I started making music when I was 9 or 10. Back then, nobody would have called it ‘making music,’ because all I did was cut together different parts of a song and loop them by pausing and un-pausing the record button on my boombox.
Nowadays, that is music. It’s sort of been that way for a while. This is where so many ‘bedroom DJ’s’ had their start. That’s how DJ Shadow learned his craft, and kinda opened the world up for the rest of us sampling-dusty-records-into-our-computers kids… or Akai MPC’s if you had money.
Now everyone’s a bedroom DJ. Traktor, Fruity Loops, Garage Band, etc. If GarageBand had existed at that age, I would never have come out of my room.
The birth of sampling:
The birth of sampling wasn’t back in the 60′s with Delia Derbyshire.
I mean it was, in a way, but not in the modern way; using samples from recorded works to make new works must have found root in the late 80′s / early 90′s, kids experimenting with “high-speed dubbing” on slim boomboxes in bedrooms. Were you one of those kids?
I’m not talking about ghetto blasters, the kind with the enormous subwoofers and one tape deck. Those were performative, came with mic jacks and were meant to be played loud as hell.
This was after the ghetto blaster had it’s boom, when the incorporation of high-speed dubbing became a selling point for portable stereos, apparently due to the fact that people were copying music in their homes now, and didn’t have much time to sit through it.
You’d dub a tape and hear 20 minutes of chipmunk music and then you’d have a copy.
I consider the Sony CFS-W303 boombox to be my first instrument.
This to me is sampling: duplicating something on your own and using it to make something new. Un-pausing the record button changed the definition of ‘ownership’ and introduced sampling in terms of music for all of us.
Falling in love with sampling:
My brother gave me the idea, after popping on a cassette ‘dub remix’ he had made of a Bobby Brown song.
All he had really done was take the instrumental and dubbed in occasional parts of the vocal version. Maybe now if I listened to it I would laugh, but I was entranced, MY brother had hijacked this professionally recorded work and made something new out of it.
When I got a dubbed tape with the Coldcut “Seven Minutes of Madness” remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s ”Paid In Full” on it, my brain melted through my ears and my view on music was forever warped in this new way.
The Coldcut treatment of that rap classic, with the disparate samples from all eras of pop culture and music, yet so artfully dropped doesn’t distract or detract from the original message of “I NEED MONEY”, but rather enhances it and somehow puts it in context. A surreal work of sample beauty and an inspiration for kids like me.
“This is a journey… into sound. A journey which along the way will bring to you new color, new dimension new value…”
Since then, I’ve rarely heard sampling taken to such a level of conceptual craziness – the irreverent humor of the samples played in time with the beat of the original track, it was so completely different from anything I had heard.
My brother would lip-sync along with every sample, doing the 80′s tv announcer saying “It’s sooooooo FRESH!” the Chinese-sounding girl saying “By George, even longer groooooves” and the creepy 50′s suburban Tv commercial dad saying “Good night, kids..” at the end of the song. It absolutely stimulated every part of my little kid brain and still gives me tingles. It was my first taste of sampling, of musical post-modernism.
It shattered my expectations of music and anything that came before it was immediately dated. To this day, I still know Rakim’s entire rap on Paid In Full by heart.
Shortly after that, Prince and so many others seemed to catch on to this new way of sampling irreverent stuff, scratching samples, even self-referential ones on vinyl and tapping MPC buttons.
This was in 1987, already sampling was becoming a thing. That thing, the idea of sampling, of taking one thing and turning it into another thing, has informed my whole thought process.
I started making my tape-deck pause-button remixes, all of them aiming to be as ridiculous as the Coldcut remix, but obviously, I was 8, so not much came of it…
The first time I looked at sound:
A few years later I figured out that our tan-colored mac computer had a mini headphone jack and a microphone jack on it. I played a sample from a Pizzicatto Five CD into my computer, using Hypercard, the only application that let you record a sound and then look at the soundwave and cue it like a sampler. That totally amazed me, it was the first time I looked at sound.
Then a video editing program came pre-installed on our next computer. I had no videos, but the software had audio tracks. Multiple tracks. I took a Portished song and remixed it using these multiple layers of sound.
For my first two or three albums, now only in the hands of a few people, I used samples liberally. Everything was a sample, and every song was a different genre, heavily influenced by Luke Vibert’s multiple persona’s.
I loaded them into a program called “Player Pro” which was a ‘soundtracker’ program, looking like a vertical MIDI layout, and samples would cue when the cue bar rolled over them to the BPM.
Then I finally started figuring things out.
It wasn’t until Daft Punk came along that I decided to try and get more organic, use more synths and original instrumentation in my songs. This was when I started figuring out chords on the keyboard that sounded like them.
The whole idea of using samples in music has bothered me more than you might expect. These days it’s no big deal to heavily sample a song or just remix / re-edit it and then end up making money from that. Even without permission from the original recording’s label, there are ways around it to receive money, in the form of ‘donations’.
The problem with samples is…they’re a crutch.
To me, samples are rarely treated in an artistic way. Why? I think we oftentimes lean too much on them. We create a skeleton of a track and then copy and paste the heart & soul in there. This isn’t an anti-sampling rant. Some people do amazing things with samples, making the new thing better than the original.
And isn’t that kinda how it should be?
The few people who compose amazing songs out of samples just with arrangement and a good choice of beats are great.
But DJ Premiere perfected this as early as the mid 1990′s and Jay-Dee (J Dilla) perfected again before his untimely death. How many more sample artists do we need?
It’s time to envision a new approach to sampling.
It may involve the mentality of sampling, but instead of copyrighted material, what about sampling every day life?
Do you have to restrict your themes to the world of pop culture and music?
What about the idea of storytelling in music, samples giving meaning to the song instead of lyrics?
What about learning how to create the sound you want instead of sampling it and putting that out?
The idea is what will drive you, instead of the sample.
If you let it.
If you get down & dirty and expose yourself and your idea, and stop hiding behind songs where you simply added a beat.
There’s so little of you in those. That’s all I’m saying.
How about you?
Have you tried doing new things involving the art of sampling?
What have you come up with?
What advice do you have for the rest of us?
This post is dedicated to my brother, Jon.
Thanks for introducing me to everything.