A found object, in an artistic sense, indicates the use of an object which has not been designed for an artistic purpose, but which exists for another purpose already. Found objects may exist either as utilitarian, manufactured items, or things (including, at times, dead bodies) which occur in nature. In both cases the objects are discovered by the artist or musician to be capable of being employed in an artistic way, and are designated as "found" to distinguish them from purposely created items used in the art forms.
"Found object" can also refer to a small object found by chance which, though usually of little monetary value, captures the imagination of the finder and is therefore kept as a keepsake. Perhaps it is a penny or an unusual stone or even a pretty piece of metal. Often found just "on the ground," it is kept as a curiosity or even a good luck charm. They are often associated with a trip or a special memory or an important time in a person's life. The connotations of mystery about where it came from, the feeling that it is a lucky or providential occurrence, and the sense that it is simply a "free gift from the world" or "from nowhere" can add to the sense of wonder or magic surrounding a found object. A "found object" may stand alone or may form the basis for a collection. Some birds similarly use shiny things they find in their nests, and some people delibrately seek out such objects, for example with a metal detector, though some would say delibrately seeking takes away from the random by-chance nature of found objects. In Disney's The Little Mermaid, Ariel sings the song "Part of Your World" inspired by her collection of found objects dropped into the sea.
Early uses of found objects in art focussed on the readymades of artists such as Marcel Duchamp, who shocked the art world with his famous display of a ceramic urinal ("Fountain") in 1917. Pablo Picasso and Kurt Schwitters were among many early proponents of the use of found objects in art, which became an important feature in the work of many schools of art, including the Surrealist, Dadaist, Merz, and Conceptual art movements.
Found objects have gained increasing importance in art over the course of the twentieth century, with many art movements finding new freedoms of expression which had been stifled by the more stringent definitions of art previously used. In the last fifty years, artists ranging from Robert Rauschenberg to Tracey Emin have incorporated found objects into their work either as a main focus of the art or as embellishing features.
The use of found objects in modern music is connected to experiments in indeterminacy and aleatory music by such composers as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, although it has reached its ascendency in those areas of popular music most closely aligned with these classical movements, such as the ambient works of Brian Eno. In Eno's hugely influential work, found objects are credited on many tracks.
The ambient music movement which followed Eno's lead has also made use of such sounds, with notable exponents being performers such as Future Sound of London and Autechre, and natural sounds have also been incorporated into many pieces of New Age music.
Found objects have occasionally been featured in very-well known pop songs: "You Still Believe In Me" from the Beach Boys's Pet Sounds features bicycle bells and horns as part of the orchestral arrangements.
The use of found objects in music takes one of two general forms: either objects are deliberately recorded, with their sound used directly or in processed form, or previous recordings are sampled for use as part of a work (the latter often being referred to simply as "found sound" or "sampling"). With the improvement and easy accessibility of sampling technology since the 1980s, this second method has flourished and is a major component of much modern popular music, particularly in such genres as hip hop.