Sampling (music)  

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"Rap is where you first heard it --Grandmaster Flash's 1981 "Wheels of Steel," which scratched together Queen, Blondie, the Sugarhill Gang, the Furious Five, Sequence and Spoonie Gee --but what is sampling if not digitized scratching?"--"Machine Soul: A History Of Techno" (1993) by Jon Savage

"Before the rise of sampling, DJs had used turntables to loop breaks from records, which MCs would rap over. Compilation albums such as Ultimate Breaks and Beats, Dusty Fingers and Strictly Breaks comprised tracks with drum breaks and solos intended for sampling, and were aimed at DJs and hip hop producers."--Sholem Stein

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In music, sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or element of a new recording. This is typically done with a sampler, which can be a piece of hardware or a computer program on a digital computer. Sampling is also possible with tape loops or with vinyl records on a phonograph.

Often "samples" consist of one part of a song, such as a break, used in another, for instance the use of the drum introduction from Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" and the drum solo in "Funky Drummer".

"Samples" in this sense occur often in industrial, often using spoken words from movies and TV shows, as well as electronic music (which developed out of musique concrète, based almost entirely on samples and sample-like parts), hip hop, developed from DJs repeating the breaks from songs (Schloss 2004, p.36), and Contemporary R&B, but are becoming more common in other music as well, such as by Slipknot's sample player Craig Jones.


Early cases

Sampling existing (copyrighted) recordings using manipulation with tape recorders goes back at least as far as 1961, when James Tenney created Collage #1 ("Blue Suede")[1] from samples of Elvis Presley's recording of the song "Blue Suede Shoes." The Beatles also used the technique on a number of popular recordings in the mid' '60s, including "Yellow Submarine" and "I am the Walrus." In the late 70's and early 80's, DJ Kool Herc, who is often credited as the inventor of hip-hop, often looped hard funk break beats at block parties in The Bronx. However, sampling did not truly take off in popular music until the early eighties when pioneering hip hop producers, such as Marley Marl, started to produce Rap records using sampled breaks rather than drum machines or live studio bands, which had until then been the norm. The first popular rap single to feature sampling was "Rapper's Delight" by Sugar Hill Gang on their own independent Sugar Hill Label in 1979. They used the guitar riff from the song "Good Times" by the disco group Chic.

Early examples of this practice include the West Street Mob's - Break Dance (Electric Boogie) (1983) (which used the "Apache" break by the Incredible Bongo Band), Brother D and the Collective Effort's "How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise"[2] (1984) (which sampled the beat and bass line from Cheryl Lynn's 1978 hit "Got to be Real") and UTFO's "Roxanne Roxanne" (1984). Bill Holt's Dreamies (1974) is often cited as one of the earliest examples of sampling in popular music. Another early example of sampling was Big Audio Dynamite and their 1985 album This Is Big Audio Dynamite and the single E=MC² which Mick Jones (the band's main creative force, formerly of The Clash) sampled snippets of audio from various films including works by Nicolas Roeg which make up the Roeg homage E=MC². The 1981 album by David Byrne and Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, used sampling extensively for the songs' vocals.

One of the first major legal cases regarding sampling was with UK dance act M/A/R/R/S "Pump Up the Volume". As the record reached the UK top ten, producers Stock Aitken Waterman obtained an injunction against the record due to the unauthorized use of a sample from their hit single "Roadblock". The dispute was settled out of court, with the injunction being lifted in return for an undertaking that overseas releases would not contain the "Roadblock" sample, and the disc went on to top the UK singles chart. Ironically, the sample in question had been so distorted as to be virtually unrecognizable, and SAW didn't realize their record had been used until they heard co-producer Dave Dorrell mention it in a radio interview.

2 Live Crew, a hip-hop group familiar with controversy, was often in the spotlight for their ‘obscene’ and sexually explicit lyrics. They sparked many debates about censorship in the music industry. However, it was their 1989 album As Clean as They Wanna Be (a re-tooling of As Nasty As They Wanna Be) that began the prolonged legal debate over sampling. The album contained a track entitled “Pretty Woman,” based on the well known Roy Orbison song of the same name. 2 Live Crew’s version sampled the guitar, bass, and drums from the original, without permission. While the opening lines are the same, the two songs split ways immediately following.

For example:

Roy Orbison’s version – “Pretty woman, walking down the street/ Pretty woman, the kind I’d like to meet.”
2 Live Crew’s version – “Big hairy woman, all that hair ain’t legit,/ Cause you look like Cousin Itt.”

In addition to this, while the music is identifiable as the Orbison song, there were changes implemented by the group. The new version contained interposed scraper notes, overlays of solos in different keys, and an altered drum beat.

The group was sued by the song’s copyright owners Acuff-Rose. The company claimed that 2 Live Crew’s unauthorized use of the samples devalued the original, and was thus a case of copyright infringement. The group claimed they were protected under the fair use doctrine. The case of Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music came to the Supreme Court in 1994.
In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court didn’t consider previous ruling in which any commercial use (and economic gain) was considered copyright infringement. Instead they re-evaluated the original frame of copyright as set forth in the Constitution. The opinion that resulted from Emerson v. Davies played a major role in the decision.

"[In] truth, in literature, in science and in art, there are, and can be, few, if any, things, which in an abstract sense, are strictly new and original throughout. Every book in literature, science and art, borrows, and must necessarily borrow, and use much which was well known and used before." Emerson v. Davies,8 F.Cas. 615, 619 (No. 4,436) (CCD Mass. 1845)

Perhaps what played a larger role was the result from the Folsom v. Marsh case:

"look to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale, or diminish the profits, or supersede the objects, of the original work." Folsom v. Marsh, 9 F.Cas. 342, 348 (No. 4,901) (CCD Mass. 1841)

The court ruled that any financial gain 2 Live Crew received from their version did not infringe upon Acuff-Rose because the two songs were targeted at very different audiences. 2 Live Crew’s use of copyrighted material was protected under the fair use doctrine, as a parody, even though it was released commercially.

Hip hop

Sampling is the foundation of hip hop, which emerged in the 1980s. The sampling culture of hip hop has been likened to the origins of blues and rock, which were created by repurposing existing music. Guardian journalist David McNamee wrote that, in the 1980s, sampling in hip hop had been a political act, the "working-class black answer to punk".

Before the rise of sampling, DJs had used turntables to loop breaks from records, which MCs would rap over. Compilation albums such as Ultimate Breaks and Beats and Strictly Breaks comprised tracks with drum breaks and solos intended for sampling, and were aimed at DJs and hip hop producers. In 1986, the tracks "South Bronx", "Erik B is President" and "It's a Demo" sampled the funk and soul tracks of James Brown, particularly a drum break from "Funky Drummer", helping popularize the technique. The advent of affordable samplers such as the Akai MPC (1988) made looping easier. With a ten-second sample length and a distinctive "gritty" sound, the E-mu SP-1200, released in 1987, was used extensively by East Coast producers during the golden age of hip hop of the late 1980s and early 90s.

See also

Sampled (music album series)

Sampling in other contexts

  • Appropriation (art) - (Visual arts) often refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of new work.
  • Collage - a work of visual arts made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole.
  • Cut-up technique - an aleatory literary technique or genre in which a writing is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text.
  • Found footage - a method of compiling films partly or entirely of footage which has not been created by the filmmaker.
  • Papier collé - a painting technique and type of collage.
  • Assemblage (composition) - a method for creating texts by explicitly using existing texts.

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