful they start pulling tings down)

  • 5. wayneandwax.com » G&hellip  |  March 4th, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    […] fellow Detroiter and techno trailblazer Kevin Saunderson (as recounted here), Craig has taken to SoundCloud to stage a playful response to his discovery that a classic […]

  • 6. Mike Brown  |  March 14th, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Not much to see at http://soundcloud.com/kevinsaunderson these days. That sure didn’t take long.

  • 7. wayneandwax  |  March 14th, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for the tip! That was quick indeed. I wonder what the story is behind the take-down — i.e., who in particular compelled Saunderson to remove the track.

    Just, FYI, and for posterity, here’s how it looks now:
    no more soundclowning for kevin

  • 8. wayneandwax  |  March 21st, 2011 at 10:43 am

    see DJ Food’s blog for a nice roundup of the Chart Sweep saga:

    he also points to yet another effort in this vein: an attempt to extend the sweep from 1993 to 2011, itself inspired by the misleading/erroneous upload by mjs538:

    5 Seconds of Every #1 Billboard Hot 100 Hit From 1993-2011 by AnthonyDC

  • 9. id  |  April 8th, 2011 at 7:46 am


    thought i’d throw in my 2c (actually it turned out more like 3 or 4c) on this issue – from the point of view of someone who produces, runs a label, has a blog, DJs, blah blah. thought you might find something of interest!


  • 10. wayneandwax  |  April 8th, 2011 at 11:11 am

    thanks for contributing to the conversation, id. we appear to genuinely disagree about some things, but before i address those, i want to point to one thing you wrote in your post —

    it’s overly reductive to just say ‘wah wah wah fair use’

    um, yeah, it is. so why reduce other people’s arguments in such a way yourself?

    now, i know you’re not necessarily referring to me there, and i appreciate that you describe my post as “nuanced.” but you would do better to actually quote the passages/authors with which you differ rather than cast vague aspersions at strawmen. even setting the irony of that statement aside, the substance also seems off the mark. critics like ripley and i haven’t argued that soundcloud should be so easily subject to US law — quite the opposite actually.

    but this is very tangled turf, as you note. (bearing in mind, of course, that most countries are party to WIPO, which “harmonizes” a lot of this stuff, and disseminates more-or-less US-style copyright around the world.) you seem to hue closer to a european model of copyright, which tends to include strong protections of so-called moral rights — the right to deny permission to others to make transformative works. under that doctrine, it’s well within your rights to sue someone for any unauthorized use. if you determine, that is, that it’s in your economic interests to take on that expense and burden.

    but even if protection were perfect — which would require nothing short of a surveillance state — what sort of musical culture does that produce? not a healthy, vigorous culture, in my view. and i think perhaps your concern, and experience, with the commercial sphere is a big part of the problem.

    why should we expect that commerce would be the ideal engine for sustaining music (and the lives of musicians)? i’m glad that you discuss things like the falling value of musical commodities and DJ labor, but we needn’t be so attached to those models — models which have long been captured, if not developed, by an unnecessary, parasitical managerial class. i believe we can imagine other ways to develop sustainable music cultures, ways that treat the digital turn as a feature rather than a bug (even if that means that ideas about originality and integrity have to change too, again — after all, we haven’t always carried such romantic notions).

    i have to admit that moral rights make little sense to me, either intuitively or as compared to the picture of commonplace cultural practice i attempt to develop on this blog. if you don’t want people to make your work a part of their cultural milieu (and all that that entails with regard to its “integrity”) then the choice is simple: do. not. publish.

    once something has been published, kiss it goodbye. and wish it well. if it’s good enough to inspire others to work with it, it essentially becomes part of the public domain, regardless what the law says.

    finally, speaking as a US citizen (which i’m often loathe to do), i want to proceed with a confidence that i can defend my “uses” as fair. someone from another country can attempt to sue me in their jurisdiction, i suppose, and perhaps deprive me of that line of defense, but if that were happening, i’d probably be super rich, having made mad cheddar by exploiting someone else’s work, so it wouldn’t really matter.

  • 11. id  |  April 8th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    haha yes you’ve got me bang to rights on that first point! I wrote the post over a few days, starting one evening when i wasn’t in the best of moods; apologies, should have reworded! Though indeed it wasn’t directed specifically at you. The ‘fair use’ argument often seems a default (and sole) position for many, especially below the line in comments pages, even though I’ve never seen anyone suggest how it might be applied internationally (I’m not a lawyer though, maybe it can be) – which can often make the authors seem idealistic but not practical. To me, anyway.

    The more I think about it though, the thornier it gets; i guess i do support the right to deny people permission to make transformative works – on principle, really – even though i’m not sure I would enforce it myself. And I wouldn’t necessarily expect most individuals to do so either (*yes there’s a large major-label shaped elephant in this particular room) – but at the same time I wonder if that’s only due to the frequent lack of attribution/royalties, which makes things harder for working musicians/producers at a time when they’re tough enough already. (and there’s such a hazy definition of what a transformative work is anyway). Maybe if we had a better idea of what a future economic model for musicians might look like, I’d be less fussed? I’m willing to admit this probably looks like naked self-interest. Because that’s kind of what it is…

    “if you don’t want people to make your work a part of their cultural milieu (and all that that entails with regard to its “integrity”) then the choice is simple: do. not. publish.”

    now this, i have to admit, is extremely tempting. in fact it’s something i’ve been mulling over for some months; what if a full copy of your music was not available at all? barring some short clips on youtube or soundcloud, if people wanted to hear the whole thing they would need to come see you live; you could even release partial track stems so that people/producers could assemble a rough version of your work, but not the whole thing… given that in underground dance music, the proportion of people who make basically $0 from a vinyl release is increasing very rapidly, it certainly looks worth a go at some point.

    i guess also we need to look at the idea of commerce as a sustaining force because i’ll need to get a proper job otherwise the alternatives are currently very nebulous. As I hinted in the post, I think the cloud is going to whip the rug out from under the industry in its current shape, and spotify royalty rates won’t remotely make up the shortfall. There will be alternatives, sure – merchandising, sponsorship, live, although all these are commerce I guess. You mention models having “been captured… by an unnecessary, parasitical managerial class….”

    …Which is something I very rarely see – from this end of the industry, pretty much everyone involved lives and breathes it already. DJs who sleep at the promoters’ house, record deals that offer 50/50 profit splits, clubs in different citites sharing the costs of flights so they can bring a performer over. It’s pretty lean, and in general, the view from down here is that there aren’t too many middlemen creaming off an undeserved profit.

    And I do think the majors have had their day to be honest – i suspect we’re drifting towards a much wider, flatter ‘industry’ where there’s less money, the companies (barring the infrastructure crew like soundcloud, software companies and so on) get smaller, but the number of participants grows.

    “which would require nothing short of a surveillance state — what sort of musical culture does that produce? not a healthy, vigorous culture, in my view. ”

    perhaps not, but i think we’re past the point of no return on that one. Youtube have been on the case for a while, now Soundcloud too; now that Yahoo have started the online storage game I think it will be ever easier to analyse and watermark.

    which is, i agree, pretty scary.

    well, that wasn’t very focused. I’m rambling a bit now, but thanks for taking time to give your thoughts on what i wrote, it’s appreciated!


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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