In sound and music recording digital sampling is a technology that first appeared in the 1970s but took off in the early 1980s. Digital sampling takes tiny slices of sound and writes the waveform to computer files, permitting the original sound to be reproduced, altered, rebroadcast or re-mixed with other sounds and music.
While musicians were already recording and mixing with analog (old style) tape decks for many years in advance, the great advantage of digital sampling is that there’s absolutely no sound degradation once he recording is made. This may seem underwhelming to today’s generation, but to the older set, the advent of digital sampling was a breakthrough, and its influence on not only the clarity but also the style of recorded music (and live concerts) has been tremendous.¹
Like any technology, digital sampling may be used for good or ill. An artist in the United Kingdom, for instance, uses a specially tuned radio receiver to obtain and sample private conversations from cell phones. He then re-mixes the conversations with music and markets it in CD format. Although all names are removed, we have to ask it it’s ethical to package and sell personal conversations without the knowledge or permission of the individual speakers.²
Before its invention, a few audio and music pioneers wanted the audible effects of digital sampling so experimented with the technology of the analog tape loop. Brian Eno looms large in this area, but Terry Riley, Robert Fripp and Steve Reich were also experimenting with tape loops around the same time.
¹ When CDs first came out, however, some critics said the sound was thin and artificial compared to the warm and continuous waveform of vinyl records. Most agreed, however, that CDs outperformed at higher volumes, while a select few stood firm in believing that vinyl sounded better at lower volumes. And to my mind, the Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band never really sounded right on CD.
² This story was all over the web a few years ago but seems to have disappeared. If anyone has the link, please comment. I’d like to reference this by linking to the story or artist.
- Question: How to turn a physical synth into a full scale digital sample (gearslutz.com)
- The quest for higher quality digital music (telegraph.co.uk)
- WT Cox Subscriptions Adds IGI Global to Digital Sample Issue Program (prweb.com)
- Using the MPC2000XL for live shows. (makerofspace.wordpress.com)
- Sampling on the asr-x (gearslutz.com)
- Music For Umpteen Musicians: Steve Reich Interviewed (thequietus.com)
- Creating Drum(or any other kind of) samples (gearslutz.com)
Most associate the idea of the synthesizer with electronic music equipment but this could be a misperception.
Since ancient Greece, people have been experimenting with combining different sounds and also with playing more than one instrument at once.
In the 3rd century BCE, for instance, the Greek engineer Ktesibios invented the hydraulos, a prototypical pipe organ using a hand-pumped air chamber located in a tub of water.
In the 1400′s, the hurdy gurdy played several melodies with a background drone.
In 1761 the panharmonicon automated the playing of flutes, clarinets, trumpets, violins, cellos, drums, cymbals, triangle and other instruments, and was even used by Beethoven.
In 1867 we have one of the first electronic keyboards from Switzerland. And in 1899 the Singing Arc was used to obtain sound from different lamps.
In the 1960s and 70s the analogue synthesizer made its debut in pop music. It mimicked symphonic strings and also created new, fascinating sounds. Some groups used it to poor effect (e.g. the early Doors) while others created distant sonic landscapes that arguably rival the classical greats in terms of sheer innovative brilliance (e.g. Yes, Close to the Edge and Fragile).
In the 1980s digital sound conquered the market, replete with digital sampling where any natural sound could be digitally copied and reproduced at will without any sound quality degradation from the original sample.
Taken for granted today, this was a sonic revolution in the 80s, giving birth to a new era of musical innovations with groups like Depeche Mode, The Eurythmics and The Art of Noise.
In the 1990s (and beyond) the rise of home computers along with the development of the internet, the mp3 file format, Flash, YouTube and other technologies enabled just about anyone with a PC and a keyboard to become a hobbyist superstar, publishing and sharing their musical creations with anyone else on the web willing to listen.
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