“Art” and “Since I Left You” by The Avalanches


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I discovered the video of the sample-based song “Since I Left You” after encountering a YouTube comment on another video that read: “It [the video] changed my life.” Aside from my reaction to the song (see below), it led me to ask myself: Can a piece of music consisting entirely of manipulated samples of other records qualify as “art” in the full sense, i.e. as the term is applied to an original song?

Some people might object to the concept of “art in the full sense.” My thinking is that not everything artistic is art. For example, wallpaper design, handicrafts, and (dare I say it) architecture are not art in the full sense even though they employ many of the tools and techniques of art. In fact, I am sure art evolved out of the streamlining and “beautification” of utilitarian objects.

Anyway, such an over-the-top statement as “This video changed my life” piqued my curiosity, so I looked for and watched/listened to it. Here it is:

The song, especially as here interpreted, deals with a spiritual awakening of sorts. I had a strong positive reaction; for me, it brought thoughts the call of music as such—a dance in the mind that yearns for physical expression. (Incidentally, I have always found something very life-affirming in the sight of an obese person dancing well. I don’t know if others have this reaction.)

Given this result of artistic pleasure, one certainly might be willing to accept sound productions like this as compositions in their own right, and thus as art “in the full sense.” But since art demands thorough selectivity, some might question whether importation of sounds wholesale from other (sometimes famous) recordings allows the degree of control by the artist that seems required. Certainly, the sonic manipulations on this recording are very numerous and varied—tempo, pitch, fades, echo, attack, decay, and many other parameters. But this leaves a lot out of the hands of the “composer.” Once a sound is chosen, it is more or less “frozen” and one is constrained by the original musical idea.

However, a musical creation is often built up from a starting idea, and that idea influences the subsequent choices. This phenomenon of continual adjustment, to my mind, is enough to push such massively sampled works into the category of art in the “full” sense that applies to any popular recording.

Many people will of course not like or identify with it; many factors are involved in one’s response to music. (Some might be turned off by the slightly weird overall sound.) But that does not prove there is no objective worth in music. (Would anyone maintain, for example, that Chopin’s Etude in E is not a great melody, and a great piano work?) This is from Stylus Magazine writer Ally Brown, quoted in the song’s Wikipedia article under “Critical Reception”:



A decade in, nothing’s come close to matching ‘Since I Left You’’s distillation of pure joy from a hundred different songs.” Q [Magazine] included “Since I Left You” in their lists of the Ultimate Music Collection and the 1,001 Best Songs Ever.


That might be a clue to some objectivity about it at least. I hope some here find “Since I Left You” a happy discovery.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for sharing. If you have ever watched “Midsomer Murders” on public TV and compared it to an American mystery show you may notice the Brit’s budget is probably a tenth of the American Show but I like the British show just as well as ours, if not better. Excellent video . .  that I will share too.

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It's all in the writing. On that topic, I hate those many sitcoms that largely consist of 'setup-immediately-followed-by-punchline' happenings. It is shallow and predictable humor. I often find British comedy better. Character- and situation-based, it goes deeper and you feel prouder laughing. John Cleese has commented on this in the past.

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