The Terminology of Borrowing

Blackburn, Manuella (2019). The Terminology of Borrowing. Organised Sound, 24(02) pp. 139–156.



This article specifically addresses electroacoustic music compositions that borrow from existing musical and sound resources. Investigating works that borrow and thrive upon existing sound sources presents an array of issues regarding terminology, authorship and creativity. Embedding borrowed elements into new electroacoustic music goes beyond the simplicity of ‘cut and paste’ as composers approach this practice with new and novel techniques. Musical borrowings have been widely studied in fields of popular and classical music, from cover songs to quotations and from pastiches to theme and variations; however, borrowings that take place within the field of electroacoustic music can be less clear or defined, and demand a closer look. Because the components and building blocks of electroacoustic music are often recorded sound, the categories of borrowing become vast; thus incidences of borrowing, in some shape or form, can appear inevitable or unavoidable when composing. The author takes on this issue and proposes a new framework for categorising borrowings as a helpful aid for others looking to sample in new compositional work, as well as for further musicological study. The article will consider the compositional process of integration and reworking of borrowed material, using a repertoire study to showcase the variety of techniques in play when sound materials change hands, composer to composer. Terminology already in use by others to describe sound borrowing in electroacoustic music will be investigated in an effort to show the multitude of considerations and components in action when borrowing takes place. Motivations for borrowing, borrowing types, borrowing durations, copying as imitation, and composers’ reflections upon borrowing will all be considered within the article, along with discussions on programmatic development and embedding techniques. At the heart of this article, the author aims to show how widespread and pervasive borrowing is within the electroacoustic repertoire by drawing attention to varieties of sound transplants, all considered as acts of borrowing.

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