The Weekly : The Art of Sampling
— to use an excerpt from a recording in a new musical composition, recording, or performance.*
You might not understand the need or want to sample or find it unoriginal, lazy, or a cheap nostalgic thrill, and it can be all of those things. But, at its core, it's an art form born out of a culture of making due with what's at hand. And, at it's very best, sampling is dead creative and original.
So many iconic hip-hop albums wouldn't be able to get made today, their heavy use of samples would or could—because of the astronomically high prices associated with them—never be cleared.
What kind of creativity might we be missing out on?
This week, a double recommendation of listens.
Blockhead - The Art of The Sample
A stripped down Blockhead album created for De Wolfe's records.
With over a hundred years worth of material at his disposal from De Wolfe's back catalogue, Blockhead did what he does best, sample the shit out of it and make something awesome.
An album not filled with typical Blockhead songs that take you on six minute long odysseys, but something more focused to be used for film, tv, and every and any other purpose library music is used for.
It might be weird to say this of a music library album, but it is ace in its entirety. Honest to fuck, you'll be hard-pressed to find a Blockhead album that's shit. Personal highlights include: 'Black Silhouette' which does me in with its looped piano sample and jazzy melancholic atmosphere. 'Posse' is wonderfully upbeat with its unworded female vocals, and 'Frank's Brother' has wormed my way into my brain and set up permanent residence with its two-line lyrics interspersed throughout.
If you would like to hear what a full non-stripped down version of a Blockhead song or album sounds like, then mosey on over to Spotify or iTunes. I don't have one I'd recommend over another since I pretty much dig all of them.
Open Mike Eagle's Secret Skin podcast ep. 03
Mike digs into the history and the eventual illegality of sampling and hip-hop, and how the rise of downloading music gave way to a ton of people, who would've otherwise not found a way to music, making music, but also to the decimation of smaller regional record labels.
Mike has a truly warm and interesting way of telling a story, which translates well to when he interviews people. Well evident when we move into the second part of the episode: an interview with Blockhead.
Want more Blockhead, listen to the follow up over here.
a 2009 documentary by Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod with a soundtrack by EL-P and RJD2.
The documentary navigates the murky waters of what sampling is, the creative—and often not all that creative use of it—as well as the illegality of it without outright coming out and saying sampling is either good or bad.
Even though it's almost ten years old now, and some of the info and artists might sound a little dated, I still find it really good, and it will give you an excellent primer on sampling.
Not enough time to sit through an hour-long documentary, or have plenty of it and want to see more on sampling, then check out Mark Ronson's TED Talk 'How Sampling Transformed Music'.
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In the broadest sense, most people will take sampling to mean: taking a piece of music, or recorded audio, not your own and using it as a component in your music. This can range from taking a two bar snippet of horns, vocals, drums, morphing it, and either collaging it into a larger puzzle-piece whole or keeping it simple and sticking, and most often looping, a longer piece of music into your own. And, of course, every shade in between.
I say, taking a piece of music not your own, but it doesn't have to be, you can sample something you've recorded or asked someone to record.
That explanation still doesn't fully expound on just how mind-blowingly creative sampling can be, and by the same standard, how utterly dull and uncreative the other side of the spectrum is.
If you'd like to find out where a song got its samples from, there's a really good website called WhoSampled.com which gives you a pretty good overview of individual samples in a song and where they were used.