A Brief History of Sampling by Papas st germain Part 1
Sampling has been arguably one of the most revolutionary changes to have occurred within the music industry in the last 30 years. Sampling has evolved from a point in the early to mid 80’s to the current day where it is the basis for many artists and producers productions and certainly one of the main elements of the creative processes across many musical genres, particularly hip-hop, dub step , ambient/ electronica and house music.
Although in some cases, sampling had been used and abused to cover up some artists lack of creativity e.g.(taking large chunks of someone else’s material and passing it off as their own) it has also given some talented and creative artists the freedom to create inventive styles, genres and new ideas in musical terms and remains a crucial tool in many producer’s and artists armory.
For the this post, I am going to examine some of the history of where sampling and manipulating sound came from and to also explore the developments in sampling techniques as digital audio technology came to the fore and made access to the technology affordable and convenient to many artists and producers.
The Futurists idea , was that everyday sound should also be as valid in a musical context. This would mean including sounds from industry, bells , whistles etc into an orchestral performance for a live audience.
The idea is that there should be no barrier between organised orchestral music played with instruments and actual sound as it exists in the world around us. Their manifesto in 1913 “The Art Of Noises”, highlights some of their ideas.
The painter Luigi Rossolo, wrote a letter to the composer Francesco Pratella which suggested the idea that there should be no distinctions between sounds that have instrumental/musical origins and those from the street, industry and warfare. Russolo goes further by suggesting that these sounds should also be an integral part of a new type of music as opposed to being a novelty aspect within the orchestral forms of the day. Rossolo went on to create 3 machines specifically to be used as performance sound makers known as the Howler, the Cracker and the Rubber. The ideas pursued by Rossolo are close in theory to the idea of taking parts of everyday sound, manipulating them and incorporating them into a musical context.
The Early Years
The basis of the domestic Elements series is to take samples of everyday sounds, manipulate those sounds and then incorporate the sounds into musical forms. This is not an entirely new idea and is similar to an idea proposed back in the early 1900’s by an Italian art movement known as the Futurists.
Further on, in historical terms, there were more developments in this area and these developments tend to occur as technology progresses. In the 1940’s, there were certain innovators who used the technology of the time to create new musical forms.
Pierre Schaeffer (1948) had similar ideas to the Futurists in taking non-musical sounds and incorporating them into musical forms. Scheaffer was a radio engineer who began experimenting with sounds, recording them and putting them into new forms. He would use disc recorders and players to achieve this which was revolutionary new technology for the time.
The techniques that Schaeffer employed are almost identical to those employed by producers/artists immersed in sampling culture from the mid 1980’s to the present day. Schaeffer’s experiments led to him creating a work called “Etude aux chemins de fer”. This work involved him taking location recordings of trains, treating them and incorporating them into a composition which was extremely unconventional in comparison to the works of the time. Schaeffer developed his work even further to the extent that it could be argued that he actually developed the first prototype sampler.
Schaeffer started working with tape recorders and built a machine called the Phonogene. This machine allowed the tape recordings to be played using a keyboard interface. Non musical sound sources could now be played and treated in the same way as conventional sound sources/instruments. The new tape technology was the key element in allowing the creation of the Phonogene instrument.This is almost 20 years before the Mellotron was conceived.
Things would start to get even more interesting in the 60's when a mass cultural explosion collided with more new technology to create a melting pot of new ideas,innovation and experimentation.
That's all for now ,the next post will start from the 1960s onwards and beyond.