The Development of Technology - based Music 2 Sampling

Digital technology led to the development of the first samplers in the 1980s. A sampler is a device that can take any sound that is put into it, process it and play it back. A sample is a digitally recorded fragment of sound taken from a pre-existing source for use in a new one: it could be a drum rhythm, a keyboard phrase or a whole section of a song, the Queen's speech or the sound of a vacuum cleaner, or indeed anything. There are basically two applications for sampler technology within popular music. The first is in the digital reproduction of one instrument's timbres for playback by another instrument. Typical examples might be sampled brass or string instrument sounds. This type of sampling technology was designed to make studio recording cheaper; the necessity to hire an orchestra is eliminated if the sound of orchestral instruments can be copied accurately enough by a digital device. Similarly, a drum machine might use samples of real drums, to give a realistic drum sound without having to hire a session drummer. The other application of sampler technology is in the field of dance music, such as drum'n'bass, where the sampler is the essential element. Starting with a fast beat - around 160bpm (beats per minute) - drum'n'bass tracks are created by adding layers of sampled sound. These elements may then have live instruments and vocals added. Digital samples of existing records are also used as the basis for new ones. Often the sample will be of a rhythm-section part, e.g. a bass-line or drum beat, looped as the foundation for a track.' Some songs have lifted a sizeable proportion of one track to make a new one.' Thus sampled sounds are as much a part of the modern producer's arsenal as synthesizers and sequencers, with the history of recorded pop music an evergrowing resource for the creation of new records.

The sampler takes `snapshots' (like film frames) of the sound. These are then converted to a stream of numbers, i.e. digitally recorded. The number of snapshots taken per second is known as the `sample rate'. The higher the sample rate, the better the finished sample. To get a really faithful impression of a sound, 44,100 snapshots are taken per second. When the stored sample is triggered, these snapshots are played back in order, giving a smooth reproduction of the original sound, like film frames in a cinema projector. Bit resolution is also important in determining the quality of a sample. The incoming sound is measured (or quantized) against a series of numbers; the higher the resolution, the more numbers are used. The accuracy of the final sample is dependent on the number of bits used to represent the height of the wave-form (amplitude). It is rather like the image resolution of a computer 1

The Development of Technology - based Music 2 Sampling
monitor - higher resolutions give a clearer image on your monitor. In the same way, the higher the resolution, the higher the sound definition and the closer to the original the sample will sound. For example, how much a sampled cello sounds like a real one will depend on the level of resolution. Most samplers have a bit resolution of at least 16 bits and some as high as 96. The first commercially available sampler was the Australian Fairlight CMI (computer musical instrument), which went into production in 1979. Comprising a monitor with lightpen, two keyboards and the computer itself, the Fairlight was capable of sequencing and synthesizing as well as sampling. Such revolutionary technology came at a high price; the original Series 1 went on sale at £18,000, with Series 3 selling at around`£60,000. The only customers able to afford such high prices were large studios and pop stars. Peter Gabriel bought a Fairlight, and introduced his friend Kate Bush to this new technology. One of the earliest examples of the use of a Fairlight is the cello part on `Army dreamers' by Kate Bush in 1980. The Fairlight is also featured on `Shock the monkey' by Peter Gabriel in 1982, and was used extensively on `Close to the edit' by the Art of Noise in 1984. For instance A Tribe called Quest's `Can I kick it?' (1989), which samples the bass from Lou Reed's `Walk on the wild side' (1972). For instance Puff Daddy's `I'll be missing you', which not only samples the verse sections of the Police's `Every breath you take' but also adopts the vocal melody, with altered lyrics. New England Digital's Synclavier was another expensive instrument, again aimed at wealthy musicians and studios. Its most famous incarnation was the Synclavier II. Lighter and more portable than the Fairlight, the Synclavier was also capable of FM synthesis and had a built-in sequencer.' Another American company, Emu, saw the potential in sampling, and produced the Emulator Sampler in 1981. The Emulator did not feature the synthesis or sequencing functions of the Fairlight or Synclavier, but it was much cheaper, retailing at just under $8,000. Stevie Wonder was so impressed that he bought serial number 001. In 1985 the MIDI equipped 8bit Ensoniq Mirage was introduced, probably the first sampler within the budget of the average musician. Its list price was $1,695. It featured 144K of internal RAM and a fiveoctave velocity-sensitive keyboard, as well as a small sequencer. Two of the most desirable and innovative features of the Mirage were the five-stage VCA and VCF envelopes and low pass filter, recalling the sound-shaping capabilities of older synthesizers. Such features later became standard on all samplers. In Japan in 1986, AKAI launched what was to become the workhorse of the sampling world - the S900. For its time it had superior 12-bit resolution and also a maximum 63 seconds of sample time. It also had many editing options and ten audio outputs. Its reasonable price and ease of use ensured its success. Everyone from Vangelis to Fatboy Slim used the S900. AKAI retained its sampler blueprint for many years. In 1988 the stereo 16-bit S1000 became the new benchmark. Its graphical wave-form display made editing far easier and more accurate. S1000 users also had the option of `timestretching/compressing' a sample - a process discussed below In the early 1990s a new type of sampler emerged, the software sampler. This ran as a program within a computer. The use of a large computer monitor, as opposed to the small screen found on hardware samplers, made editing much easier. It was now possible to run a sampler alongside sequencing and audio software, all on one machine, which proved especially convenient when saving information. The fact that no new hardware was required made software samplers particularly affordable. One problem often associated with sampling concerns the copyright of the original sample. In order to obtain permission to use a sample in a new song, both the master recording rights (usually owned by the record company) and the underlying copyright in the sampled composition (usually owned by the 2

The Development of Technology - based Music 2 Sampling
songwriter or the songwriter's publishing company) need to be negotiated and cleared in advance of any release. In 1990 Vanilla Ice sampled the main riff from David Bowie and Queen's `Under pressure' without asking permission. They also failed to credit the writers on the recording. The case never went to trial, but was allegedly settled out of court. The Verve sampled the string arrangement from the Rolling Stones "The last time' on their 1997 hit `Bittersweet Symphony'. Although the Verve credited the writers, one-time Stones manager Allan Klein eventually received a 100% royalty on the Verve song. Rubbing salt in the wound, Klein then licensed the track to Nike for use in a trainer advert. When `Bittersweet Symphony' was nominated for a Grammy award, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were named as the writers. In the light of this case, artists are now far more wary about sampling work without first obtaining the writer's permission. In return, the writer of the sampled work usually receives a percentage of royalties from the resulting track. Having work sampled can sometimes revive a career. For example, Armand Van Helden sampled Gary Numan's `Cars' on `Koochy', and another Numan track, `Are "friends" electric' was used as a basis for the 2002 Sugababes hit `Freak like me'. As a result, Numan's popularity has increased among a new generation of listeners. Computer memory was relatively small in the early days of PCs, and audio files took up large amounts of space. This meant that any storage or transmission of sound was severely restricted. However, over the last twenty years computer memory has increased greatly, and in the mid-1990s MP3, as it became known, demonstrated a way of compressing audio data. MP3 is a file format that is able to compress audio files to a fraction of their size while maintaining a reasonable quality of sound. Through its use, audio files can be stored and transmitted more easily over the Internet. MP3 was soon unofficially recognized as a way of sharing music over the Internet - with major pirating implications. Some of the larger sites were prosecuted in 1996, but the informal and fast-moving nature of the Internet has proved problematic for any kind of copyright control. At the time of writing, the recording industry is only just beginning to get to grips with this difficult issue.

Of all the genres of popular music, dance music has had the closest relationship with technology. The innovative sounds in modern dance music stem from Western innovators using Japanese music technology in ways probably not envisaged by the manufacturers. The use of the turntable as a musical instrument goes back to 1938 when the avant-garde American composer John Cage experimented with the sliding notes produced by changing turntable speeds in his piece Imaginary Landscape No.1. In the late 1960s, Jamaican-inspired DJ Kool Herc came up with a technique which extended non-vocal sections of songs by placing two identical copies of a record on two turntables and starting one as the other came to the end of the instrumental section. Herc's rhythmic chanting over these passages was a 3

The Development of Technology - based Music 2 Sampling
precursor to rap. The technique of switching between turntables was termed `hip-hopping', and later shortened to `hip-hop'. It was later refined by the DJ Grandmaster Flash to create `breakbeats' - the drum/percussion `breaks' between vocal sections. The introduction of the SL1200 turntable in 1973 by Japanese company Technics had a big impact on the dance scene. In the mid-1970s two New York DJs, Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Wizard Theodore, discovered that records played on the SL1200 quickly returned to their original speed after being pushed back and forth by hand. This technique came to be known as `scratching' and, coupled with the constant speed of the SL1200's sturdy motor, established the turntable as a musical instrument, or turntablism. In the late 1970s Technics upgraded the SL1200, adding a pitch control which enabled the user to speed up or slow down records. This feature enabled two records of roughly similar speeds to be matched or `beat matched' in tempo. As a result, songs could be mixed seamlessly together with no change in tempo. Because this was easier to achieve on sections without vocals, many 12-inch -nixes begin and end with a drum or percussion section to facilitate mixing. Roland introduced the CR78, the world's first programmable drum machine, in 1979; it can be heard on Phil Collins' song `In the air tonight'. However, it was not until the arrival of the TR808 in 1980 that Roland captured the interest of the emerging dance scene in the United States. As the drum sounds were synthesized, the TR808 did not sound like a real drummer, but its sounds could easily be manipulated. The bass drum pitch and `decay' were adjustable, a feature which proved very popular among dance musicians. The TR808's deep booming bass-drum can still be heard on many hip-hop and R&B recordings today. In the early 1980s American DJ Frankie Knuckles began playing records over a drum machine. This was an historical moment for dance music, as it brought turntables and electronic instruments together in what was to prove a fruitful relationship. In 1982 and 1983 Roland introduced two machines that would have an enormous influence on dance music, the TB303 and the TR909. The TB303 (or transistor bass) was designed as a substitute bass player, and included a simple sequencer. Because it was a synthesizer, it did not sound like a real bass guitar and was discontinued in 1985. However, in Chicago in the late 1980s DJs Pierre, Spanky and Herb Jackson experimented with the 303's filter and decay controls while a bass-line was playing, rather than leaving them set as was intended by the man¬ufacturers. The resulting squelching, morphing and somewhat piercing sound was used on what is generally agreed to be the first ever acid house record, `Acid trax', recorded under the name of Phuture. If a 303 is put through a distortion box the effect becomes still more aggressive. This helped to define the sound of acid techno in the early 1990s. The 303 has been used on countless records; notable appearances include Josh Wink's `Higher state of consciousness', and Fatboy Slim's `Everybody needs a 303'. The rather fiddly step-time programming systems' led easily to errors when inputting inadvertently resulting in the odd discordant notes and unusual rhythms which became a feature of Acid House music. In 1983 came the TR909. It was only in production for one year, with approximately 10,000 being made, but later it became Roland's most celebrated drum machine. This machine is often credited for the birth of house music. It was programmed in a similar way to the TR808 and TB303. As on the 808, all the main drum sounds (apart'from crash and hi-hat, which were 6-bit samples) were synthesized. The most distinctive sounds of the 909 were the powerful bass drum, aggressive snare drum and hard metallic hi-hats. It has been used on just about every house record ever made, and also on many trance and techno tracks. Both the TR909 and TB303 began to command ever larger amounts of money as acid house and techno became increasingly popular. Original 909s and 303s became scarce and expensive, 4

The Development of Technology - based Music 2 Sampling
and with Roland showing no signs of resuming production, many later hardware synthesizers and drum machines attempted to reproduce their sounds. In 1997 the Swedish company Propellerheads introduced the Rebirth software, which was effectively two 303s and an 808 in one program. Rebirth was an instant success and has since been upgraded to include the TR909. Roland responded by producing the MC series of Grooveboxes, a combination of the TR series drum machines and the 303. While Roland have long been associated with synthesis and drum machines, another Japanese company, AKAI, has been synonymous with affordable sampling in dance music since they launched the S900 in 1986. AKAI samplers have been used by practically everyone involved in dance music, including Moby, Fatboy Slim and Josh Wink. Envisaging that samplers would be used to replace conventional instruments, AKAI provided samples of flutes, pianos, etc. with their machines. In dance music, however, samplers were mainly used to sample vocals, drum loops and sound effects. Rather as DJ Kool Herc had extended instrumental sections using turntables, musicians began to search their record collections for drum or percussion-only sections that could be used as a drum loop or break. The TB303 and the Roland drum machines were also heavily sampled. Drum sounds, with their short durations, were particularly suitable for the early samplers' small memory. Much dance music would never have existed were it not for the sampler; for example, jungle and drum’n’bass came about when breakbeats were played back at a higher pitch in the sampler, thereby increasing the tempo. The introduction of stereo samplers such as the AKAI S1000 (and previously of the mono S950) gave users the option of timestretch a sample, process whereby the duration of a sample can be altered without changing the pitch, or the pitch without changing the tempo. This is very useful, for example, when a drum loop is not at the exact tempo of a song, or when a pitched sample is in the wrong key. In extreme cases the effects can be bizarre and have been much exploited in dance music, for example in `Rip groove' by Double 99. In the 1990s samplers became increasingly complex and powerful, with more extensive filtering options. In this respect they became more like synthesizers. The `low pass filter' or LPF, a common feature on many samplers, has often been used to slowly filter up entire tracks. Indeed, a sub-genre was created in the mid/late 1990s called `filtered house'; good examples include Daft Punk's `Music' and `One more time'.


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