Updated: Sep 9, 2020
A Brief Introduction to Sampling in Music: Part Two – From the Avant Garde to the Mainstream
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 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.
The popular music producer and highly-regarded film composer Jon Brion often uses Chamberlin for effect in music he produces, including 1996’s hit Criminal written and performed by Fiona Apple, where Brion not only used an analog sample-based keyboard instrument, but he chose to use it to re-play a snippet of a song first published in the 1850s, Streets of Cairo.
Listen on WhoSampled, https://www.whosampled.com/sample/89201/Fiona-Apple-Criminal-Sol-Bloom-Streets-of-Cairo-or-the-Poor-Little-Country-Maid/. You can also hear Brion’s fondness for the Chamberlain in 2020’s Circles. This album was completed by Brion (who was its producer) after the artist Mac Miller tragically died in 2019. Brion’s film scores, including 2004’s dreamy Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and 2002’s dark Punch Drunk Love, also highlight the Chamberlin.
The Mellotron is the direct descendant of the The Chamberlain. It was developed by Bradmatic, Ltd. (later Streetly Electronics) based in Birmingham, UK. Several chamberlins were purchased by an investor and brought to the United Kingdom where Bradmatic improved and innovated upon the design. The Mellotron’s designed lent it to mass production and it became popular with popular musicians, composers, and hobbyists.
Early adopters of the Mellotron included the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, as well as Led Zeppelin. Mark Pinder, the keyboardist forThe Moody Blues, worked at Bradmatic for several months before becoming a full-time musician and introduced the group to the Mellotron. He became one of the greatest proponents for the instrument. Watch Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues in the video above.
Listen to The Beatles’ class Strawberry Fields Forever (1967) which begins with rich Mellotron-produced woodwind chords, https://www.whosampled.com/The-Beatles/Strawberry-Fields-Forever/.
Making Connections: Psyche Rock
One case-study that illustrates how pop music and art music are intermingled is the theme song to the television show Futurama (1999). Film-score composer Christopher Tyng composed the theme using samples and direct inspiration from one of the founder’s of Musique Concrète, Pierre Henry. Pierre Henry composed the ballet, Messe pour le temps présent [Mass for The Present Time] (1967) which included a piece that used sampled industrial sounds and other sampled sounds from modern life. Futurama’s theme song is an homage to Henry’s revolutionary work and his commitment to making music that was modern and listening for the music of the future.
Listen to Futurama Theme (1999) and compare with Henry’s Psyche Rock (1967) https://www.whosampled.com/sample/4596/Christopher-Tyng-Futurama-Theme-Pierre-Henry-Michel-Colombier-Psyché-Rock/. You will notice similar sounding instruments and man-made timbres featured in both tracks. Some of the musical material is directly sampled and some is replayed.
Futurama Theme also contains the main-stay Amen, Brother break from The Winstons Amen, Brother (1969) which we will discuss more in part 3 of this series. Listen and compare https://www.whosampled.com/sample/808/Christopher-Tyng-Futurama-Theme-The-Winstons-Amen,-Brother/.
Crab, Simon. 120 Years of Electronic Music: The Chamberlin. https://120years.net/the-chamberlin-harry-chamberlin-usa-1951/ (Accessed 8 Dec. 2019).
Dicale, Bertrand. Jarre Re-Records Oxygen. English: http://www1.rfi.fr/musiqueen/articles/096/article_7986.asp Original French: https://musique.rfi.fr/musique/20071212-jean-michel-jarre-reprend-loxygene (Accessed 8 Dec. 2019).
Engineering and Technology History Wiki. The Mellotron, a reprint from April 2005’s Today's Engineer. https://ethw.org/Mellotron (Accessed 22 Jan. 2020).
Patrick, Jonathan. A guide to Pierre Schaeffer the Godfather of Sampling.
https://www.factmag.com/2016/02/23/pierre-schaeffer-guide/ (Accessed 8 Dec. 2019).
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is passionate about tea and creating our own daily rituals. Visit www.PerennialMusicAndArts.com for more about music lessons and www.JanaeJean.com for more about a variety of wellness related topics including tea, sound healing, and more. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about tea, ceremony, music composition, sound healing, writing, photography, or other relevant topics.