3.5 Sampled sound/sampling as a musical parameter


When I obtained my first loop-machine in 1992, a new world of possibilities opened up for me – with their respective challenges. I will return to these challenges after first having exemplified what I experience as being important musical possibilities in sampling techniques when compared to working with the voice alone. The possibilities are very often connected and intertwined with the overall musical activity, and in my work they are also often combined with different categories of processed sound and the play with zones. I register three important possibilities concerning sampling:

-Sustained sound and repetition

-Multiple layers

-A library of sounds


Sustained sound and repetition

The options for making the sound last, without producing it repeatedly in real time, represent a dramatic change for any instrumentalist. For the vocalist, in particular, due to “unwanted attention” (see Section 3.1.1), they also create a welcome opportunity for physically keeping away from the microphone and thereby directing the audience’s focus on the sound rather than the person producing it. At the same time, listening to a recording of the voice automatically creates a distance to the performer because the recording is not in real time (it has been performed already) and the sound is coming from a machine rather than from the performer. This play with live and recorded voice is also an element used in the works of Maja Ratkje:


“It is interesting that a recording containing both sampled and “live” voice sounds is perceived differently compared to a concert situation where the audience actually sees what is done live with the voice and not. In some ways, the sounds in a piece coexist more on “equal terms” in a recording. I like to play with the possibilities the recording gives, with the ambiguity of not knowing what is what, and leaving out the explanation so the listeners have to use their own imagination. People are often surprised hearing music like this live after getting accustomed to the sound of the recording. This is especially noticeable when performing in groups with other instrumentalists, when no-one expects “that sound”, being electronically processed or not, coming from the singer.”  (Maja Ratkje in correspondence, 2012)


Due to this experience of past and present, sampling and playing back in real time also becomes an important part of the play with distance and central/peripheral zones.

Example III, 21: Excerpt from “Heilaloo”, Tone Åse/Thomas Strønen from the CD Voxpheria 2011:



At 0.41: I fade in (for a short while) two sampled loops from earlier on in the same session, one from singing (played in reverse) and one from recording a flanger effect. From 1.21 these loops are present for a longer period, first functioning as an accompaniment, and then becoming the main musical material, together with Thomas’s noise-sounds.

There are several elements here identifying the loops as being recorded sound rather than real-time singing. First and foremost because of the obvious repetition, but also because of the way they are faded in and out, and not at least because I am singing something else at the same time the second time they appear.

Example III, 22: “Raised, rave” (again) from the CD Voxpheria (2011) with Thomas Strønen:



At 3.39: I sample a loop with ‟text”, and at 4.20 I sample tonal material, which is played together with the “text” loop while I sing on top of it. The samples are used in different lengths and with varying volume several times during the full sequence, and at 7.24 they appear for the last time.

Repeating something that has taken place earlier on in the music can also be done with the acoustic voice. For example: the refrain of a song is a recognised way of making repetition in real time. In my experience, the repetition of live-recorded sound may cause a different effect, because, as mentioned earlier, it is (in most cases) obvious that this material has already been recorded; it is recalling a former event, but in a new context; it is history given a new function. This, to me, gives the use of recorded samples a genuine and independent musical potential, an element with possible references to timeline and memory.


Multiple layers

Sampling and performing multiple layers of sound is radically different from the traditional way of performing on acoustic or half-acoustic instruments with the original capacity of producing one note at a time. This allows more complex constellations of sounds, but also other harmonic and homogenous sound-constellations. I use sampled loops and layers in various ways, depending on the quality of the music. The “text – melody” loop in the example provided above is a typical thing for me to do, and continuing to “play with the loop” and act on the sounds I just recorded (like at 3.58) is typical as well. The option for balancing the amplitude of the individual layers with the loop-machine provides an opportunity for varying the “result-loop” as a whole.


A library of sounds

Another radical change compared to the traditional acoustic vocalist scenario, is the opportunity for creating and storing sound-samples prior to a concert. I register that I use pre-recorded sounds in two different ways: as designed parts of planned, partly composed sessions, and as possible sound-sources in improvised sessions.


Sound samples designed for planned, partly composed music – examples


Example III, 23: Excerpt from “Eugenie – short stories of sound”, live at Ultima, 2011:



For this solo project, I have sampled several sounds that are used both as planned compositional elements and as material for improvising. Most of the samples here are created for specific parts of the whole performance, but I use them in an improvised way. Some of the samples can be put into various parts of the performance, in addition to the parts they are designed for. In this project I work with a story about my late grandmother, and some of the samples are filtered, spoken phrases, my voice with her typical expressions, in her dialect. Other pre-recorded samples are short musical phrases, some non-tonal sounds of a different character, and also some samples with “laughter-inspired” sounds.


Example III, 24: Excerpt from “Nature is not Beautiful”, Avant Garden, Trondheim, 2011:


In my latest project with BOL, “Nature is not Beautiful”, I have used recordings of two other persons’ voices. The text recorded has been created especially for the performance and constitutes the main structure as well as an inspirational starting point for musical ideas. The use of these samples is not improvised, but more like a playback device, where my timing is the parameter of variation. I am not really playing with the samples, except in the last session of the performance, where I recall some of the text samples and use them, sometimes simultaneously, as part of the music. The use of text samples in this piece is not only an attempt to create a, for us, new structural framework. To repeatedly hear someone’s voice without seeing the person on stage, also creates an experience of a “coexisting reality”, a “parallel world”, or perhaps a “real world”, present, but still not visually present.


Example III, 25 “Numb” (again), Bol with Snah & Stian Westerhus 2011:



Here, I have sampled spoken text phrases from a dictionary (explanations of the term ‘numb’). I wanted the text to sound relatively “flat”, reflecting the somewhat stiff formality of the source material, but also, in a way, the word’s meaning. I also wanted the opportunity to create distance, by using a machine, not my voice in real time. I wanted the opportunity to play with the samples, creating a layer that took on a kind of “lead” function, commented by a kind of real- world vocalist singing on top.


Sound-samples as a source in improvised sessions


Example III, 26: Excerpt from a live performance with Thomas Strønen, Dokkhuset, Trondheim, 2009:




In this sequence I use (among other things) pre-sampled sounds as part of the improvisation, where we both play with different impulses, lengths of delays and stops. The samples are processed through various effects and reverbs, and it is not obvious what is pre-recorded and what is not, or what is coming from me and what is coming from Thomas. This also inflects the experience of roles in the interplay, as I will explain further in Chapter 4.

Example III, 27:  “Moah”, studio improvisation with Michael Duch, Trondheim, 2009:



From 0.26 I use a pre- sampled “text” or speech in reverse, and I vary it with frequency filtering with the intention of making a contrasting sound, breaking the surface of the longer lines and smoother sounds in the piece.


Intuitive use of pre-sampled sounds

In order to work in a musical way with pre-sampled sounds in improvisations, I have to know what sounds I have in store, and where they are placed on the sampler. By knowing the sounds I mean that I need to hear them with my inner ear in order to imagine them as musical components in the moment. (This is also discussed in Chapter 2.) I have thought of different ways of organising the sounds in order to make this process easy and natural and to be able to act instantly and intuitively. What seems to work best for me is a grouping of sounds that I feel works together. I think of these as different “palettes” that I know well. To store two or three sounds that are slightly different close to each other, also provides an opportunity for variation within the same “sound-landscape”. I also operate with different sample setups on different memory cards, depending on what kind of musical constellation or project I am going to perform in. I also have to rehearse, and I need to go through the sounds in order to locate them in my mind and in my fingers before each performance.


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