Digital Sampling

Music Meme
Music Meme (Photo credit: rejectreality)

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

Representation of a digital sound, displayed b...
Representation of a digital sound, displayed by the Cool Edit Pro 2.0. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


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