Out of time

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

One ob­vi­ous lim­i­ta­tion of early sam­plers was time. With many of­fer­ing a to­tal mem­ory of just a few sec­onds, pro­duc­ers looked for cre­ative ways to fit in as many sounds as pos­si­ble. The sim­ple so­lu­tion when sampling from a record was to pitch it up. In­stead of sampling at 33rpm, the record could be played at 45rpm, with the pitch con­trol all the way up to make it as fast as pos­si­ble. The sam­ple could then be pitched down in the sam­pler, tak­ing up less mem­ory but play­ing back at roughly the same speed and pitch as the orig­i­nal sound.

The un­in­tended side ef­fect of this process was that the ef­fec­tive sound qual­ity of the sam­ples dropped. When you pitch a sound down, you’re re­duc­ing its ef­fec­tive sam­ple rate: in sim­ple terms, the sam­pler doesn’t have any ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on what hap­pens ‘between’ two sam­ples, so the more you pitch the sound down, the more it has to fill in the gaps with a rough ap­prox­i­ma­tion.

Ex­actly the same ef­fect is pos­si­ble in any DAW. Pitch a sound up, re­sam­ple it and pitch it back down to draw out a bit of that crusty 80s char­ac­ter. You can also roll off some high fre­quen­cies and add a bit of mild dis­tor­tion to help mel­low out the sound. This is of­ten very ef­fec­tive on in­di­vid­ual drum hits.

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