When I first started this blog, I made a post about EDM and how it is hard to listen exclusively to it due to its inherent repetitiveness. It is dance music, after all. Thankfully, electronic music on the whole doesn’t share this problem. I’ve found that it is almost limitless in its ability to sound unique. One of the ways electronic artists do this, ironically, is through sampling other sounds. At face value, this may seem counter-intuitive: “how can reusing audio clips from another song result in something unique?” Well, that is what we will find out today.
The fact is, after I’ve listened to an artist or an album many times, I start occupying myself with new activities while listening to that artist. One of these activities is looking into how the song was made. With rock music, it’s not as engaging – I know that at the end of the day, it was four guys recorded while playing their instruments. Electronic music is different: you know that it was just one guy on his computer, but how he went from nothing to a finished product can be an interesting story.
In some cases, it can be very obvious how a song came together, and what the components are. I’m thinking of Pop Culture by Madeon, or any of DJ Earworm’s mixes. They take clips of songs that are similar, and warp them together to match bpm, key, and chord progression. What interests me more are cases such as Burial, one of my personal favorite electronic artists.
There is no question that his most famous track, Archangel, is among the greatest electronic songs of all time. I have heard this track – and the album it is on – so many times that I couldn’t help but start researching its production. Burial wrote all the songs in a program called Soundforge, which is an incredibly bare-bones audio-editing tool compared to the digital audio workstations used by just about everybody else. It provides hardly any more features than allowing him to record audio, move it around, cut it, change some sonic values, etc.
The key takeaway is that he recorded the entire album without using a sequencer. The drum beats were placed by feel and by ear, which provides a rare instance in electronic music (or any music these days) in which the beats are not perfectly quantized to their time signature. Along with the crackle and his unusual-sounding drums (here is a youtuber’s guess of how he did it), Burial’s music is not something you hear everyday.
The last particular amusement about Archangel is where Burial got his samples from. The main “vocals” come from One Wish, by Ray J. What inspired Burial to use this song is beyond me. Furthermore, without some aid, it is difficult to even detect where these samples come from in the Ray J song. Burial does a masterful job of mutating One Wish into something foreign, and in my opinion superior. Burial even threw in some Metal Gear Solid for his synths, which makes this song all the better.
Knowing all this made life more interesting when I started listening to a similar-sounding artist by the name of Volor Flex. I had grown fond of the closing track to his album, Tramp, by the name of You In Me, so one day I looked up the lyrics to see where he got his samples. To my amusement, it was One Wish, by Ray J. At first I thought Ray J might be a running joke among electronic artists, but I’ve come to realize that a more likely explanation is that You In Me is a tribute to Burial.
The moral of this story is that the same song got sampled by both of these artists, who make the same kind of music, and we got two completely different songs out of it. This shows you the possibilities that electronic music uniquely provides. Perhaps the next time you listen to your favorite electronic artist, you will be inspired to discover what went into their creative process.