Samuel Shelton Robinson
How does the increased accessibility of sampling contribute to the notion of the democratisation of music production?
Thank you to: Allyson Stephens, for her endless help and encouragement throughout the writing of this dissertation; my mother, for her invaluable help with unravelling the ideas in my head; all my family, for their constant love and support; and my supervisor, David Mollin, for listening and helping me to refine my argument.
Notions of Democratisation
Challenges to democracy
Notions of creativity and originality
The production of music has traditionally been associated with those privileged enough to be able to afford the equipment and studio time, through personal means or more commonly through record label funds. Clear lines were drawn between the composers (the musicians and artists) and the technically trained producers and sound engineers that recorded, edited and mixed compositions. In the last fifty years however, philosophical changes have occurred in relation to music production1 which, along and the advances in technology, have led to the term ‘producer’2 becoming broadened and commonly associated with the composer of the work (Moorefield 2008, xiii). It is partially this change in the perception of what constitutes a producer that has lead some to suggest that music production as a whole, rather than the just the role of the producer, is in the midst of democratisation.
In varying forms the technique of sampling, that is taking a segment of sound (the ‘sample’) from a pre-existing recording and re-contextualising it into a new composition, has in the last thirty years increasingly been used as the basis of (or integrated into) a variety of musical styles, sound works and innovative new multimedia works. In this paper, I will explore to what extent the increased accessibility of sampling has contributed to the aforementioned notion of the democratisation of music production. Put simply, I will question whether an increased accessibility to sampling enables a greater number of individuals to put into practice their ideas and express themselves than if the technology and means with which to utilise it (i.e. sources to sample) were less accessible. I will also examine what types of work have been produced as a result of sampling’s greater accessibility and the discourse that surrounds them.
In the first chapter Technology vs. Accessibility, I will be exploring how and to what extent sampling technologies, that is technologies that enable one to sample sound, have been made accessible to a wider range of consumers in the past thirty years than it previously was. In doing so, I will examine how the techniques and technologies related to sampling have developed into sampling technologies of today. The evidence in this chapter will contextualise sampling’s emergence as an accessible musical technique for the many.
Having shown such an increase in sampling technologies, the second chapter, Accessible Sound, will argue that the digitalisation and a greater distribution of audio has enabled the creation of certain types of sample-based work reliant on particular sound sources. Through the examination of such works, I will also explore how changes in the way sound is archived, accessed, and interacted with has affected the way individuals can engage with culture in the 21st century. Specifically, I will examine what effect ideological changes in relation to notions of ownership and the distribution of audio have had on the notion of the democratisation of music production.
In the third chapter, Do It Yourself, I will initially attempt to refine the definition of democratisation in relation to music production. I will argue, through critical examinations of two genres, Hip-Hop and Baile Funk, that sampling has been or is a fundamental element in the composition of the music, and relate my findings to the refined definition formed earlier in the chapter.
The fourth and final chapter, Recontextualisation, is concerned with contextualising the findings of the previous three chapters with the critical discourse surrounding sampling. I will highlight what I see as the significant issues that challenge the notion that sampling has positively contributed to the ‘the democratisation of production’. This will include how established notions of creativity and originality are challenged by sample-based work. The issues discussed in this chapter will enable me to propose a considered answer in the conclusion to the initial question of how the increased accessibility of sampling contributes to the notion of the democratisation of music production.
In this section chapter, evidence will be presented in support of the notion that technology which enables the practice of sound sampling (which will be referred to as either as ‘sample technologies’ or simply ‘sampling’ from here on out) has been made significantly more accessible to a wider range of individuals in the past thirty years than it previously was. I will do so by exploring the evolution of sampling technologies up to their present state in order to place into context sampling’s transformation to an accessible practice for musicians and artists3 of varying levels of professionalism.
Central to the argument of my dissertation is the distinction between availability and accessibility and how these terms relate to the notion of the democratisation of music production. The Oxford Dictionary defines accessibility as something which is ‘able to be easily obtained or used’, whilst availability is defined as something ‘able to be used or obtained; (or) at someone's disposal’. While the difference between these words initially appears minimal, it is the subtle implications that distinguish them in relation to the notion of the democratisation of music production as will become apparent later in the text.
It is my belief that whereas availability offers the option of technology, it also implies that one must potentially fulfil a number of criteria, for example having sufficient wealth to access the technology. Accessibility, meanwhile, is a more unconditional term which implies the technology is easier to obtain and available to a wider demographic than it was previously.4 While greater accessibility offers the option to create, it does not automatically lead to everyone becoming a music producer, as being able to democratically elect a government in the United Kingdom does not lead to every citizen taking up his or her right to vote.
In the past thirty years, advances in music production technology have greatly increased the ways in which artists are able to sample. These recent advances, however, contrast sharply with the limited accessibility of sound based technologies, unrelated to acoustic recording, available sixty years ago, to even established composers and musicians.
The most widely accepted early forms of sampling-based music were producer by avant- garde classical composers such as Pierre Schaeffer, Karl Heinz Stockhausen and John Cage. Paul Hegarty describes Schaeffer’s Musique Concrète as, ‘a new type of composition...[which utilised] new recording technologies as an integral part of it’s construction’ (Hegarty 2007 p.32) In Musique Concrète, Schaeffer employed machines to record environmental sounds (what today would be referred to as ‘found sounds’ or field recordings) onto a disc5 and then manipulated them by devising an early and primitive form of looping, then known as closed groove (Davies 1996, p.7). An example of this practice can be found in Schaeffer’s most famous piece ‘Etude aux Chemins de Fer’ in which recordings of trains and other station sounds are used as the basis of its composition (Penn State, website).
Karl Heinz Stockhausen, amongst other achievements, combined found sounds with the emerging technologies that enabled the creation of electronic synthesized sounds, arguably heralding the advent of electroacoustic music with ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’ (Smalley 2000, p.1). Notably, neither of these sampling pioneers utilised pre-existing popular or classical music as a means for sound sources6. However, since then, sample- based work has become synonymous with samples sourced from others’ recordings rather than the sampling artists’ own recordings.
Meanwhile, John Cage was physically splicing tape containing pre-recorded sound and creating new compositions by rearranging and manipulating the fragments of sound (samples) to meet his conceptual specifications. The accessibility of magnetic tape, which up until that point was almost exclusively available to military personnel (Begun 1949, website), and record players enabled these artists to experiment with radically new music composition and production techniques. Without the access to the technology, it is questionable as to whether Schaeffer and his peers would have been able to create the sonic manifestations of the Musique Concrète philosophy. Paul Hegarty is of the opinion that the technical and ideological legacy of Musique Concrète is still evident in the sample-based work of today,
‘At a very literal level, composers and musicians were also inventors, and this would remain the case well into the 1960’s...The thought technologies have not altered that dramatically; sampling, montage, the use of the studio (even if this could be a laptop) all come out of musique concrète’s experimentation.’ (Hegarty 2007, p.33)
The work of these artists in pioneering sampling techniques is widely recognised today as crucial to the development of sampling and modern ideology behind the of incorporation of any sound that works conceptually and aesthetically into compositions, regardless of their origin. Their work also introduced the idea that studio production could act as an instrument itself.
While the advent of tape was important for the conceptual development of sampling, its accessibility to the wider public remained relatively limited. It was not until the early 1980’s, when digital technology developments introduced the isolated hardware sampler and sampler keyboards, that sampling became a more practical, desirable and crucially accessible technique for professional musicians. Popular hardware samplers, such as the Akai S900, which could be controlled by keyboards equipped with the newly introduced MIDI7 protocol, offered a convenient and affordable method of sampling, manipulating and recontextualisating audio. They also contributed to the increasing amount of sound-based technologies that companies developed (and priced) for a ‘wide variety of uses’ (Landry 2007, p.114).
As the decade progressed, the dedicated hardware samplers were gradually integrated into more multifaceted instruments that incorporated other functions. A successful example of this integration can be found in Akai’s combining of a sampler, sequencer and drum machine in the Music Production Center or MPC, which was first introduced in 1988 with the MPC 60. This convergence, in part facilitated by advances in mass- production techniques, not only provided a more appealing instrument with which to sample and create work but also a practical and financially viable alternative to the large, expensive equipment that had preceded it (Emmerson 2000, p. 60). This, in a sense, signals another important type of convergence aiding sampling’s accessibility that of: lowering manufacturing and retail costs, technological advances and economic design.
Parallel to the hardware advances taking place, by the early 1990’s, computer processing power and miniturisation had developed to such an extent that they could facilitate complex audio processing, whilst also being physically small enough to be housed in a small studio or home. This prompted a rise during the decade in the amount of music production software available—the most complete forms of which are known as Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) that ‘integrated recording, editing and mastering environment(s)’ (Moorefield 2005, p.114). DAWs, such as Steinberg’s Cubase, DigiDesign’s Pro Tools and more recently Apple’s Logic, provide users with an alternative to hardware samplers with which to cut, manipulate and reconfigure samples from pre-recorded audio, as Pierre Schaeffer had with tape sixty years prior. Sample- based musician and writer Paul Miller is of the opinion that,
‘[E]diting environments such as Pro Tools or Digital Performer function as dissecting tables of sound; they allow the musician to compose material from multiple layers of the tracks and files, and then to condition the total output. It’s like building music out of LEGO blocks’
(Miller 2008, p.103)
Sampling in a digital environment meant that choices were no longer permanent and costly. The audio to be sampled no longer need to be taken from a physical media, such a tape or vinyl record, and aside from the software and computer, no other materials were necessary beside the artist’s creativity.
In recent years, the gap between the sampling software that is available and that which is accessible has further diminished. As with hardware samplers, one of the most prominent factors is the economics. Even while the retail price of hardware incorporating sampling technology decreases, it has remained significantly more expensive than software (often with less capabilities), as both development and manufacturing have to be taken into account when pricing. As a result, the retail price is frequently one that many non-professionals, or those without an emotional attachment or essential need for hardware, are unable or unwilling to pay. Software, however, once developed has a minimal reproduction cost, allowing for developers to achieve larger profits. The money generated arguably enables software-producing companies to better publicise their products and thus alert a wider demographic of potential consumers to the products availability, if not necessarily its accessibility.
DAWs are often released in a two-tier system of functionality and affordability. This practice is personified by Pro Tools which is released in a professional edition, known as ‘HD’ and more limited but considerably cheaper ‘lite edition’, ‘LE’. This strategy is presumably employed in order for companies to maximize both their range of professionalism reaches amongst users and thus their revenue. An example of the differential in price between hardware and DAWs is evident when comparing the low-mid range MPC 1000, which currently retails at £649.998, with the complete Apple Logic Studio, which is listed at almost half the price at £325.85 (Ibid). While hardware samplers such as the MPC offer enticements for users which software may lack, such as superior ergonomics, DAWs have arguably become the prominent tool with which to create sample-based work in the early 21st century due to a combination of their accessibility, affordability, and ease of use (Von Hippel 2005, p.122). Software’s emerging dominance is furthered by a new generation of younger artists who are, generally speaking, more proficient, knowledgeable and comfortable with computers, as well as by those artists of a lesser professional degrees who have embraced and it’s ability to facilitate the creation of work to a high standard for relatively little money (Ibid).
As sampling technology has developed, hardware samplers such as the MPC, which once could claim superior ergonomics as an advantage over software, have begun to see their dominance in this area diminish. Many of the tasks that were once exclusive to hardware samplers (or at least easier to perform), such as transposing sounds across pads or a keyboard to attain different pitches, can now easily be replicated on a DAW. With a cheap MIDI controller or keyboard, one can control the sounds externally from the computer and simulate the experience of a hardware sampler. The general shift towards software sampling is evident in the decision of the MPC’s manufacturer Akai, a brand famed for its hardware samplers, to introduce a range of pad based MIDI controllers baring a strong visual resemblance to the MPC known as the Akai MPD in the late 2000’s. The MPD at a fifth of the price (Ibid) of the MPC 1000 combines many of its features and functionality, yet crucially triggers and manipulates samples stored in a sound module, often a computer running a DAW, rather than in the MPD itself.
Two other important changes have taken place in the last decade in making sampling more accessible, both in part facilitated by the Internet. They are the growth of free software and the piracy of copyrighted software. The rise in Internet connection speeds, ever-more-powerful computer processing, and peer-to-peer file sharing9 has enabled commercially produced DAWs to become accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and their own moral compass. Users are able to bypass paying companies by download the DAWs illegally. Without the need for proprietary hardware (such as Pro Tool’s MBOX), as is the case with a majority of modern DAWs (Gardner 2009, website), the limit of the software available to individuals depends only on the extent to which their peers upload and the programs are ‘cracked’ 10.
In contrast, a burgeoning community of individual programmers, without an association with major DAW developers, are creating ‘freeware’ licensed audio editing software which is distributed legally and free of charge via the Internet or as ‘open source’ projects in which users are encouraged to actively participate in developing the software further by being given access to the software’s code (Chen 2005, website). Perhaps the most popular of these types of DAWs is Audacity, which describes itself as ‘free, open source software for recording and editing sounds’ (Audacity, website). Audacity has an advantage over many commercially produced DAWs in that it can be used on all major operating systems and is continually being developed and improved upon by the users themselves.
Software like Audacity, while not necessarily challenging the dominance of the major DAWs in the professional music production field, provide a convenient alternative for those who do not require the extensive tools available in the major software for their sample-based compositions or for whom the price of the major DAWs means they are still inaccessible. Daniel Gardner of the music production blog WizKid Sound is of the opinion that not only the accessibility of DAWs will increase in the future but they will evolve to a point in which software is no longer necessary and the DAW will be accessed through its hosting online (Gardner 2009, website)
This chapter sought to explore the extent to which sampling technologies’ accessibility had increased in the past thirty years. There has clearly been a seismic shift, particularly in the past ten years in, not only the breadth of technology that enables sampling that is available, but also crucially the demographics that it is accessible to. This is in part due to its increased functionality, usability and perhaps most significantly affordability which allow individuals the chance to experiment. In addition to the increased accessibility of sampling technologies, the techniques used by individuals have dramatically altered in the last thirty years. The manual cutting of tape has become an aesthetic and personal choice rather than necessity as the advent of digital hardware samplers and DAWs mean what were once technically demanding tasks are now possible with simple clicks of a button.
In this chapter, I will examine the extent to which potential sampling sources have been made more accessible in the last thirty years. In particular, I will be exploring what impact the digitalisation of a wide range of audio and its distribution, facilitated in large parts by the Internet, has had in enabling the creation of certain types of sample-based work reliant on particular sound sources. Through the examination of such works, I will also explore the effect changes in the way we archive, access and interact with these sounds has had on societies’ interaction with media and culture as a whole. Specifically, I will examine what effect ideological changes in relation to notions of ownership and distribution of sounds has had on the notion of the democratisation of music production.
Unlike traditional acoustic instruments and many of today’s modern electronic instruments, a sampler11 is redundant without sounds to sample. As I alluded to in Chapter One, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Pierre Schaeffer and his peers were pioneering the techniques that would later become known as sampling and looping (Penn State, Website). While loops could be constructed on prepared record players, the predominant technology of the time with which composers could manipulate sounds, construct and record was magnetic tape—a format that demanded destructive editing, meaning that the original source recording would be permanently modified thus making experiments or mistakes irreversible.
The advent of digital samplers crucially allowed for non-destructive editing. In addition to the greater flexibility in editing, digital samplers also rids one of the limitations that existed with previous sampling technologies regarding what could be sampled (Théberge 1997, p.203).
The introduction of digital audio mediums, first popularised by the Compact Disc (CD), was arguably a catalyst for the fundamental change in the way in which sounds could be accessed and sampled (Frith & Marshall 2004, p. 193). Digital audio formats and the flexibility they afforded were arguably crucial in computers becoming the important tool in the production of not only sampled-based music but also much of recorded music. With CD drives becoming standard in computers in the mid 1990’s, one was able to simply extract the music (a process known as ‘ripping’) as audio files onto the hard drive in a few minutes. This enabled individuals to then edit and sample the sounds digitally. Crucially, because the master copy of the sound source was not being altered, the editing was non-destructive which, combined with the computer’s increasing processing power and the emergence of DAWs, afforded artists the ease and speed to experiment, which had previously been unavailable. The following two sub-chapters will argue how accessibility to certain sound sources has been enabled or greatly facilitated the development of certain types of sample-based music.
Arguably, one of the most significant by-products of democratisation of technology and media has been the change in the way media is consumed. The Economist’s technology correspondent Andreas Kluth is of the belief that media is far less passively consumed as it was thirty years ago. He asserts that ‘mass media’ is giving way to a more ‘participatory’ media (Kluth 2006, website). This widely held belief has given rise to the expressions ‘remixing culture’ and ‘culture jamming’12 to denote the increasing amount of work by individuals who sample and manipulate media for their own artistic, humorous or political ends 13.
Much of the work associated with the remixing of culture is uploaded to the Internet by the artist and distributed virally through emails, blogs, and social networking websites, eventually themselves becoming cultural artifacts to be commented and built upon. Source sounds for such work have become far more accessible in recent years due to an increase in media outlets. Prominent examples include the introduction of twenty-four hour television programming and online services such as the BBC’s iPlayer that allow individuals to access television and radio programmes after they have been broadcasted, and multi-purpose websites such as YouTube which host past and present media from broadcasting corporations around the world, in addition to hosting user generated content, which was its initial purpose.
YouTube content provided the basis for the ‘ThruYOU’ project created in 2009 by Ophir Kutiel, an Israeli musician producing under the name Kutiman. Time Magazine described ThruYOU as an ‘all-new art form that combines DJing, video montage and found art’ (Time 2009, website). Kutiel created a collection of eight songs with accompanying videos composed solely of audio and video sampled from videos other YouTube users had uploaded onto the site (Kutiel 2009, website). All the videos used were of individuals filming themselves them playing instruments or otherwise making sound. A strong argument could be made that a project of such magnitude in which performances of ones’ peers are ultilised as the sonic basis with which to create an entire album could not have been realised to such an extent were it not for the extensive resource of user- generated content hosted by YouTube.
The work of ‘Cassetteboy’ (Michael Bollen and Steve Warlin) is another example of culture being ‘remixed’. Their compositions build upon the surrealist techniques, which inspired William S. Burroughs in the 1950’s to cut at random words from recordings and reaffix them in new positions in order to create new sentences and phrases. As a result, the new composition can have a completely different narrative compared to that of the original source recording. Bollen and Warlin began producing their work fifteen years ago, expe rimenting with samples in a rudimentary cut-up fashion. Recounting the origins and progression of their work, they describe the transitional impact digital sampling technology has had in enabling the production of more complex and intricate pieces in addition to working with greater ease.
“We looped certain words or sentences and constructed our own jokes from phrases. This was all done on old ghettoblaster tape decks...Eventually we started using computers which allowed us to do much more complicated editing, making words from individual syllables, and to write our own music to go between the jokes.”
(Walker 2010, website)
Their work today commonly revolves around sampling audio from either one specific media source or a variety of sources dependent on the particular work being made, although they state that ‘[a]ll of their] source material is stolen from films, TV and radio (Ibid)’.Many of these sources are, thanks to digitalisation of media content, accessible almost on demand. Bollen and Warlin describe their compositions as ‘mak[ing] celebrities say things about sex and drugs that they would never normally say’ (Ibid) In its essence, by editing the original audio and moving around words, based on conscious decisions (rather than the chance technique employed by Burroughs), they create fictional (and often humiliating14) monologues for their target(s) to suite their artistic ends.
The Mash-up, a derivative of the remix, is a 21st century term used to describe sample- based work in which two familiar songs are layered on top of one another. Although the development of mash-ups can be credited to a number of artists including John Oswald, it was not until the increased accessibility of digital audio files, facilitated by liberal file sharing on the Internet, that this type of work became more prominent in the public conscience. The ‘mp3’ codec, which was introduced in 1997, allowed for digital audio to be compressed while retaining much of its quality (Frith & Marshall, 2004, p.192). At the turn of the century, the popularity of peer-to-peer software applications such as Napster created huge virtual libraries of audio files, accessible on the Internet from which artists could easily download and sample (Frith & Marshall, 2004, p.193). Amongst the complete songs accessible were a growing number of a cappella (exclusively vocal recording) and instrumental files of popular songs.
Gregg Gillis, better known by his artist name ‘Girl Talk’, specialises in the use of cappella and instrumental samples in the music he produces and is thus often referred to as a ‘mash-up artist’. Gillis’ 2008 album ‘Feed the Animals’ is composed of over 300 samples taken from these a cappella and instrumental files seamlessly blended together to create one continuous piece in which all the disparate samples co-inhabit (Gillis 2008, website). The work is composed using two relatively cheap DAWs, ‘Adobe Audition’ and ‘AudioMulch’ (Triple J 2009, sound recording). Gillis states that the accessibility of a cappella and instrumental files has played a crucial part in enabling the production of his music.
‘For the vocals, I almost always work with acapella (sic) cuts. These have become so widely available online that it makes it a lot easier on me. For instrumental segments, I primarily loop actual instrumental parts from songs’. (Gillis 2008, website)
The Hip-Hop a cappellas used for a majority of the vocals in Gilles’ work were, for the most part prior to Napster, only available only as b-sides on often difficult-to-source 12” vinyl singles. This, coupled with the expense of collecting this volume of records, would have made the production of Feed the Animals a far more difficult process, if not impossible, only twelve years ago. Virgil Moorefield is of the opinion that mash-ups (of which Gillis’ work are often associated) are an example of technology (computers and ‘free music software’) enabling the development of a form of music which can be produced with relative ease by many people (Moorefield 2008, p. 108). It is however important to note that the ease to which one can produce a certain type of music does not denote that all work will be of an equal standard and worth.
In contrast, the similar work of Douglas Di Franco and Steve Stein (Double Dee and Steinski), who in the pre-Internet 1980’s produced a series of sample-collage based works known as ‘The Lessons’, utilised far fewer samples than Gillis’ work. The revered ‘Lesson 1’ used only around twenty-four samples sourced primarily from vinyl records. While the disparity in the number of samples used between Gillis and Di Franco and Stein could be attributed to the artists’ compositional decisions, the pre-digital and specifically pre-Internet age meant there was far less access to sounds beyond those that one physically owned or could borrow. Gillis is of the belief that the transition of audio from physical formats to digital and thus the ease of duplication and distribution via the Internet has been the predominant cultural landmark of the last ten years and, ‘goes beyond a trend in music’ (Gillis 2008, website).
Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons organisation is responsible for creating a variety of easy to understand copyright licenses for artists to place on their work which allows them to clearly state the level to which they would be willing for segments (samples) of their work to be used in that of others’. Works distributed with Creative Commons licenses are part of a growing philosophy that Elizabeth Stark in her article ‘Free Culture and the Internet’ refers to the ‘Cultural Commons’, which attempts to serve the purpose of creating ‘a common space of cultural information that is available for the public at large to share, rework and remix’ (Stark 2006, pdf).
The website ‘The Freesound Project’ is a good example of this idea in practice. Its aim is ‘to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps.’ (Freesound Project, website). Whereas music-centric websites such as MySpace encourage users to upload and share their completed songs, Freesound Project users are actively encouraged to upload individual recordings of sounds they have created themselves so that their peers may listen to and use ‘royalty free’ the sounds in their own compositions under the guidelines set out in the Creative Commons Sampling Plus License’ (Ibid). There are no criteria for uploading beyond that files must be short sounds and not songs. The ‘sample packs’ uploaded by users highlight the diversity of the sounds accessible from ‘distorted guitar chords’ to ‘CarKeysDrums’ and packs containing more traditional musical elements such as ‘BELLS’ and ‘cello’ (Ibid).
An example of established artists actively adopting the ‘Cultural Commons’ philosophy was seen in 2006, when two songs from Brian Eno and David Byrne’s album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts15 were made available to the public. Visitors to the dedicated website set up were encouraged to download the isolated tracks (i.e. separate files for ‘bass synth’, ‘dampened drum’, ‘effected guitar’, etc.) and ‘edit, remix, sample and 15 Which itself is composed in large part of samples mutilate’, them ‘in line with a particular Creative Commons license’ (Bush of Ghosts, website) The website also encourages participants ‘to post their mixes or songs that incorporate these audio files on the site for others to hear and rate’ (Ibdi). In addition to using the sounds to create remixes based on the originals, encouragement is offered to individuals wishing to use the files to create work without association to the original songs (Ibid). Both the Eno/Byrne remixing initiative and the Freesound project demonstrate a willingness to distribute sounds in order to encourage creativity and the production of new music by artists of varying professional degrees.
Whether one is composing a traditional pop song, avant-garde sound piece or ‘remixing culture’, huge virtual libraries of sounds to sample are accessible to compensate those lacking certain elements traditionally needed in order to produce the music. These elements can include: instruments (and/or the technical skill to play them), microphones, and other equipment involved in the recording process and physical space. Likewise, in the case of work reliant on samples from pre-formed media, or the more recently accessible ‘user-generated content’, the digitalisation of audio and the development of the Internet that facilitates the sounds distribution has enabled a greater access to a wider range of source materials than ever previously existed.
In the previous two chapters, I explored how access to sampling technologies and sources to sample have increased, both in large parts as a result of the digitalisation of music and said sampling technologies. Chapter Two also explored varying strands of sample-based work that have been produced using the increased variety of sound sources accessible. In this chapter, I will propose that the definition of democratisation in relation to music production be refined to represent to those who have a pre-conceived notion of the work they want to produce are unable create it without the increased access to both the technology and sounds that make up the sampling practice. I will argue in this chapter that the music of Hip-Hop and Baile Funk are examples of this type of democratisation in action.
Notions of democratisation
The word ‘democratisation’, when critically discussed in relation to technology, often represents what Paul Théberge describes as the ‘market society concept of democracy’, (Théberge 1997, p. 147) which rests on the idea that the greater the access to the technology the more democratised it has become. Théberge, when discussing this notion, cites Bob Moog’s assertion that ‘the cheaper technology becomes and the more available to the average consumer, the more democracy has succeeded in the equitable distribution of utilitarian satisfactions’ (Ibid). However, in terms of sampling, Moog’s notion that democratisation is a by-product of increased accessibility neglects to take into consideration crucial aspects of the human interaction with technology. I see the following three points as problems in applying Moog’s definition of the democratisation of technology with the democratisation of music production.
Creativity Increased access to sampling technologies does not automatically lead to increased creativity. Technology can facilitate ideas but does not create them. Neither does it have ears with which to judge the aesthetic of a work.
Will One has to want to create work. Without the will to use the technology, its accessibility becomes a moot point. Similarly, if every citizen was given access to a gun, it is unlikely they would all be fired.
Ownership The creator or copyright owner of the original sound sources may take issue with the sampling artist if they are producing their work for commercial release or performance. More frequently, this has also been an issue even when the work is not released commercially.
As Moog’s notion primarily focuses on the ‘democratisation of the technology’, I believe it is important to expand the term in relation to ‘the democratisation of music production’. My use of the term ‘democratisation’ hinges on the idea that increased accessibility enables a greater number of people to put into practice their ideas and express themselves than if the technology were less accessible. Théberge points out this definition of democratisation was implied by the origanisation responsible for the MIDI protocol, the IMA16, who ‘placed a humanistic emphasis on the creative “artistic potentials” of individuals and stressed the importance of the association as a facilitator of “open” dialogue in the development of technologies that could help release those potentials’ (Ibid)’. Théberge refers to the later result of democratisation as the ‘ethical notion of democracy’. It is the extent to which sampling has furthered the ethical notion of the democracy that I will explore in the following two case studies.
Hip-Hop was arguably the first genre of music for which accessibility to sampling and the production of the music were intrinsically linked. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, for Hip-Hop’s early artists in the south Bronx and other deprived areas of New York City (Toop 2000, p.14), a primary inspiration for the creation of Hip-Hop music was their felt disenfranchisement from mainstream American society and its music, particularly disco. Virgil Moorefield explains,
‘The precursors of rap were disco, funk and Jamaican dub... [D]isco had gone mainstream on one hand, while it associated with the jet-setting beautiful people on the other. It did not represent the voice of the inner city, of working-class and disadvantaged America.’
(Moorefield 2008, p. 91)
As Moorefield points out, the disenfranchisement felt by sections of African-American youths in ‘poor neighborhoods’ in New York led them to create, with the means accessible, a unique and identifiable form of music removed from the mainstream with which they and members of their communities could associate themselves (Moorefield 2008, p. 91). The ‘Hip-Hop’ music they produced placed a great emphasis on the rhythm and repetition as Tricia Rose explains
‘Rap music techniques, particularly the use of sampling technology, involved the repetition and reconfiguration of the rhythmic elements in ways that illustrate a heightened attention to rhythmic patterns and movement between such patterns via breaks and points of musical rupture.’
(Rose 1994, p.67)
Rose asserts that a lineage can be drawn between the importance placed on rhythms and repetition in Hip-Hop and that of ‘New World black traditions and practices’ and that these particular sonic qualities help to differentiate it from Western music which relied heavily on harmony (Rose 1994, p.64). She takes the position that this sonic identity that early hip-hop artists gave the music by way of the sampling was not necessarily a conscious thought, but rather a deep-seated part of the African cultural heritage that was brought to the fore by the situations in which the music is created (Rose 1994, p.67)
In its formative years, the music that supported the vocalist, or ‘rapper’, were frequently skeletal compositions, often comprised of just two elements—the percussion and scratching18. Tricia Rose states that sampling, and in particular samplers, have proved essential in the creation of Hip-Hop music, arguing that the genres produced created uses for the technology that did not exist prior to the music’s inception,
‘Rap music techniques, particularly the use of sampling technology, involved the repetition and reconfiguration of the rhythmic elements in ways that illustrate a heightened attention to rhythmic patterns and movement between such patterns via breaks and points of musical rupture.’
(Rose 1994, p.67)
The main emphasis of early Hip-Hop was placed on rhythm that provided the backbone to the music and took equal prominence with the vocals. In live performance pioneering, hip-hop DJs19 such as Kool DJ Herc would create continuous rhythms by recycling the percussion breaks (referred to as ‘breakbeats’) found in pre-recorded music by consecutively playing the same break with two identical records (Rose 1994, p.53). Rose points out that by using the turntables as instruments and extending the most ‘rhythmically compelling elements’ the artists were able to create new compositions with a consistently high energy (Rose 1994, p.74). She also suggests that this manual looping technique was the precursor to the way in which Hip-Hop artists would later use the looping facilities enabled by digital samplers in their recorded music (Ibid)
As the genre evolved, Hip-Hop DJs began to diversify their skills from strictly live performances and often included composing and producing for recordings into their repertoire (Poschardt 1995, p.163). As a result, the term ‘DJ’ also became associated with these disciplines. Programming rhythms using in-built percussion samples on digital drum machines, such as the popular Roland TR-808, was also used as an alternative to sampling from other records (Rose 1994, p.75). As the 1980’s progressed, the same looping technique that was used for percussion was increasingly ultilised to incorporate non-percussive samples into compositions, such as bass and brass samples. This further cemented the sonic identity of the music, for which the use of technology and the source material was essential to the aesthetic of the work as Rose explains,
‘...[P]rior to rap, the most desirable use of a sample was to mask the sample and its origin; to bury it’s identity. Rap producers have inverted this logic, using samples as a point of reference, as a means by which the process of repetition and recontextualization can be highlighted and privileged’
(Rose 1994, p.73)
Sampling techniques and technology, as has been argued, were crucial in enabling the sonic template for Hip-Hop, which was a form of musical expression its producers were keen to create and their communities enthusiastic to embrace. Hip-Hop, therefore, is a good example of sampling facilitating the ethical democratisation of music production.
Baile Funk (or ‘Funk Carioca’ as it is known to natives) is a modern form of Brazilian music, which sonically has little in common with the brand of Funk popularised by James Brown but rather builds primarily upon the Miami Bass and Electro sounds popularised in the early 1980’s. The music is primarily produced by Rio de Janeiro’s ‘poor underclass’ in the cities favelas (ghettos) (Gaylor 2008, film) and, like Hip-Hop, the sampling ethos and technology are central to the production of the music.
Baile Funk, unlike Hip-Hop, whose producers initially looked inwards to their African cultural roots for a sonic template, draws on a diverse range of sonic influences. This is arguably due to what Bruno Natal refers to as Brazilian culture’s ‘anthropophagic tradition’, by which he means Brazilians are generally open to absorbing cultural influences into their diverse population and culture. Once absorbed, he argues, the influence is molded to reflect the overwhelming musical culture of the region (Natal 2005, website). In this sense, sampling is fundamental to Baile Funk’s potency and cultural significance, as this cultural acceptance it affords producers the license to incorporate diverse range of sounds into their music. Natal refers to DJ Marlboro (a pioneer of the Baile Funk sound) as an example of how the Baile Funk sound has developed from one reliant on the pre-recorded samples included in limited drum machines to the diverse sound heard today as dual sampling/drum machines became accessible.
‘Although Marlboro created his first tracks on a Boss DR 110, newer drum machines...and MPCs have led to the sampling of samba and other styles’ (Natal 2005, website)
Hermano Vianna, author of the of ‘O Mundo Funk Carioca’, an early study of Baile Funk, states that Baile Funk producers are less interested in the origins or connotations of the samples they ultilise but rather that they contributed to the multi-faceted overall sound they desire (Vianna cited in Natal 2005, website). Andy Cumming is of the opinion that the lack of judgement by Baile Funk producers on the sources of the sounds is indicative of the Brazil’s ‘melting pot society’ in which it is the will of artist to borrow from disparate cultures and music and blend them all together (Cumming 2004, liner notes).
In addition to bringing the audience enjoyment, Brett Gaylor in his documentary film ‘RiP A Remix Manifesto’ argues that Baile Funk provides its producers and those who aspire to create it incentives and opportunities to produce music rather than be involved in the crime and violence associated with the cities favelas (Gaylor 2008, film). In the same film, prominent Baile Funk DJ ‘Sany Pitbull’ is filmed at a Baile Funk party improvising with an MPC 2500 and producing a Baile Funk version of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’, complete with a samba rhythm that mixes the classic riff with percussion identifiable to Brazilian music (Ibid).
In this sense, sampling technology has allowed Baile Funk artists to embrace, celebrate and build upon other cultures while simultaneously developing their own. Whereas, prior to the greater accessibility of sampling, this may have been a more passive one-way relationship, now what is consumed is altered and built upon to suit the Rio audience consuming it. As a result, sampling also contributes to enabling the production of music that can be recognised as a distinct product of Rio’s favelas and Brazil’s cultural diversity and is exported to the world as such. Evidence of this can be seen in the rise in popularity of Baile Funk in Western Europe and the United States in the last ten years. It has been interpolated into the work of artists from these regions. Most notably Wesley Pentz, better known as the DJ/Producer ‘Diplo’, has embraced the genre and helped bring the music to the attention to a greater audience with his production on M.I.A.’s Baile Funk influenced single ‘Bucky Done Gun’ (Frere-Jones 2005, Website).
As stated at the beginning of this chapter, I argued that the democratisation of music production should not be hinged on the greater accessibility of sampling technology, but rather how increased accessibility to sampling has impacted on a movement towards the ethical democratisation of music production. Increased access to sampling, in order to be defined as a democratising presence, should enable those whom wish to express themselves and their ideas through music production to do so in ways that would otherwise not be possible were it not for sampling. The evidence presented in this chapter supports the notion that the increased access of sampling has indeed had an impact on the inception of Hip-Hop and production of Baile Funk.
In the first chapter, I demonstrated how accessibility to sampling technology has increased and how the techniques in which one is able to sample have changed. In Chapter Two, I examined how changes in how potential sampling sounds are accessed and how these changes have greater enabled the production of certain works. The access to such sounds has also suggested an ideological movement and actual transition towards a ‘cultural commons’ and more ‘participatory media’. In the third Chapter, I argued that the access to sampling has enabled the production of entire genres, by examining Hip-Hop and Baile Funk and showing that the music’s cultural significance is not just enabled by sampling but also as a result of the ideology and aesthetic sampling gives it. In this fourth chapter, I will highlight a number of issues that challenge the notion that sampling has positively contributed to the ‘ethical notion of the democratisation of music production’ as set out in the third chapter. I will also attempt to put into context a number of the issues surrounding the way in which sampling and sampled based work is perceived and critiqued by critics and audiences.
Challenges to democracy
The most significant challenge to the production of sample-based work is that of the ownership of the source sound. A good example of this can be found in the legal issues that Hip-Hop artists attracted as the music gained greater popularity in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the use of unlicensed samples came under greater scrutiny. The high profile use of samples in the particular Hip-Hop songs became frequently challenged by lawsuits or threats of litigation in relation to copyright infringement (Frith & Marshall 2004, p. 146). Siva Vaidhyanathan is of the belief that, since 1991, this precipitated to a sharp decrease of sampling in Hip-Hop, which led to the loss of a major layer of communication and meaning the music had with its audience (Boiler 2005, p.27). David Boiler argues that this change in the ethos of the music stunted the ethical democratisation afforded by sampling,
‘As sampling licenses became the legal norm, creative freedom became a privilege that only the richest, most established artists could afford. It also meant that certain types of works would never get produced at all.’ (Ibid)
Boiler states that there were two common perceptions regarding how the alleged changes to artists’ ‘creative freedom’, enforced by the application of copyright laws, affected the genre. One argued that ‘the rise of sampling licenses caused a decline in the verve, inventiveness and social bite of rap music’ while other’s were unsympathetic believing that ‘any music placed in modern commerce simply must abide by traditional copyright norms’ and noted that Hip-Hop music’s integration into the mainstream has strengthened its cultural influence (Boiler 2005, p.28).
As a result of the legal action, Hip-Hop music’s production, particularly since the turn of the century, has shifted from using samples towards a less rhythm driven and more harmonically based sound, more frequently utilising live instruments that do not infringe on copyright. As Boiler states, this change in sonic identity has coincided with its growth in popularity that has seen Hip-Hop transformed from a localised form of cultural expression into arguably the dominant popular musical form of the early 21st century (Ibid). One may then argue that Hip-Hop’s relationship to the music production democratisation, facilitated by sampling in the 1980’s, is now irrelevant, as much of the music has sonically shifted from its African derived rhythmic origins. On the other hand, one could argue the music still remains a recognised form of African-American expression that, through denouncing the predominant use of samples, has been able to develop, diversify and resonate worldwide audiences, often through regional variations of the music.
Such exposure could herald a resurgence of the use of the sampling in future Hip-Hop’s production, with present day music producers able to take advantage of the inexpensive production software, hardware and the cultural commons movement. Hip-Hop still retains the techniques and ideology of sampling in its history. This enables present day enthusiasts (and would be producers) to gain an understanding of sampling. Music producer Mark Ronson takes the position that greater mainstream exposure of Hip-Hop creates an interest amongst some in the techniques employed by artists they admire,
‘If I’m growing up and I idolize [respected Hip-Hop producer] DJ Premier and I hear that he uses an MPC 60 and I have the chance of getting one I’m going to get it, and then obviously once you get it you realized there’s a reason he had it.’ (Ronson 2007, sound recording)
This suggests that the past’s sample-based music can have a legacy that enables the democratisation of the music production in the future.
The inevitable result of a greater volume of sample-based work, even after taking into consideration samples covered by Creative Commons licenses or out of copyright, is that a greater number of copyright violations are committed. The fear of recrimination felt by producers of work that infringes copyright from threats of litigation from copyright holders challenges the notion that sampling can have a sustainable impact in democratising music production.
The legal persecution of those using copyrighted samples in their work, prior to the 21st century and the previous example, was far more prevalent in commercially released projects than it was non-profit work. A high profile example of such action being taken against an artist using samples for a non-commercial project was evident in the treats of litigation against Brian Burton, better known as ‘Dangermouse’. His 2004 ‘mash-up’ album, ‘The Grey Album’, exclusively used samples taken from the Beatles ‘White Album’ to create new instrumentals for which rapper Jay-Z’s ‘Black Album’ a cappellas to be layered upon.
The resulting work was distributed amongst friends in small quantities as a non-profit ‘art project’ (Burton, 2003, liner notes) and eventually lead to its viral distribution through the Internet. Due to the extensive use of Beatles samples in the ‘The Grey Album’, EMI, the corporation owning the recordings, issued a cease-and-desist order to Burton to stop the distribution of the album (Serazio, M 2008). However, facilitated by the Internet, supporters of Burton and his music prompted an increase in the albums distribution. On the 24th of February 2004, they organised for the album to be hosted on nearly 200 websites in response to EMI’s attempted litigation. Michael Serazio states that this case exemplifies the struggle between producers and consumers of sample-based music and the owners of the sampled recordings (Serazio 2008, e-journal). Paul Théberge suggests,
‘[T]he industry, legislators and the courts need to reexamine copyright law and its commitment to outmoded notions of originality, creativity and ownership, and to balance the economic interests that this ideas support with a recognition of the technologists...to make creative use of recorded materials in the production of new works.’
(Frith & Marshall, 2004, p. 154)
Evidently, a medium between the rights of individuals to create work and companies to protect their interests without the need for litigation needs to be reached in order for sampling to be seriously considered as a significant contributing factor to democratisation of music production.
Notions of creativity and originality
Central to the discourse surrounding sampling are issues relating to notions of what constitutes creativity and originality. The most common criticism of artists employing samples in their work is that it denotes a lack of original ideas. Gregg Gillis argues that this assumption could also be applied to artists, for which pre-recorded samples do not provide source material for their compositions,
‘[A]ll music is based on influence...when you're in a rock band, you don't really invent those guitars or invent those chord progressions, or even...guitar pedal sounds. But you pull it all together, take a bunch of influences, re-contextualize it, and if you do a well enough job of disguising your influences, it's called original.’ (Gillis, 2008, Radio)
David Boiler takes the view that all work draws on the ‘musical tradition and the larger culture’ (Boiler 2005, p. 17). The essence of this argument rests upon the idea that no work is created in a cultural vacuum. Therefore, one could argue that the level of creativity and originality in a work should be measured not by where the sonic material or ideas are sourced from but the way in which these culture influences are incorporated into the producer’s work and how they are built upon.
Another common criticism of sample-based work is the extent to which the technology determines the type of work produced and the aesthetic it employs versus the technology enabling the production of artists’ pre-conceived ideas. While the former may be applicable to certain work, it is certainly, as I have demonstrated in this paper, the norm and should not taint the overall perception of work that relates to the ethical notion of democratisation. Therefore, I propose that the definition of democratisation in relation to music production should also recognise whether a ‘cultural discourse’ exists around work enabled as a result of sampling technology. Rose refers to Hip-Hop as an example of a cultural discourse determining the aesthetic of music, whose production was enabled by sampling technology,
‘Groundbreaking music as a cultural discourse dismantles the causal link between rap’s sonic force and the technological means for its expression. Rap producers’ strategic use of electronic reproduction technology, particularly sampling equipment, affirms stylistic priorities in the organization and selection of sounds found in many diasporic musical expressions. Although rap music is shaped by and articulated through advanced reproduction equipment, its stylistic priorities are not merely by-products of such equipment.’ (Rose, 1994, p. 71)
It would be important to note that this refining of the definition of democratisation in relation to music production should not be a means to measure the validity and merit of all sampling based-work, rather just that which is put forward as examples of democratisation.
The primary factor I have identified which complicates how sample-based worked is critically accessed; besides the notions of creativity and originality I have addressed, is the young and experimental nature of much of the music. This has lead to its discourse becoming focused on the technicalities of the work and its impact upon culture than the sonic and aesthetic value of the work. An example is evident in the discussions surrounding Kutiman’s ThruYOU project where much of its praise is centred on its innovativeness and how it relates to the notion that culture is becoming more participatory. This is exemplified in Time Magazine’s reporting of the work in which it was included in an article focusing on the ‘The 50 Best Inventions of 2009’ rather than in a section devoted to music or art reviews (Time, 2009, website).
In the future, I believe that the discourse surrounding such work should shift towards developing criteria for which many of the new forms of sample-based music and art can to be critically assessed. However, while many of the new forms of sampling enabled works remain young, in development and of such a varied nature, it is difficult to apply common principles on which to judge them. Arguably, only hindsight can provide such criteria, when such radically different work from the established norm is being produced at such pace. Further complicating this process is the fact that while the evidence in this paper demonstrates that ethical notion of democratisation is manifesting itself in the production of innovative work, the democratisation of sampling technology, can when coupled with a lack of creativity and a desire to create, manifest itself in a surplus of derivative and mediocre work through which it is more difficult to critically access the sampling enabled work as a whole.
This dissertation has sought to examine the extent to which the increased accessibility to sampling that I argued existed in Chapters One and Two has contribute to the notion of the democratisation of music production. In doing so, I have attempted to refine the definition of democratisation in relation to music production and apply it to the case studies I examined throughout the paper. The following is a summery of my findings.
The studies of mash-ups and culture jamming in Chapter Two demonstrates how an increased accessibility to both sampling technology and a large resource from which to sample have contributed towards a more participatory media, in which content is no longer merely passively consumed, but analysed, dissected and reacted to in very little time. Cassetteboy, with their reworking of Nick Griffin’s Question Time appearance, demonstrate ‘remixing culture which often is amusing can also serve a political agenda by ridiculing Griffin and his extremist views through the editing of audio samples. Gregg Gillis, in his work as Girl Talk, has produced four albums based almost exclusively on samples. As stated by Gillis, his original intentions when he began working with samples were to find a ‘more crazy’ way to express himself musically, than the supposed counterculture music that he was encountering at the time (Malitz, 2009, Website). While his definition of ‘more crazy’ is indeterminable, the discourse that surrounds his work, including questions of ownership, originality, and even the right to use the title ‘musician’, suggests his ambition for controversial work as achieved through sampling.
In a sense, Kutiman’s ThruYOU project represents a second generation of the so-called ‘participatory media culture’, in that the content he used to produced the album is sourced from content generated by his peers, rather than commercial artists. Although participants in ThruYOU did not explicitly stipulate their videos could be used for such ‘remixing’, it is this ethos of building upon, while at the same time recognising and referencing, the work of others that underpins the ideals of the movement towards a ‘Creative Commons’ of which ‘Creative Commons’ licenses work towards enabling.
The examination in Chapter Three of Hip-Hop and Balie Funk highlighted how access to sampling not only enables the production of music, previously less possible, but also the impact upon personal identify and popular culture that that such accessibility can create. Hip-Hop, in particular, provided an outlet for an ignored subsection of American society with which to communicate, celebrate and express their cultural heritage and modern experience of life, as well as providing its initial audience with a music they could identify with, rather than attempting to assimilate into the popular culture which did not resonant with them.
As a result of my research and the evidence I have presented throughout this paper, I have concluded that an increased accessibility to sampling does not inevitably lead to the greater democratisation of music production. Instead, it does profoundly contribute to the ethical democratisation of music production by greater enabling those with the will to create particular work which, were if not for sampling’s increased accessibility, may not have been possible.
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CD liner notes
Cumming, A. and Preto, R. (2004) Rio Baile Funk Favela Booty Beats [CD booklet essa]) Essay Recording
OHM+ (2000) The early gurus of electronic music: 1948-1980 [CD booklet essay] OHM+