Deconstructing Beck is an album that was produced in 1998 by an anonymous group posing as Illegal Art. The album is a compilation of 13 songs created completely from Beck samples, samples that were not legally approved by Beck's recording label. Illegal Art's actions set off a large scale legal battle between the two record labels and attracted worldwide media attention. According to Steven Shaviro, the release of Deconstructing Beck served as a challenge to the music industry since the music artist Beck creates much of his music by sampling other artists' original music.
About Deconstructing Beck
Deconstructing Beck is a compilation of 13 songs which were all created by mixing together several of Beck's songs. The album was produced by the anonymous sample recording label named Illegal Art which was created by an anonymous person(s) calling himself/herself/themselves Philo T. Farnsworth. "The samples have been manipulated electronically in various ways. The resulting thirteen tracks, by a number of different pseudonymous artists, have a "do-it-yourself" feel. Most of them were made on Macintosh computers, with relatively inexpensive software. By the standards of the recording industry, this makes it low-tech. The CD’s sound varies from track to track, but overall it is far more abrasive than Beck’s original music. Some of the pieces work as witty commentaries on their source. Others change the music unrecognizably, breaking it into abstract formal patterns."
- Mr. Meridies "Paving the Road to Hell Pt2"
- Jane Dowe "Puzzels & Pagans"
- Huk Don Phun "Killer Control Enters Blackhole"
- Steev Hise "Stuck Together, Falling Apart"
- The International Bankers "Void Transaction"
- Corporal Blossom "Burning Today's Memory"
- Mr. Meridies "So Cal Weevil Dream"
- The Evolution Control Committee "One Beck in the Grave"
- Spacklequeen "Eggs eggs, arms legs"
- Hromlegn Kainn "Doublefolded"
- Mr. Meridies "Carpet Tunnel Syndrome"
- Jane Dowe "Bust a Move"
- J. Teller "Fat Zone"
Deconstructing Beck is built completely out of samples taken, without authorization or payment, from Beck or his record label. When the release of the album was announced in February 1998, Illegal Art made great efforts to inform Beck's lawyers and recording company. Immediately, Beck's lawyers threatened to sue on the grounds of copyright infringement which resulted in a high-profile controversy. However, Beck's lawyers and publicist were never able to take legal action since the identity of Philo T. and the actual location of Illegal Art was unknown. Since the CD violates copyright laws, it cannot be sold in stores and is publicized and marketed exclusively over the Internet.
Steven Shaviro's article "Deconstructing Beck" brings up many important issues regarding the use of appropriation and sampling in the music industry today. Shaviro's article takes issue with the legalities of sound/image ownership and copyrights. Shaviro's utilization of the controversy surrounding Beck and Deconstructing Beck bring questions such as "who owns the images and sounds around us?" and "what does it mean to own a sound?" to the surface. Beck's own music is created from various beats and rhythms of all different genres of music from multiple artists. However, Beck's recording company Geffen Records financially backs Beck and is able to pay the royalty and copyright fees of the samples Beck utilizes in his own songs. Since Beck's songs are paid for and legal he is considered "eclectic" and an artist of appropriation. However, those who do not have record label support and cannot afford copyright fees and continue to appropriate others' music are seen as thieves and criminals. This issue calls into question the issue of music ownership. Since recording companies leverage the money for copyright fees and serve as "watch dogs" over their clients' work, do they ultimately own music? This situation also leads the reader to question how these copyright legalities limit artist creativity and at what point is a song considered brand new? "As the contrast between Beck and Deconstructing Beck suggests, the practice of sampling can take many different forms and has a wide range of implications and meanings."
- Shaviro, Illegal Art: Deconstructing Beck. ArtByte, June–July 1998
- Shaviro, Steven. Connected. University of Minnesota Press, 2003
- Deconstructing Beck at Illegal Art