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Sample This! Part 2

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

A Brief Introduction to Sampling in Music: Part Two – From the Avant Garde to the Mainstream

With Sampler Instruments All These Sounds Are At Your Fingertips

Other Installments

A Brief Introduction to Sampling in Music: Part One – Early History

A Brief Introduction to Sampling in Music: Part Three – Breakbeats, Turntables, Early Hip Hop

In the previous article, we explored some of the historic context of sampling. We saw some borrowing, reusing, and repurposing musical material was nothing new to the world of music. And that, as 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky put it, "A good composer does not imitate, he steals.” In this second installment of this series, we will look at how new analog instruments were created using sampling, how popular music and “art” music are intermingled, and how sampling started to become a popular music staple. We will see how with new analog sampling instruments the the sounds of the orchestra—and beyond—were now at the musician's fingertips.

Analog Sample Instruments

As we discussed in the previous article, we saw how the invention of magnetic tape allowed Pierre Schaeffer and the Studio d’Essai, as well as others, to create new music by sampling and manipulating sounds. Schaeffer and other composers/inventors created new musical instruments to make this possible. This included Schaffer’s own taped-based device the Phonogene, which was a keyboard-controlled instrument that was capable of replaying loops at various speeds.

Schaeffer’s influence on the sample-based popular music today can not be overstated. Listen to his Étude aux Chemins en For (Study of the Iron Paths) from 1948 where he manipulated recorded sounds of trains. As Schaeffer’s student and accomplished French electronic musician, Jean-Michel Jarre said in 2007, “Back in the 1940s, Schaeffer invented the sample, the locked groove—in other words— the loop, delay and the concept of re-forming sounds. It was Schaeffer who experimented with distorting sounds, playing them backwards, speeding them up and slowing them down. He was the one who invented the entire way music is made these days.” Other composers/inventors continued Schaffer’s innovations and this lead to many inventions, including two tape-based, keyboard instruments, the Chamberlin and the Mellotron. Since these instruments did not use computers or digital technology, they are analog sample-based instruments.

The Chamberlin

The Chamberlin was invented and developed by American inventor Harry Chamberlin starting as early as 1949, and he continued to develop the instrument until 1956 when the first model was introduced. It was an electro-mechanical keyboard which triggered tape-loops of many different pre-recorded instrumental sounds. The Chamberlin is like a grandfather of the Digital Samplers, such as the SP-404a by Roland of today.

Sounds were originally sampled from the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, instrumental sounds included keyboard instruments, brass, human voice, strings and sound effects. The instrument viewed primarily as a novelty for home use, however, some popular musicians in the 1960s and onward incorporated it into their music-making. In the video above, you can hear both sound effects and instruments that were sampled on tape and played with the Chamberlin.