Traveling with Electronics : Sample This! - A History Lesson - Vol 2

Sampling has radically changed music 

.....for better or worse



We're going to take another look at the History of Sampling and Live-Sampling (Looping) - but before we begin, you might find it interesting to check out the first installment - Sample This! - A History Lesson - Vol 1 - to get a little context. 



The Mellotron is an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard.

It was manufactured in England in 1963 and is arguably the first (playback only) sampler. In reality, it was a copy of the Chamberlin an instrument developed and manufactured in the U.S. by Harry Chamberlin from 1949 to 1981. The Mellotron became very popular when the Beatles started using it on recordings. One of the most iconic instances would be the flute introduction to "Strawberry Fields".


 Dual Tape Recorders The First Live-Looper

 Robert Fripp doing what he called Frippereelrtronics

While Robert Fripp and Brian Eno get the credit for the first use of Live-Looping on the album "No Pussyfooting" in 1973, it was actually an (uncredited) recording engineer from France who developed the system at the request of composer Terry Riley for a project in 1963 (things often go back much further than you think).

The guitar signal is going into the left input of the recorder on the left (that machine is "recording"). The tape is being fed through the heads and into the take up reel of the machine on the right (that machine is "playing" ).

The left output of the machine on the right (the "play back machine"), is wired to the right input of the machine on the left (the "recording machine"). the tape continues and the "re-recorded" (echoed), part is played again on the "play back machine" along with any new part generated by the performer - "Sound on Sound"The right output of the "play back machine" is wired to the amplifier (speaker).

The distance between the machines determines the length of the loop (delay time). 



By 1976 there were multi-head tape echo units with Sound on Sound (SOS). The Roland RE-301 Chorus Echo, was an amazing box that was really optimized for live playing, with foot-switch jacks to control chorus on/off, echo on/off, SOS - Looping on/off, plus an expression pedal input to control the speed of the tape. I used this machine for 8 years as the foundation of my live electric trombone rig.

Tape Based Systems require constant maintenance and aren't very travel friendly


1983 - Mike Matthews at Electro-Harmonics in NewYork introduces the 16 Second Digital Delay the unit that became a defining stylistic component for players like Nels Cline and Bill Frisell (to name just two). Arguably, "the one that started it all" The Looper / Sampler that set the stage for a pretty dramatic shift in how music is made.


Keyboard based Digital Samplers appeared in the late 1970's and were expensive.

Sample Based Drum Machines arrived in 1980 and had a big influence on music! 


1979 - Fairlight CMI (8bit 24k) about $25,000.00

1982 - EMU Emulator (8bit 24k "128k" ram) $8,000.00 (adjusted for 2015 - $20K)

Samplers had very little RAM because random access memory was very expensive


Around 1982 through 1984 the Synclavier II (the holy grail of digital sythesizers / samplers) were housed in the studios of Frank Zappa and big name 80's producers Trevor Horn and Mike Thorne (who produced the third Indoor Life album - It was during those sessions that I got to play a Synclavier II). A synclavier system could range up to $200,000.00.



I have no idea how they did it, but in 1985 a little company put sampling on the commercial map. The 8 bit Ensoniq Mirage cost $1,500.00, it had 2 seconds of sample ram, stored samples on floppy disks and had a hexadecimal display which made it a very tedious machine to work with but you heard it on allot of hit recordings in the late 1980's. Sampling was now within reach for everyone.



I was all over the Ensoniq gear (EPS 1988, EPS16+ 1990, ASR10 1992), with the legendary ASR10 being my all time favorite hardware sampler for Live-Sampling. I rocked that box from 1992 to 2002 when I made the reluctant move to a Laptop. 

 HOLY SEA was my favorite ASR10 event

For the HOLY SEA recorded in 1996, the orchestra was mic'd through a 32 input console (off stage), for recording only. I was sent 8 sub mixes from the board to my on stsage mixer, where I was Live-Sampling the orchestra and performing them in real-time under Maestro Morris' Baton for Conductions 57 58 59 (Three Concerts in Three Cities in Three Days). The ASR10 was the perfect instrument for the project.


From 2002 to 2012 my Sampling/Live-Sampling rig was a Mac Laptop running Live and LiSa together, a MOTU 828 firewire audio interface, various USB controllers and an Air-FX. I was extremely happy with this rig as it was very flexible, very powerful, rock solid and it all fit in a Pelican 1510 carry-on case and a small backpack so I just walked on the plane with it.  

Are we seeing a 10 year rig cycle here or what - is it just me or the technology?


In 2012, I became quite intrigued by the multi-touch possibilities of iPads and after my good friend Carlos Santistevan pulled my tail about SAMPLR, I was hooked on the "tablet" as a performance instrument for Sampling and Live-Sampling. By 2013 I had closed my Laptop and have been performing with iPads ever since (backpack).


What a wonderful ride performance sampling has been and continues to be!



until next month then

safe travels.....dino