The Creative Studio Practice of Contemporary Dance Music Sampling Composers #arp13


Nothing can come from nothing. Aristotle knew that this sculpture began as a block of stone…

MOREY, JUSTIN (Leeds Metropolitan University, UK)
MCINTYRE, PHILLIP (Univ. of Newcastle, Australia)

The Creative Studio Practice of Contemporary Dance Music Sampling Composers


This paper seeks to investigate some of the considerations that inform and help to determine the creative studio practice of contemporary sampling composers. Collaborative writing and production, specifically the co-opted collaboration implicit in using samples, will be assessed to consider those aspects of the production process which the participants consider to be authorial. These considerations include acts of listening, selecting and editing. In examining these matters this paper places, emphasis on how sampling composers actively constrain their options in order to promote a creative relationship with their musical material. Techniques such as, firstly, traditional sample manipulation, secondly, the use of a sample as an initial building block for a composition from which the sample is then removed and, finally, live performance in the studio which is subsequently cut up and treated as a sample, will be discussed. Case studies, in the form of semi-structured interviews with sampling composers, will be drawn upon to assess approaches to and views about these forms of studio composition.

Phillip begins by describing this as a virtual paper, having been put together between Justin (who is unable to attend in person today) and himself, mailing through email exchange. He cites the context – McIntyre & Morey 2010 ‘Working Out The Split’ (full text), and Phillip’s own prior work on creativity and cultural production. Some of today’s paper also contains material from their 2012 JARP paper Examining The Impact Of Multiple Technological, Legal, Social And Cultural Factors On The Creative Practice Of Sampling Record Producers In Britain.

He discusses the idea of co-opted authorship, after Barthes, in which all texts are referential in some way, and that all creativity comes from somewhere (drawn from centres of culture). This is the Aristotelian concept that nothing can come from nothing.

Samplists, of course, are very obviously co-authors of a work, and Phillip notes Clyde Stubblefield and Gregory C Coleman of The Winstons, creators of the Funky Drummer and Amen drum breaks respectively [almost certainly the most sampled drum parts of all time]. Simon Reynolds suggests that the recontextualisation of these works are ‘involuntary labour’. He follows an example of co-opted authorship; Peter Fox had a hit with ‘Alles Neu’. The string arrangement was sampled by Plan B; here’s the video.

He now discusses why he is looking at co-opted authorship, citing Vanessa Chang’s (2009) assertion that ‘sound marks the beginning of the creative process’ and Barthes’ idea of the ‘geno-song. This leads into a discussion of listening as authorship – the role of the listener in constructing meaning. Here, common to much of Philip’s work [and mine] we see the creative practice placed in Czikszentmihalyi’s ‘Individual/Domain/Field’ (1988) paradigm. The extent to which the sample is adapted, or recontextualised sonically and culturally, is significant. Samplists, of course, have to listen in order to select works to sample, placing the role of creator and listener in the same creative space. Richard Burgess’s Art of Music Production is cited;

“We’re not talking about the kind of instinct that you’re born with. This is the instinct that develops from being around music, musicians and studios your whole life. This, I think, is the reason that DJ’s with no musical or technical ability can still become excellent producers. They have listened to many, many records, logged the way people responded to the music and subconsciously programmed their instinct to be able to reproduce those excitement factors in their own records (1997, p. 177)”. Sampling composers are described as hyper-listeners.

We now look at actual sampling processes, starting with ‘samples chopped by hand’ and the extent to which this is based on experiential listening. Another process is to start with a sample, then discard it, using it only as creative inspiration. The third approach is to treat your own recordings as samples. [I recognise all of these approaches and consider this an excellent taxonomy of sampling practice].

He concludes that the creative approach of samplists may not differ especially from songwriters, although he notes the significant difference that their role as experiential listeners is more significant because it informs their practice at all points in the creative process.

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