Sampling’s cul­tural im­pact

Computer Music - - Make Music Now / Old-School Sampling -

Col­lage. Cut and paste. Ref­er­enc­ing. What­ever you want to call it, the act of scav­eng­ing source ma­te­rial and re­pur­pos­ing it in new cre­ative works had a huge im­pact on 20th cen­tury art. The same can most cer­tainly be said of the in­flu­ence sampling tech­nol­ogy had on the way peo­ple made mu­sic – and the mu­sic we con­tinue to make and en­joy in the 21st cen­tury.

There’s a school of thought that sampling de­rives from dub reg­gae pro­duc­ers of the late 60s and early 70s, who cre­ated ‘ver­sions’ of their mu­sic – largely in­stru­men­tal tracks based on ex­ist­ing hit records. Pro­duc­ers would em­pha­sise the bass, use ex­treme echo ef­fects and oc­ca­sion­ally drop in snatches of voice from tape ma­chines, a lit­tle like vo­cal sampling.

While there’s clear sim­i­lar­ity in the ap­proach, sampling refers specif­i­cally to the process of an ana­logue-to-dig­i­tal con­verter (ADC) tak­ing a ‘sam­ple’ of an ana­logue sig­nal thou­sands of times a sec­ond, and stor­ing its level to build a dig­i­tal ap­prox­i­ma­tion of the sig­nal. As such, sampling can only truly be said to have emerged af­ter dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy’s ar­rival.

As com­mer­cially vi­able dig­i­tal au­dio prod­ucts only re­ally took off in the late 70s and early 80s, it’s no sur­prise that an ex­plo­sion of mu­si­cal creativ­ity co­in­cided with the re­lease of the ear­li­est sam­plers. Early 80s pop would have sounded com­pletely dif­fer­ent with­out the E-MU Emu­la­tor in par­tic­u­lar. Around that time, hip-hop DJs were al­ready loop­ing and ex­tend­ing in­stru­men­tal breaks from funk and soul tracks by cut­ting back and forth between two copies of the same record on a pair of turnta­bles, ex­tend­ing the beat for break­dancers to dance to and rap­pers to rhyme over. Once sam­plers ar­rived, hip-hop ma­tured rapidly, evolv­ing from the drum ma­chine-driven sound of acts like Run-DMC to the ex­per­i­ments of Pub­lic En­emy.

In Detroit and Chicago, the sam­pler had just as much of an im­pact on the early techno and house scenes. Sampling be­came a sta­ple tech­nique of many pro­duc­ers and even cre­ated en­tire sub-gen­res in its own right. Fil­ter house, with its re­liance on looped sam­ples of old disco tracks, could never have ex­isted with­out the cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties sam­plers in­tro­duced.

The E-MU Emu­la­tor II and its kin de­fined the 80s

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