Justin Poon is an eighth-semester guitar principal at Berklee studying performance and electronic production and design. He is heavily involved as a performing musician, producer, DJ and sound designer. As a founding member of Affiliated Gallery, a creative design group based in Toronto, Justin is involved in film scoring and sound design. He spins a two-hour non-stop electronica music show every Thursday from 4:00-6:00 p.m. on The BIRN. You can also check out some of his work as a guitarist here.
One of the more timeless methods behind electronic music production is sampling, a method that has been used by artists and producers of all styles. Sampling is the use of snippets of recordings that are cut up into pieces from various sources and reassembled—something like a collage—to create something new. Since sampling is such a popular method used by many masterful producers, one blog post isn’t enough to cover all of them, but here are some of my notable favourite records and artists that make use of sampling.
The late J Dilla, one of the masters of the MPC3000 who comes from the era of crate digging and vinyl sampling, was the forefather of a classic hip-hop production style using an extremely vast sample catalog that is heard on countless records of hip-hop artists such as Common, Slum Village, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and many more. He had a mystical and very musical way with using samples. His album Donuts—most of which was created in his hospital bed while suffering from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a rare blood disease that led to his untimely death in 2006—is an all-instrumental record that displays incredible use of samples to paint wonderful canvases, which are all daring, vivid, and groovy.
Kanye West, a producer heavily influenced by Dilla (West produced Common’s Finding Forever in Dilla’s honour), is a huge proponent of sampling. Before making it as a solo artist, West was an in-house producer for Roc-A-Fella records, where he was involved in making songs by Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Cam’ron, Ludacris, and Janet Jackson.
Another favorite: Nicolas Jaar, DJ and producer, who creates soundtracks, ambient music, and hip-hop influenced house music using movie samples, jazz recordings, and more. On his record Space Is Only Noise, he demonstrates incredible mastery of samples: strange sounds, vinyl noise, animals, nature, or people laughing, for example, and he deploys them as if they were instruments. This exploration often leaves a beautiful dissonance and disorganization with the surrounding artifacts that might not be crucial to the intended result. In his live Boiler Room set, Jaar uses a generic AM radio along with his DJ rig to play with the volume control to rhythm, bringing an interesting noisy and old-school sound to what is typically a purely digital instrumentation.
MF Doom, British hip-hop producer and rapper, has a signature dark and old-school sound in his music and has used many interesting and obscure samples, including George Duke, Alan Silvestri, Sade, Johnny Douglas, poet Charles Bukowski, and the theme music for The New Scooby-Doo Movies. In addition to working the boards, Doom is a solid lyricist who truly keeps the underground hip-hop sound alive.
In the extremely obscure genre of Vaporwave, described as “music for abandoned malls” or “the soundtrack for a dystopian post-consumerist society,” Vektroid (also known as Macintosh Plus) presents the aesthetic in an almost parodic way as a means to critique capitalism and industrialism. The music makes use of sampling in a very unique way, generally making use of slowed down and/or lo-fi samples of smooth jazz, R&B, TV show themes, or new-age music. What gives the music its vibe has more to do with the specific samples used for the piece; for example, with Macintosh Plus’ use of a slowed-down and chopped up “It’s Your Move” by Diana Ross. Kind of like the chopped-and-screwed genre, the lowered vocals give a very eerie and almost uncomfortable vibe to the music.
In Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd’s mixtape House of Balloons, produced by Illangelo and Doc McKinney, we find samples of artists such as Aaliyah, Beach House, and Siouxie and the Banshees in the midst of a really modern sounding R&B record. One of my favourite records of all time, this record combines the use of instrumentation, sampling, production, and engineering to sonically go to places never before reached.
As an avid electronic music listener, I get to hear an infinite amount of possibilities when it comes to the timbres and textures that are presented. As a student exploring the music, I get to learn about the many techniques possible when trying to paint the electronic canvas. One of the best things about electronic music is that it really makes use of a fourth dimension in music, which is the space within a given song. More so than you would with acoustic music, you have to put yourself into the context of the song to really feel the music. A producer is required to create space for your instruments and sounds to effectively present them. When you hear a good sample, you’re immersed in an environment in which these sounds can be felt, and it’s kind of like hearing a song (or multiple songs) within a song.
Latest posts by Justin Poon (see all)
- Victor Wooten Joins Kenny Werner at Effortless Mastery Clinic - December 9, 2015
- Bierylo on Using a Moog System 55 Synth for ‘Nosferatu’ - November 5, 2015
- Sample Kings - October 21, 2015