snugglers will have already read it (or at least had to opportunity to do so).
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Byline: Misty Harris
Source: CanWest News Service
Although they would never make the cut on Canadian Idol, the computerized voices of Internet dictionaries are this month's hottest - and unlikeliest - rock stars. This thanks to Dictionaraoke.org, a popular website where dozens of musical favourites are "sung" by online pronunciation guides.
Think Merriam-Webster meets William Shatner meets The Girl From Ipanema and you've got the idea.
Few of the people login on for a laugh are likely to realize the mainstream site also functions as a countercultural beacon to those who oppose the recording industry's stance on music sampling.
"There are hidden depths in Dictionaraoke," observes historical musicologist Mary Ingraham, director of liberal studies in the University of Alberta's faculty of extension. "There's certainly a very serious political side to it."
That side is called plunderphonics, a term coined in 1985 by Canadian composer John Oswald. Ingraham says it usually describes any music made by combining existing recordings and altering them to create a new composition, a process many artists in the genre use to protest restrictive copyright laws.
The average listener might struggle to see a subversive statement about audio piracy in a robotic remake of The Macarena. But it's there, Ingraham says, waiting to be discovered. "At its surface, it's entertaining," she says. "If you want to go deeper, there are other layers to it."
According to Jim Allenspach, the Chicago computer programmer who founded Dictionaraoke in 2001, the idea was to provide a commentary on the music industry in a way that would appeal to a mass audience.
Some of the site's guiltiest pleasures include I've Got You Babe in a duet by Merriam-Webster Online and Microsoft Encarta; Take on Me, a catchy reconstruction of the hit A-ha song; and an inspired rap rendition of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, a tune that achieved cult notoriety on indie radio upon its release.
"It's a very concrete example of fair use in action," says Allenspach, noting that nobody involved with Dictionaraoke is profiting from it.
"We know the music industry is aware of the site, we just haven't received any communication from them. I guess no news is good news."
David Dixon, one of the people who helped get Dictionaraoke off the ground, describes the site as a fun way of demonstrating the difference between derivative composition and outright stealing.
"It's a really great example of how harmless sampling can be," says Dixon, a former physics professor from Milwaukee. "If anything, it promotes the original song."
By wrapping their message in playful, unexpected packaging - he equates it to drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa - it's easier to grab public attention.
"The way to attract people to your site is to make them laugh," explains Dixon. "Then their defences are down and you can burrow into their heads more efficiently."
Michael Slezak, senior writer for Entertainment Weekly online, boosted Dictionaraoke's hipster credentials last week by linking to the already bustling site. But he says it was more to give his readers "a boost at work" than to make a statement about copyright.
"I didn't really think much about subversiveness when I was listening to Oops, I Did It Again," admits Slezak. "Although in some ways, it was almost as enjoyable as hearing Britney Spears sing. And possibly just as human." ¶