Solo Diary: Create a piece using sampled sounds which say something about you.

If synthesis is about creating sound from nothing, then sampling is about recording “real”1 sounds and playing them back.

Goals for this week#

  1. to be able to read in (and play back) a pre-recorded sound file in Pd

  2. to understand some of the different creative options (and controls) available to you when working with sampled sounds


Creative Notes#

Working with samples is really fun and has a huge range of possibilities, so here are a few thoughts to get you started. This was a slide deck once upon a time, but I think it’s still useful as a bunch of subheadings on a webpage.

Why use found sounds, sampling and field recordings?#

  • introduce new and dynamic melodic/sonic and rhythmic material
  • create a sense of space/place
  • build a context (maybe nostalgia)
  • inject meaning via speech or recognisable sounds
  • intertextual references and postmodern juxtapositions

Sampling started(?) with Musique Concrète#

  • two main composers at the start of the movement: Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995) and Pierre Henry (b. 1927)

  • defined by these composers as Real Music™—all their sounds are from physical objects

  • this is music without the abstraction of notation

  • the first example is Cinq études de bruits (1948), composed using vinyl records! No tape yet in France. The piano sounds were supplied by composer/pianist, Pierre Boulez, and it was premiered via radio

Things to consider when using samples#

  • what is your sample, and what kind(s) of meaning does it have: in its original context? out of context?

  • what kind of meaning would you like it to have in its new context?

  • do you want to preserve some of the original meaning (keep it recognisable) or strip the clip of its meaning (usually short samples)?


  • in this course (and maybe even in your own practice), go for it!

  • in general, in an academic context, where there is no money flowing, use whatever you want, apart from:

    1. cultural appropriation; is the material you’re working with culturally sensitive? do you have the right/permission to take those sounds out of context? what would Edward Said say? does your use of this/these sound/s ‘other’ an individual or group?

    2. consent; feel free to record in public spaces, but if you can make out specific voices and/or names, get consent

Interesting variables/parameters#

  • pitch: you can usually get 4 MIDI notes (semitones) in either direction before the sample starts to have too many artefacts/get weird (which might be cool!) think of the Ferris Bueller coughing piano…

  • amount of the sample being triggered: do you always want to hear the same section of the sample? maybe you reveal more of it over time? or less? or random selections?

  • effects? Is the sample(s) always affected in the same way?

  • forwards or backwards: what does it sound like backwards? can you use these mirror images as a compositional tool? e.g. maybe the user/performer can control which direction the sample is played in

Three examples of ways to control samples in an electronic music context#

  • automated and sequenced—think of drum machines (doesn’t have to be a ‘regular’ beat)

  • Mapped to different controls in a virtual instrument and manipulated live (maybe with a controller, when we get there)—think of an electric piano or MIDI saxophone

  • played ‘as is’—maybe there is a field recording that acts as a backdrop for the rest of the sounds in your composition

COOL ensemble performances using sampling:#

Some things you might consider when choosing a sample#

  • are you coming from a musical or extramusical starting point?

    1. I want a particular kind of sound, e.g. short, sharp, unpitched attack

    2. I want a particular kind of feeling, e.g. warm, relaxed

    3. maybe you want some kind of message, and are using speech or a recognizable sound (orchestra tuning up, radio ad, etc.)

  • do I want a solid/static sound? if there is rhythm in the sample, should I try to get rid of it, or work with it?

  • would it be easier to synthesise the sound I want?

What else can I read/watch to learn more about this stuff?#

  1. the quote marks are doing a bunch of semantic heavy lifting here 

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