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Music Sampling Technology

February 5, 2018

 

 

The previous blog focused on a brief history of sampling, this blog is going to look at the different types of sampling technology and music genres they inspired. Before we do this I think it’s important to define what music sampling is. I find this definition useful when thinking about sampling:

 

“Sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.”

 

Some of the early experiments into music sampling was achieved through the physical manipulation of magnetic tape and associated with experimental musicians in the mid 20th century. From the 1960’s onwards however sampling technologies developed rapidly becoming integrated into mainstream music and fundamental to the way that certain music genres evolved. Below are three music sampling technologies that were and are still used today alongside  some examples of artists and genres they were used in.

 

Reel to Reel

 

Frankie knuckles, often affectionately referred to the as the godfather of house, was known for classic house tracks such as; Your Love, Baby Wants to Ride and Tears. Somewhat poetically his track Your love ( a cover of a Jamie Principle track by the same name) has been sampled and covered multiple times, a mashup version by Candi Staton called ‘You've got the love’ is perhaps the most famous example.

 

He was instrumental in defining how early house music was created and used sampling techniques involving a reel to reel tape machine. After creating a career as a DJ he turned his hand to creating music he used a quarter-inch Pioneer reel-to-reel tape machine, like the one picture below, to sample music by physically cutting up sections of tape that contained existing songs to then be re-arranged for house music tracks. These new arrangements often included a drum machine acting as the the rhythm section and provided the raw foundations of house music.

 

Pioneer Rt 1011l 2 track recorder tape machine

 

 

Digital Hardware samplers

 

Digital hardware samplers emerged towards the mid-to-late 80’s. These pieces of hardware allowed the user to take a section of an existing record and save it within the memory of the sampler so that it can manipulated in various ways (pitched up/down, filtered, times stretched, played across keys etc) and used within new compositions. Some digital hardware samplers also contained pre-existing samples stored as presets that could be triggered by the user for musical purposes.

 

To use a hardware sampler a sound source would be recorded into it, for example the output of a vinyl player could be recorded into a sampler and from here a loop could be recorded/saved within the limited memory of the sampler or on a floppy disk. This recorded piece of music could then be altered, looped in different ways or even kept as it is to make a completely new song, instrumental or backing track for a singer or rapper.

 

A master of sampling was Hip Hop legend J Dilla who used an Akai MPC 3000 to completely rework existing music compositions to be used for other rappers or even as instrumentals in their own right. One of his most famous songs featuring Common and D'Angelo called ‘So far to go’ sampled the Isley Brothers ‘Don’t say goodnight’. It's amazing to hear how he actually re-worked this into a track, this song and sample can heard here

An further insight into his production process that helped created this track as well as countless others can also be found here.

 

 

J Dilla with an Akai MPC 3000

 

Software sampler

 

The rise of computer based software samplers really led to the decline and use of digital hardware samplers. Software samplers provide convenience, additional functionality and integration within DAWs, this has led to them becoming the most common way in which to go about sampling.

 

There are a number of different ways in which to sample using software, some programs exist that allow you to record sounds sources form anything on your computer, ‘Audio Hijack’ is one such program. DAW’s allow you to record directly into they from a sound source such as a vinyl player for creative manipulation or they they come with sampler emulators such as logics ESX24, as picture below, that uses features that were commonly found on their digital hardware counterparts (filter, key mapping & pitching etc).

 

Mj cole is a music producer perhaps best known for his work with garage music that makes use of sample emulator. In this video he gives a useful insight into the ways that he uses software for sampling, in particular, Logics ESX24 to chop up and rework the vocals he did for a remix of the artist Rag n Bone man. This isn't actually that dissimilar to the way samples were used in the previous methods mentioned, just the tools used to do it have changed.  

 

The move towards recording and creatively manipulating samples within software has further opened up the creative musical possibilities of what can be done in music and helped to create signature styles and music genres.

When thinking of the musician Mura Masa and his earlier songs, he heavily made use of Ableton's pitching function to create high or low pitched vocals, a techniques associated with Future bass music. An example of this sampling technique can be found on his track 'I've never felt so good’ which takes a large sample of Brian McKnight ‘Never Felt This Way’. This sampling technique is pretty straight forward and can be done in a matter of seconds, highlighting one of the main reasons that software sampling has become so popular.

 

Logic Pro X EXS 24 Sampler

Summary

 

The way in which to sample music has evolved alongside music technology advancements, there isn’t a right or better way in which to sample, it all comes down to what you are trying to achieve or what sound you want and there are of course inherent restriction or advantage depending on the medium you choose to use which you should take into consideration before starting your own compositions. This blog should make you aware of the common music sampling methods so that you can make your own decisions for your musical creations. 

 

In my opinion what’s most important is that as these pieces of hardware and software became affordable they broke down barriers for entry to making music. What is clear is that sampling has been influential in the development of a number of different music genres and styles and I hope that it will continue to do so for years to come.

 

 

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