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 Forum index » Discussion » Composition
What IS a sample?
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opg



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:18 am    Post subject: What IS a sample?
Subject description: Not necessarily in regards to "the ethics of sampling"
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A friend of mine is writing his law thesis on copyright and sampling. He wants me to give him three songs I have done that "use samples."

It occurred to me that this may be harder than I thought. What constitutes a "sample?" Is it simply something I did not create or record on my own, or is there a weird, grey area like most of music terminology?

I gave him some "sample examples" of what I was sure was and wasn't:

For instance, a James Brown drumloop or the Amen break is definitely a sample. I got a little confused when I told him sometimes the loops get chopped up, reordered, or saved as individual drum hits. The drumloop, recorded by someone else, played on the drums by someone else, now is sprinkled throughout another song. The only way it would be recognizable is if someone was that familiar with the recording of those drums to know it came from a specific drummer using specific microphones on a certain album. For now, let's consider that these drum hits are still samples.

If I do the same to my own recording of myself playing the drums, is that chopped-up, manipulated recording of my drumloop considered a "sample?" Keep in mind, I am trying to keep the ethical issues of sampling as far away from this topic as possible.

He was also interested in "different types of samples." For example, he knows that I like to use NES and Gameboy sounds in my songs. I told him that using the coin sound from Super Mario Brothers is indeed a sample. But what about recording a pure waveform from the Gameboy (there are 4 duty cycles to choose from - 12.5%, 25%, 50%, and 75%)? If I recorded a short piece of one of these waveforms and looped it on my computer, I have basically created a new melodic instument for me to use. Is this looped recording of a Gameboy waveform considered a "sample?"

To people not familiar with samples, the first thing that comes their mind when they hear the word "sample" is a vocal sample. To me, this implies that a "sample" is recognizeable as a sound that the listener knows did not come from the musician's voice or created with his/her equipment. So, is the definition of a sample determined by the listener and/or musicians that actually recorded the sound?

What about drum machine samples? Few of us have or are able to purchase those classic drum machines from the 70s and 80s, yet people were kind enough to record the drum hits and disperse them out onto the internet. Would these drum hits be considered "samples I used in a song?"

I'm probably overthinking this, as I usually do, but it would be good to hear your thoughts before I tell my friend what is or is not a sample.
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Alexander



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Oswald_%28composer%29

Your friend must look into the writings of John Oswald, 'founder' of the plunderphonic movement. Which is even more extreme than just sampling, it's actually reconstructing other peoples music. The man has written a number of essays on the subject of copyright, theft, ethics of sampling, etcetera.

I have one in Zorn's Arcana book and I read the essay below one . I will continue looking for links and post them, but make sure he (and you) read into this man's work.

http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html

Good luck!

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Kassen
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 6:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

"Sample" is another word that got mucked up. "sample" can mean a single value in a wave file, any brief or not so brief recording that gets used in a larger piece and increasingly it's used to mean a brief recording of somebody else's piece that you use in your own (probably without paying royalties). No news there.

What I'd do is pick pieces that demonstrate this (maybe except for thefirst one). I might take a R&B song that samples the nightrider theme in a recognisable way, maybe some IDM piece that uses typical sample manipulations dominantly and perhaps a third piece that uses a orchestral stab sample or something. Maybe also include something like "rocked by rape" by the evolution controll comity (can be found easily online) or some Negativeland?

Strictly speaking bouncing a few plugins to a wave to save CPU is sampling too but that's not realy interesting from a cultural or legal perspective so I'd just leave that be.

You could go into samplers like a s612 or MPC60 changing the character of a sound in musically interesting ways but that's also a bit on the overly technical side for the sort of thing I suspect your friend wants.

If you realy want to push it you could argue that any digital synth that uses wavetables for waveforms (this is nearly all of them) uses samples. This would make you correct but confusing :¬). The difference between recorded and generated samples might still be interesting, for example Csound will generate a wavetable holding a single cycle of a sine every time you want to use a sine osc; that's quite different from recording -say- a single hit from a piano, particularly because such a table has no unique features at all and thus could never be copyrighted.

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mosc
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kassen is right, the word has been overloaded into meaninglessness. But it is still useful in context.
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opg



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 7:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Perhaps I should wait for my friend's response on my issue, although a large part of his thesis involves different types of samples, I assume. This is why he'd like to hear different styles of music I have made. He particularly noted an old song that begins with a recording of my brother's voice as a 10-year-old, saying, "I will now attempt to put a triangle block through a square space." He also knew that in some songs I actually did use manipulated NES sound effects rather than just "pure", looped digital waveforms (although, I've been told that these waveforms, when zoomed and viewed in an editor, show a "unique feature").

On one of his more favorite songs of mine, he really liked a vocal sample I used, but he was a bit crestfallen when I told him that it was my own voice used in the sample. Perhaps he is looking for more distinct differences than I am - vocals of myself, vocals of someone else, recognizeable computer/game sounds, and more suttle and manipulated instrument samples from commercial albums. Yes, that should do nicely.....
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paul e.



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 06, 2006 8:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

sounds like your friend is referring to the 'found sound' aspect of sampling... not multi-samples of a flute or a drum loop per se

i think he means those bits and pieces of sound from 'everyday life' that gets utilised in a music piece

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Kassen
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 07, 2006 2:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

There are many, many angles to this;sampling as oposed to synthesis, sampling as a way to bring the tangible world into abstract compositions, sampling in modern culture....

I would seriously recomend focussing on one aspect; if you don't you either lose depth or you end up spending five years writing a book.

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opg



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PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2006 5:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Well, he's plowing through these forums as we speak. He's really interested to see how many people are actually familiar with the copyright laws. I gave him some other forums to check out, especially the ones I remember going to where there were a lot more samples being used.

I gave him three of my songs to use that are posted on my website:

headcold.mp3
Lots of chopped up James Brown loops for him to determine what is legal and recognizable

anglerfish.mp3
Video game sounds that are granulated and manipulated that they are basically unrecognizable


level1-2.mp3
More recognizable video game sounds to determine what is legal

[editor's note: edited this post to get rid of the direct links to tracks based on the description contain material for which this site does not have a license. Please read the conditions of use statement that is on the front page of this site. All of these songs can be found here http://www.oneplayergame.com/menu.html . --mosc]
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