In 1988, Canadian composer John Oswald released Plunderphonics, a landmark experiment in unlicensed audio sampling that used songs by massively popular artists as source material.
One of the most striking tracks is “Pretender,” which turns Dolly Parton’s rendition of the doo-wop classic “The Great Pretender” into putty. Parton’s vocal gradually changes speed, shifting from a low croon to a helium-voiced squeal and back again. The effect is eerie yet beguiling—an aural uncanny valley—and the original song takes on a new shape in the process. Unsurprisingly, record labels were less enthusiastic, and all undistributed copies of the release were destroyed.
I found myself thinking of “Pretender” during the final seconds of *piss on my heart*, a dizzying 17-minute sound collage by Durham’s Mimi Luse, released under the name Manhole. In this case, it’s Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs’ bland 1963 hit “Sugar Shack” that gets mangled, slouching out from under the squall of noise like a broken wind-up toy.
Coming after nine tracks that flit between militant post-punk, found sound, and industrial techno, the moment passes almost before it registers. But it’s a fitting coda for a project concerned with the relationship between sound and source, property and ownership. Manhole uses found sound as raw material to highlight a different sort of plunder: that of capitalism, racism, and the spectacle of violence in America.
Created during the recent national wave of protests (with all Bandcamp proceeds going to bail funds), the album proceeds in short, urgent fragments that dissolve before we can get too comfortable. “Autozone” refers to the burning of a Minneapolis AutoZone after George Floyd was killed by the police. “Communist Time Signature” includes recordings of the Durham protests that toppled a Confederate monument in 2017. “Cage to Cage” addresses animal cruelty. Connections are drawn between all these struggles, reflected in how sounds brush against one another and move in and out of focus.
As ideas come and go, the same insistent pulse moves beneath it all: a chromatic bass line gives way to a hammering kick drum, which finds its echo in the chants of protestors, who march side by side with a blasted-out, industrial percussion loop. As with Luse’s punk band, Cochonne, some of the fun comes from untangling the dense web of references and influences: the musique concrète of composers like Pierre Schaeffer, the poetry of Durham’s Jessica Q. Stark, the no-wave performance art duo Rosa Yemen, the post-punk band Pylon.
But it’s no intellectual chore—this record is nothing if not visceral. It’s a call to arms, a cry against a “degraded world,” and its intensity, at least until “Sugar Shack,” never flags.
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