Sampling for music

I think most people are familiar with the use of sampling in music, whether they are conscious of it or not. Probably the most obvious example¬†for me in popular music is the use of Camille Yarbrough’s Take Yo Praise in Fat Boy Slim’s Praise You. Another example would be Nas’s use of James Brown’s track, or more hilariously Dr Dre’s use of David Alexrod’s work. Hip hop as a genre, is just full of it. So there’s an obvious theme emerging here: modern musicians are often looking through the vast catalogue of decades of recorded music, for inspiration and more often than not using this to directly inform their music of the moment.

Recently i came across a musician called Gerry Diver, who i believe is doing something quite original and tremendous with this use of the old, to inform the new. But instead of taking the tunes of the old musicians, he is taking their voices. And not even their voices whilst in song, but their voices whilst in conversation. And instead of just cutting and pasting voices over the top of a readily made melody, he’s creating a melody informed by the nuances in their voices. It could sound rather pretentious and inaccessible to the non-music fanatic, but hell does it sound good where he’s taking it…


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  1. This is marvellous stuff. Really lovely.

    I love good use of sampling in music. Whether it’s weird foley recorded noises, old TV/newsreel footage, or specially-recorded voices, it can really add something special.

    Personally, I find the hip hop genre to be quite lazy with its sampling. And let’s be honest, hip hop is a bit of johnny-come-lately to the whole sampling party.

    Electronic music has been making clever use of samples (whether specially recorded, or found from archive footage) since at least the early 1960s. Decades before computers or even keyboards were invented, people like Delia Derbyshire were finding out weird noises and sounds, and then cutting up the tape and gluing it back together.

    I recommend you watch this clip to see some of Delia’s innovative early 60s sampling

    And indeed it is in electronic music and dance music that I personally find the
    best use of sampling. People like Boards of Canada, Mr Scruff, Lemon Jelly do wonderful things with samples.

    As a child I heard helicopters and old films sampled in Kate Bush (“it’s in the trees! It’s coming!”) not to mention all the fantastic interview recordings specially recorded to punctuate 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon with ruminations on death and madness.

    I’m not sure I’d say that what Gerry Diver is doing is ‘original’ as such (undeniably brilliant though it is) simply because the idea of constructing a melody around the pattern of a voice is a very common way of writing music to fit lyrics or words or even advertising slogans. But it is fab!

    Off the top of my head I can also think of more bizarre examples like Kate Bush sampling bird song and then mimicking the pattern of the bird song with her singing.

    I’m not knocking Gerry Diver though. I really like this sort of thing!

  2. Richard Dadd *

    Also, I feel like I should mention The Avalanches’ 2000 album ‘Since I Left You’ which is a complex patchwork of samples from beginning to end. In fact it amazes me that they managed to secure the rights to so many disparate recordings to actually officially release the thing!

    Unlike most musicians, who – as you say – “cut and paste voices over the top of a ready made melody” The Avalances instead built a whole album where everything you hear (the vocals, the instruments, the beat) is actually recycled from earlier sources.

    If you are familiar with the album’s most successful single (also called ‘Since I Left You’) then you should watch the following clip all the way through to hear what a complex tapestry the song is composed of…

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