With the vinyl format becoming more and more popular among music fans, many albums are being rediscovered through trips to secondhand stores. Back in 2000, a group of Australian musicians purchased hundreds of them to be used as samples in a noise punk project. When this group disbanded, these records became the inspiration for an ambitious musical endeavour in electronic dance music.
The Avalanches' only release, Since I Left You, consists primarily of samples taken from these vinyls. After two years of swapping demos back and forth, core members Darren Seltmann and Robbie Chater had amassed a collection of potential candidates for the album. Using about 3,500 samples in total, the album was initially crafted to be a concept album. The idea was that the songs followed the main character travelling from port to port trying to catch up with a girl he's in love with. The records were from various parts of the world, allowing them to create different moods and settings for each song. Although the overarching idea was abandoned later in production, it's clear in songs like “Since I Left You” and “Pablo's Cruise” that the story remained part of the album.
Throughout the development of Since I Left You, the band expected to release it only in Australia. This allowed them greater creative freedom in that they did not have to concern themselves with international copyright laws. As a result, they didn’t keep track of what samples were being used. However, the album ended up being released in the UK as well to critical acclaim, peaking at #8 on the UK Albums Chart. As it remained there for 25 weeks, it was also released in the US where it peaked at #10 on the Top Electronic Albums.
Due to international copyright law, the worldwide release carried a number of issues with it. As samples were cleared, a number of them had to be removed. In particular, the entire introduction of the album had to be rewritten following a copyright claim from Rogers & Hammerstein regarding a sample from the musical "South Pacific". In the end, this caused releases in other countries to be different than the original version of the album.
Although copyright laws clearly exist for a reason, it seems that in situations like this it can hinder creative expression more than help it. In particular, with the rise of electronic and sample-based music, more and more musicians are experiencing difficulty when experimenting with plunderphonics (music created from samples). Fortunately, most publishers gave The Avalanches’ permission, most notably Madonna, who allowed them to sample a bass line from her song, “Holiday”.
Regardless, the end product remains an extremely fun and well-produced debut electronic/dance album that contains more depth than the genre may imply. I personally enjoy this genre, but even if you find the music to be outside of your taste, I believe this album and its story represents a significant stepping stone in how music is created and released in today’s world.
As a side note, if you find the concept of plunderphonics intriguing and also like Disney movies, pull up YouTube and check out Pogo. Although not as technically impressive as The Avalanches, Pogo cuts together clips in a creative musical way that earned him a commission straight from Pixar to create a song for the movie "Up". In particular, the songs “Alice” and “Bloom” are among my favourites, but I can guarantee you’ll find at least a few made from movies you’ve seen before.