Audio Sampling As Decoding + Manipulation

I would like to propose an alternative to the sort of mixed reality video games Steve Jones places a huge emphasis on. It is just another expression of the same underlying idea (I am doing this out of fear that video games be taken as paradigmatic source of the idea and not merely one of its many manifestations): It comes down to personal choice. What I would like to present is sample based music.

Sampling produces an entire aesthetic and philosophy. You take someone else’s sound and (in Steve Jones’ words) “decode and manipulate”.

1) Decoding: I hear a sound I like. I look it up on Youtube (or I search for some vague term like “blue and grass”). I take the resulting sound and plop it into a website which converts Youtube videos into mp3 audio files and then download it onto my hard drive.

2) Manipulate: I import the file into an audio editing program and tweak it using a variety of parameters.

In lieu of getting too stranded from my initial point, that this is merely another product of the “mixed reality” Steve Jones points out we live within, I want to give a context of how this happens. I fear I am being narcissistic here but this is how it really happens and what I think of when I look for concrete examples of this mixed reality: I am in my car driving home from a friends house and turn on a radio station I know to occasionally play songs I like: 89.1 on the FM dial. There is a song playing which perks my ears and I immediately think of not how I am listening to the song and enjoying it at that very moment, but how when I get home I know exactly how to access it and manipulate it. It is that easy. And that is the sort of mixed reality I think Steve Jones points us towards which I think is a valid one, though not without it’s problems (which I may elaborate on in a future post, or which anyone else should feel free to propose); a reality which is about criticism through production.

2 thoughts on “Audio Sampling As Decoding + Manipulation

  1. Micki Kaufman

    Really interesting idea. I think audio sampling and ‘remixing’ (which relies on “decoding and manipulation” as you rightly suggest) is definitely one of the dynamics that DH, video games, virtual space, ‘multi-media,’ shares. I would ask – does sampling produce the aesthetic and philosophy, or did the philosophy and aesthetic emerge around sampling? Is part of the aesthetic of remixing (innovating new sounds from old) based in repurposing the original source’s experience and therefore inherently philosophical AND technological? It seems like a feedback loop, as generations of sampling get further and further away from the ‘original,’ and reference/dereference their predecessors. FYI, along with others, Lev Manovich (who will be speaking in class later this month) has written about remixing in his latest book, “Software Takes Command.”

  2. Matthew Boyle Post author

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply Micki. In reference to your question “does sampling produce the aesthetic and philosophy, or did the philosophy and aesthetic emerge around sampling?”: I would say sampling emerged as an artistic form that expressed a certain outlook or regards towards property that was then manifested in the concrete action of literally “taking” somebody else’s record, isolating a certain block of sound, and then looping it. I would doubt there was an explicit ordering of philosophical/aesthetic purpose along the lines of somebody like F.T. Marinetti and the Futurists (who I am very interested in and also did some sampling of their own back in the day). I guess I am thinking more of the era of disco/electronic music and then bleeding into the emergence of hip-hop. Now it’s made its way into all types and genres of music which I find to be fascinating. I think in some ways sampling prefigured the way many younger people look at media now: that it should be free; it is a communal grab-bag we all pick and choose parts from. So to get back to your question, I would say that the philosophy and aesthetic emerged around sampling. And that it was a philosophy and aesthetic which was political and reordered the nature of property relations through a means of “hacking”. Thank you! Really made me think.

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