Archive

Posts Tagged ‘samples’
20 Jan

Week 193: “Song 2″ by DJ Krush

Dj-Krush-Jaku

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Have you ever found yourself staring at a particular word over and over again, re-reading it so many times in your head that it stops making sense? It starts to look wrong. It starts to sound strange. Is it even a word?

From what I understand, this type of intense focus on something simple is part of the idea behind incorporating a chant into the process of meditation. Known as ‘mantras’, these chants can be words, short phrases, or even nonsensical syllables; it doesn’t really matter what the sound is, as long as it is repeated a specific number of times.

The most common number for repetition of a mantra seems to be 108. This number may sound random, but it has plenty of significance. Tibetan Buddhist rosaries have 108 beads. Ayurveda counts 108 pressure points on the body.  Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter. In Japan, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to welcome the new year. 108 shows up all over the place.

Music, of course, is often associated with meditation. I find sample-based music to be particularly meditative. The word ‘mantra’ itself can be translated as ‘instrument of thought’, and to me a sample is like a musical mantra: a short phrase, plucked from its original context, repeated and repeated over a new beat.

Of all the great sample artists, few produce music as meditative as Japan’s legendary DJ Krush.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s very simple, with only three main components – the thumb piano, the flutes, and the drum beat. This makes me think of the number 108 again. Its three digits can be thought of as representing the universe; 1 representing existence, 0 representing nothingness, and 8 representing infinity.

2. From 4.09 to 4.23, the drums drop out, and the strictly-kept time of the song is suspended, leaving the flutes to soar for a few moments.

3. Just for fun, I decided to count how many bars long this song is. Counting the stop-time section noted above as one bar, the song comes in at exactly…you guessed it…108 bars.

Recommended listening activity:

Breathing deeply.

07 Oct

Week 178: “A Maze” by Freddie Joachim

joachim

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Every once in a while, a song will enter your brain via your ear, set up camp, and stay there for a while. Usually, this is an annoying experience, an experience that leaves you feeling infected, as if the song is a flu that you can’t shake. The worst is when the offending piece of music is something you never liked in the first place, like “Love Shack” or “Mambo #5”.

“A Maze” by Freddie Joachim was playing on repeat inside my brain for pretty much the entire month of August, but not in an annoying way. It would start playing as I poured my morning coffee, and I’d be happy to know it was still there. I’d stir the sugar in time with its laid-back beat, open the front door and skillfully pick up the paper with my foot, do a little dance while brushing my teeth. It made my mornings feel way cooler than they normally are. Like I was the Golden Boy from those early-90s Golden Grahams commercials.

In other words, this song is the soundtrack for the beginning of a kick-ass day, and you probably won’t mind if it gets stuck in your head.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The drum sample is big without being overbearing.

2. The “B” section, which happens for the first time about 40 seconds in, is so perfect that I can’t even think of a suitable metaphor.

3. There’s lots of percussive elements; vibraphone, glockenspiel, even the organ sounds percussive. But it’s not headache-inducing. It’s pleasantly percussive, like a tap dance recital performed by teddy bears. Hmm. Maybe I should give up on descriptions for today.

Recommended listening activity:

Sliding around the kitchen in your socks.

10 Jun

Week 161: “Natural Green” by Blazo

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You’ve been inside too long. Go outside.

Go.

Go take a walk.

Bring this song with you.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening laid-back jazz sample turns into a full-out groove. The musical equivalent of a long winter turning into a sudden spring.

2. After the drums come in, you can still hear the brushes of the original jazz drums in the background.

3. It’s shorter than you want it to be, begging you to put it on repeat all morning.

Recommended listening activity:

Practising the ancient art of dance-walking.

01 Apr

Week 151: “Underground Vibes” by DJ Cam

Underground+Vibes

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Sleeping is one of my favourite things to do.

I’m not trying to imply that I’m lazy, but nothing beats a really good sleep. Especially when it’s punctuated by a really good/bizarre/realistic dream.

One of the coolest dreams I ever had was…well, like all cool dreams, it’s almost impossible to explain. But basically, it involved commuter trains that transformed into rollercoasters whenever I wanted them to. They functioned in slow-motion, and I could control everything about them; direction, speed, even when I wanted to feel weightless. I only had the dream once, but for years I tried to fall asleep while thinking about rollercoasters, just to try to trick my brain into doing it again.

But that’s the crazy thing about your brain: even though it creates your dreams, you can’t tell it to replay one. And when it does replay one, it’s probably a dream you didn’t particularly want to experience again, like the one where you’re trying to recite tongue twisters while naked and dizzy in front of every ex you’ve ever had.

Anyway. This all comes to mind because I’ve recently been listening to DJ Cam. He was France’s main contribution to the trip-hop craze of the mid-90s, and his jazzy samples really set him apart from the sea of Portishead clones that the era gave us.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening sample. It’s eerie and inviting, the opening bars to the dreaminess that’s about to come.

2. The vibraphone. So clean and clear compared to the gritty sampled drums.

3. The quote at 3:17. A great and paradoxical quote to include in a song built out of samples. The speaker is Eric Dolphy, and although he’s talking about music, he might as well be talking about dreams.

Recommended listening activity:

Daydreaming.

04 Feb

Week 143: “A Touch of Jazz” by DJ Jazzy Jeff

rockthehouse

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1987 was a big year for hip hop.

Looking at a list of hip hop releases from that year, it becomes obvious that this was a genre struggling with the fact that it was breaking into the mainstream, but not sure whether doing so would harm its authenticity as an artform.

Rap was heading into a lot of directions all at once; Public Enemy pushed the political side, NWA was building the foundations of 90s gangsta rap, and the Beastie Boys were…well, white. A comment in the liner notes of Kool Moe Dee’s 1987 album “How Ya Like Me Now” hints at how apprehensive many experienced rappers were of hip hop’s sudden appeal: “The Beastie Boys: We rappers have worked very hard to get rap to the level it’s at. Don’t mess it up.”

One of my favourite hip hop songs of 1987 is “A Touch Of Jazz” by DJ Jazzy Jeff. When I first heard it, I hadn’t even considered the fact that you could make a hip hop song without someone rapping, and it really made me listen to the way he blended samples to make something new. It was the beginning of my love affair with sample-based music, and the soundtrack to many a solo dance session in my room.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. His choice of samples. Jeff earned his nickname by sampling outside of the standard roll of funk breaks that DJs were sampling in the 80s. The jazzy, spacey vibe he accomplishes sets him apart, and makes his songs interesting enough to stand alone as instrumentals.

2. The sample at 0:51. It comes out of nowhere and totally changes the direction of the song.

3. You can tell it’s mixed live. This is one guy with two turntables. Sometimes the cuts are just a bit off the beat, something that wouldn’t happen nowadays, as everything would be done to a click track and edited with computer software. But the fact that he’s not metronome-perfect reminds you that it’s a human manipulating various records on the fly. That’s real DJ-ing.

Recommended listening activity:

Developing a secret handshake with a friend.

19 Nov

Week 132: “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time” by The Avalanches

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We’re three-quarters of the way through Southern Hemisphere Month, so it’s only fitting that we take a listen to a song in ¾, a crazy, schizophrenic blast of sample-based beauty by Melbourne’s Avalanches.

I discovered this band in 2000. I got home late from a night at the bar, dazed and sleepy, and I thought that a little MTV and a nice tall glass of water would be a nice nightcap. I sat on the couch, took a swig of water, and turned on the TV right as the video for the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist” began to play.

If you’ve never heard that song, it’s a weird one. And the video is weirder. I spent the next four minutes staring dumbly at the screen, a trickle of water dripping from my lip, with one eyelid twitching. It was one of the weirdest videos I had ever seen, and the music had me hooked. The next morning, I bought the album.

Thankfully, not all the songs were as crazy as “Frontier Psychiatrist”. But it was (still is) a brilliant piece of work. While most of it is dancey and frenetic, it slows down just enough for this fun little number.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The constant vinyl crackle. This is an album of samples, the way DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…” was, and with all the crackle and hiss you can almost smell the stacks of forgotten records that went into making it.

2. The vocal sample. It’s from “Yu-Ma” by Marlena Shaw, and when it’s taken out of context like this, it seems almost ridiculously happy to the point of being borderline creepy. Kind of makes me want to start skipping.

3. The e-piano sample. Not sure where this came from, but it’s great. A bit aimless, like it might have been improvised.

Recommended listening activity:

Sitting on a chair that’s high enough to allow you to swing your feet.

15 Oct

Week 127: “Changeling” by DJ Shadow

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When the unmanned Voyager space probe was flung into space in 1977, with the hopes that it would one day be found by intelligent (and, we assume, surprised) aliens, it contained a golden record that included 90 minutes of music from around the world, carefully compiled to give a complete sampling of what music was like on planet earth.

By now, Voyager has probably left the solar system, and that golden record is still sitting patiently inside, just waiting to be discovered. It’s an incredible thing for us to have done, if you think about it…one of the most hopeful yet desperate, admirable yet futile things the human race has ever attempted.

However, if we ever decide to do it again, I’d like to suggest that we save ourselves the trouble of compiling another golden record, and just include a copy of DJ Shadow’s 1996 masterpiece, “Endtroducing…” If you have never listened to it, start to finish, you really should. It’s like boarding a time machine that malfunctions, sending you simultaneously into the past and the future.

But if you haven’t got 63 minutes to spare, then at least spend the next seven listening to “Changeling”.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The 7/4 time signature. Different enough to stand out, but still head-nod friendly.

2. The sample at 1:38. It comes from this song, and it’s unexpectedly bright and cheery.

3. It starts to break down at about 4:37. The drums get clippy, then drop out altogether, giving way to ethereal guitars and atmospheric noises. It’s like the song is disintegrating, slowly coming apart and floating away. Entropy.

Recommended listening activity:

Closing your eyes and imagining that you’re slowly leaving the solar system.

23 Jul

Week 115: “Midnight Feast” by Mr. Scruff

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About ten years ago, I was mindlessly sprawled in front of the television eating something unhealthy and scratching various body parts when a commercial for the 2002 Lincoln Navigator came on. I immediately sat upright. I maxed the volume. I stared dumbly at the screen while a forgotten fragment of potato chip hung precariously from my lower lip.

This reaction had nothing to do with the urge to purchase an SUV, and everything to do with the song that accompanied the ad. It was “Get A Move On” by Mr. Scruff.

Introducing me to Mr. Scruff’s music is easily the most useful thing luxury vehicles have ever done for me. He’s produced a lot of quality stuff over the years, most of it simultaneously upbeat and offbeat, with that typical British sense of humour that makes music fun. The highly danceable “Get A Move On” is followed directly on the album by this great sleepy track, and the two couldn’t be more different from an energy point of view.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion sounds like crickets cruising the strip in a convertible.

2. The piano sounds like a ballerina coming home late and stumbling into bed. (Actually, it’s a brilliant use of a sample from this song.)

3. The shifts from minor to major (at 1:10, for example) give it a particularly drowsy feel, as if the song is unsuccessfully fighting off a nap.

Recommended listening activity:

Unsuccessfully fighting off a nap.

18 Jun

Week 110: “Funk For Joy” by The Extremities

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One of the best things about the mp3 age is the phenomenon of iPod serendipity. This is when your iPod, happily shuffling its way through your library, suddenly seems to sense what’s happening around you and pulls out the perfect song.

You’re calling your accountant and “Taxman” by The Beatles comes on…you’re frying up some breakfast and it plays “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s…you’re emptying the garbage just as “My Heart Will Go On” starts to play…

But sometimes, iPod serendipity isn’t that specific; sometimes the song that plays just seems to match the general mood of the moment rather than the particular event. It happened to me once with “Funk For Joy” by The Extremities.

I was leaving work on the last day before a summer vacation; it was a perfect, breezy, sunny day, and as I walked past a park I saw a group of kids chasing madly after bubbles that their mother was blowing. They were going nuts, in the way that only five-year-olds can go nuts. Their happy giggles sounded like part of the song, and two of them were jumping in perfect time with the beat of the song. It was as if they were dancing to the music that only I could hear.

At that moment, I realized two things: first, it was going to be a good summer, and second, I needed to stop staring at them, because their mother was getting uncomfortable.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening piano. It kind of makes me think of a ringing church bell. Because the interval is a fifth, you can’t tell at first whether the song is going to be major or minor. But then that soothing sax comes in and the joy-funk begins.

2. The piano flourish at 0.48. It’s pure piano happiness, and it’s mirrored by an organ flourish at 1.41.

3. The out-of-nowhere bridge section at 1:48. It would have already been a great song, but then they throw in this great moment, featuring a great vocal sample from a funky little ‘70s gem called “You And The Music” by Donald Byrd. It’s moments like this that separate groups like The Extremities from less thoughtful sample artists.

Recommended listening activity:

Breakdancing with your fingers.

04 Jun

Week 108: “Teardrop” by Massive Attack

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I discovered this song while on a YouTube tangent recently. It was a long and bizarre tangent that somehow ended with me watching a French magician performing a card trick on the Penn & Teller reality show “Fool Us”. The trick was cool, but I was more fascinated by the song that accompanied it.

Upon finding out whose song it was, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it before, since Massive Attack was pretty popular in the late 90s, when I was into similar bands. Somehow I’d never heard it. Once the 90s were over, the song continued to gain popularity as the opening theme to the TV show “House”, and was covered by a wide array of artists, from Brad Mehldau to Simple Minds. Oh, and these guys.

But my favourite fact about this song is that Andrew Vowles, the primary songwriter for Massive Attack, originally wanted Madonna to record the vocals. Madonna loved the track and was up for it, but the other two members of the band wanted Scottish singer Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Being a democratic bunch, Massive Attack turned down a willing Madonna and went with Fraser.

Right or wrong, you’ve got to admit: it takes serious guts to say no to Madonna.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion. I love the combination of deep kick/rim snare. It was a staple of mid-90s trip hop, giving a simultaneously driving and chilled sound.

2. The harpsichord. If you can name another song written in the past 100 years that features the harpsichord, place your open palm on the screen and accept my high-five from across the internet.

3. The vocal melody. The opening line of each phrase is slightly unusual, throwing in an unexpected major 6th on “Love, love is a verb”.  The rest of the melody contains just enough major and minor moments to keep the song content, but slightly on edge.

Recommended listening activity:

Bobbing your head while driving way slower than the speed limit.