Join the New Folkateers!

Mozart composed and performed progressive, contemporary popular music in his own time - fair enough, that goes without saying. Today sceptics say Mozart did everything there is to be done with 12 notes. Let's just leave this sentence for a while and take a closer look at the new electronic circus... and discover a dramatic conceptual change.

The first generation of widely used electronic instruments were modelled on keyboard instruments, so 'pop' musicians could use these smaller, more practical virtual models as substitutes. Ray Manzarek from The Doors and Emerson from Emerson, Lake and Palmer come to mind and with them the first synthesizers manufactured by Dr. Moog in 1963. Moog's basic idea was to remodel existing sounds of existing instruments by using electronic devices and constructing real sounds through the constant flow of electrons.

The first machine that could be called a 'sampler' was the Mellotron - invented in the same year as Moog's devices -, which looks like a keyboard. Each key is linked to a short magnetic tape. Each tape can record sound events - samples - to be played back by the matching key. It was analogue... and incredibly expensive. The same counts for the first generation of digital samplers - made by Fairlight (1979) and EMU Systems (1981). Only state-of-the-art studios could equip themselves. In those misty foggy Seventies many experimental artists - like Brian Eno - created the most relevant works not necessarily by working with the technology, but by basing them on the way of thinking behind it. They generated soundscapes from pieces, events and layers of sound, not 'real' compositions based on the limiting concepts of 'melody' or 'rhythm'.

The first Hit following such concepts and technology was Paul Hardcastle's Nineteen in 1983. The use of samples and samplers grew steadily and the next drastic breakthrough came from Jonathan Moore and Matt Black, the Coldcut duo. These pioneers of sampling kicked off the careers of Lisa Stansfield, Yazz and many others. In 1987 they released What's That Noise, making them the world's first remixing artists. Furthermore they founded Ninja Tune Records and Hex, an experimental multimedia firm. M*A*R*R*S's Pump Up The Volume in 1988 was the groundbreaking song - evidently pepped up with some Coldcut samples. Firstly, this was the first pop House tune, secondly, it consisted of nothing but samples, no instruments and no new or additional material had been recorded during the making of the song.

Soon afterwards, with the publication of The Manual (1989) such techniques became common knowledge. Jim Cauty and Bill Drummond decided to form a pop group and produce one hit a month. They did it - and documented the process in the above mentioned book. The band was the JAMS (Justified and Ancient of Mumu) and the song was Doctorin' the Tardis (1988). By sampling Gary Glitter and the Doctor Who series they provided an easy step-by-step guide to contemporary pop music, giving everybody a chance to score a number one Hit. Their first widely known album, "The White Room" (1991) released under the pseudonym KLF (Kopyright Liberation Foundation) was produced with only one sampler, one synthesizer and one guitar. It included the single What Time Is Love - making its way into the Guinness Book of Records because of the almost 700 different remixes available.

I can recall an ancient interview with a member of Kraftwerk who mentioned their classic vision of the ultimate German kid, in possession of a synthesizer and a sampler, coming home from school, building his/her own song from bits and pieces chopped out of the personal favourites, taking the bass line from here and the chorus from there. With the availability of computers and free multitracker sample oriented music editor software packages (the so-called 'trackers', e.g. FastTracker) it seems that today anyone can join the new 'folk' music movement. The new concept behind pop music places music in the hands of the common people, and therefore could be seen as a new kind of folk music.

By now we don't even need to rely on produced sample discs, we have on-line sample stores and free archives. The widely known acid jazz act US3 based their hits (best known 'Cantaloop' that samples Herbie Hancock from the Seventies) on the free access to the jazz archive of Blue Note Records. Ex-Depeche Mode member Alan Wilder produced his latest album (Unsound Methods, 1997) under the pseudonym Recoil at home with one PC and a CuBase Virtual Studio. If you are lucky enough to find software archives containing the latest high tech packages, filters and workstation try to get hold of Sonic Foundry's Soundforge or Steinberg's Wavelab, both providing 24 bit oversampled quality - tough and heavy digital processing features that can easily match the Russian military ICE-cracker.

Which leads us to the other side of the sampling fair, the remixing industry with its saints and sinners (see also: Pet Shop Boys' DJ Culture). Take Brooklyn's Todd Terry as an example, a DJ since the mid-80s he is best known for the 'EBTG effect'. Everything But The Girl has been a post wave intellipop duo for many years with some minor Top 40 hits - then came Todd and remixed their single Missing - which sold 3 million copies world-wide since its release in 1996, outselling all their previous records. Soon enough it was hip to release a 'Todd Terry Remix'. Terry made a killing using the 'One Groove' by charging a fortune for his 4 second formula. But the really weird part is, it works! - because he makes records sell. The other one "doing jobz for da mob" is Mr. Armand Van Helden. He is from Boston, he's been DJing since his 15th birthday and his Tori Amos remix (Tori Amos: Professional Widow (Armand's Trunk Funk Mix) - 1996) made him a world-wide success. He uses two samplers and charges $60,000 for a remix. Only one groove and some bass lines. The next thing to wait for will be the ultimate sample-videoclip. The Emergency Broadcast Network and Coldcut's Hex have produced some nice experimental works in the field.

What's next? Let's quote an Axl Rose T-Shirt (why not?) that he has liked to wear on stage: "Kill Your Idols". If you feel real, join the new folkateers. Grow your own!

Molnar Daniel with thanks to Micz Flor.


Armand Van Helden: The Funk Phenomena
[ drum groove | amplitude image | spectrogram | 3D surface analysis ]

Tori Amos: Professional Widow (Armand Van Helden's Trunk Funk Mix)
[ Drum Groove | amplitude image | spectrogram | 3D surface analysis | bassline | bassline + sample ]

Everything But The Girl: Missing (Todd Terry Mix)
[ drum groove | amplitude image | spectrogram | 3D surface analysis ]