Sampling: Introduction

First Compositions & Musique Concrète

Halim El-Dabh was probably the first person to compose musical works with previously recorded material. His tape piece The Expression of Zaar dates back to 1944 and was realized in Cairo, Egypt. Only slightly later, after World War II, Pierre Schaeffer started his experiments with turntables. He recorded environmental sounds and musical instruments, arranged them, altered the playback speed and used loops in what then became musique concrète. These techniques are well-known nowadays, but were a completely novel experience in th 1940s.

Although an engineer by profession, Pierre Schaeffer did not only explore the technical means for composing with recorded sound. With the theory of the objet sonore he also lay the foundation for the theory of acousmatic music (Schaeffer, 2012).

The Cinq Études de bruits (1948), the first published works of musique concrète, use various sources and techniques.

After the first experiments, Schaeffer started to involve musicians for taking the concept to the next level. With Pierre Henry he realized the Symphonie pour un homme seul in 1950. This acousmatic composition made use of various additional techniques, including spatial aspects.

Digital Sampling

Early devices capable of digital sampling are the Fairlight CMI (1979) and the Synclavier II (1980). These expensive, bulky workstations were already used in various productions.

Linn Drum

The Linn Drum (1982) represents a milestone in digital sampling. Using 8 bit technique, it offers a fixed set of drum samples with a very recognisable sound. It can be found in most 1980s pop productions in the charts.

Akai MPC60 & E-mu SP-1200

These were the first affordable devices which allowed the use of custom samples. They are essential instruments for the development of Rap music. The workflow of these Desktop devices allowed the sampling of vinyl for a use in new rhythmic structures. Albums like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) by Public Enemy rely on this technique as the main sound source (Evans, 2010).



  • P. Schaeffer. In Search of a Concrete Music. Volume 15 of California Studies in 20th-Century Music. University of California Press, 2012. ISBN 9780520265745. Translated by C. North and J. Dack. URL:
    [details] [BibTeX▼]
  • Henrik Brumm. Biomusic and popular culture: the use of animal sounds in the music of the beatles. Journal of Popular Music Studies, 24:25–38, 03 2012. doi:10.1111/j.1533-1598.2012.01314.x.
    [details] [BibTeX▼]