In this article from our ‘Classic Techniques’ series, we’re examining one of the most distinctive sample techniques to emerge in the 1990s – the timestretched jungle vocal.
The frenetic beats and earth-quaking sub-bass of drum and bass have become a global-dominating sound and the genre continues to develop in new and interesting ways. Drum and bass was born from Jungle, which first developed out of hardcore breakbeat rave music in the early to mid-90s. It was a hugely fertile and productive time for dance music, as the price of decent home equipment dropped and producers delved deep into the submenus of their kit to shape their sounds to their precise desires. This was particularly noticeable in the Jungle genre, as junglist producers embraced the idea of the studio as a lab and their role as that of sonic scientist, and it seemed that each new release raised the bar with the cut-up and fractured breaks manipulated to new levels of poly-rhythmic intensity.
One of the many studio innovations that Jungle bought was the introduction of a brand new sonic texture to the producer’s toolbox, that of the time-stretched vocal. It’s a very distinctive sound and instantly recognisable, where a vocal sample is stretched out and in the process gains a stuttering, metallic sheen which sounds futuristic and robotic.
Dead Dred’s ‘Dred Bass’ on Suburban Bass is usually acknowledged as the first Jungle record to feature the time-stretched vocal effect, and you can hear it in countless other Jungle tunes from the likes of Shy Fx, Origin Unknown, DJ Hype, Remarc and so on. It also became popular in house music and featured in many records, including Josh Wink’s acid banger ‘Higher State of Consciousness’. UK Garage was also happy to adopt it, notably on Armand Van Helden’s Remix of ‘Spin Spin Sugar’ and Double 99’s massive ‘RIP Groove’ from 2001.
Just like many other audio innovations in dance music, the Jungle time-stretch vocal was the result of a piece of studio equipment being stretched beyond its own capabilities. The technique was actually the sound of the time-stretch algorithm from the Akai S series samplers, being pushed way beyond its normal limits and producing audible ‘artefacts’. As the BPMs and complexity in Jungle steadily rose, so did the demands on the Akai’s time-stretching functions, and that distinctive robotic, shimmering sound was the lucky result.
Warp Factor 9
Audio technology has of course vastly improved since the birth of Jungle and all DAWs now come with time-stretching and warping abilities that allow users to change the pitch and tempo over a vast range, with little if any noticeable degradation to the original sound. Audio warping and time-stretching software now aims to eliminate any audible artefacts to maintain sonic integrity and the original characteristics of the sound, particularly for vocals. But for us to get anything approaching this Jungle time stretch effect, we’re going to have to deliberately circumvent the innovations of the last 20 years, and try to achieve an un-natural vocal sound.
As with many sampling techniques, there are often several methods of achieving the same end, and it’s the same with this; so we’re going to supply some of the most straightforward methods to get results quickly.
In Ableton Live, if you were going to warp a vocal sample, you would usually reach straight for the ‘Pro-Complex’ setting to ensure that it sounds as natural and unprocessed as possible. However for this technique, we’re not looking for pristine vocal processing that you don’t notice, we want to achieve the opposite, we want this to be all about the sound of the processing itself and not the sound of the vocal. To achieve this you will need to select the ‘Tones’ warp mode. Then you can simply change the length of the loop and click on a marker on the sample to stretch it out as long as you like. You’ll quickly hear all the aliasing and achieve the stuttering, metallic sound we’re talking about. Ableton allows you to alter the ‘grain size’ – you can think of grains as tiny snippets of audio used to create a larger waveform. Experimenting with the grain size will get you the effect you’re looking for here, generally, a higher grain size will create that particular stutter effect we’re looking for. Adjusting the grain size also contains the potential for all sorts of far-out vocal processing too.
In Cubase, you right click your sample, click process to enter the time-stretch menu and select the ‘Standard’ algorithm. Aside from the grain size, Cubase also allows you to adjust the ‘overlap’ and ‘variance’ which are controls to help the results to sound as natural as possible: in this case, low values of each will be appropriate. Again, try experimenting with high grain sizes to get the Jungle time-stretch effect.
Logic Pro’s Flex allows easy stretching and warping of vocals and again, here it’s about reducing the software’s ability to do the job seamlessly. So select ‘Tempophone’ mode and just by selecting and stretching an area you can easily get a sound that approaches the 90s Jungle feel. The default grain size of 45 ms is perfect for this but Logic also gives you control over the size, so again, you can experiment with this setting for more extreme vocal effects.
Reason’s slice markers allow for all sorts of stretching and warping, although abusing the software to affect the sound in this way is slightly more involved, as Reason’s automatic warping doesn’t seem to allow you to degrade it in the way you can in Logic or Ableton. Luckily there’s another neat trick you can do instead to approximate the Jungle time stretch effect – and this trick will work in any DAW you like: First, you load your sample up, then in your sequencer draw a long line of 32nd notes next to each other, each with zero attack and release. If you then press play on the sequencer and automate the sample start point, it will produce a fair approximation of the Jungle time-stretch sound as the sample continually re-starts from a slightly different point. Adding a little delay and reverb will help mesh the sound together. You may also find that a hint of flanger can also add an authentic metallic sheen to your sound.
As an additional option, there’s also a very good freeware plugin called Akaizer that’s available for all platforms (Windows, Linux and OS X) which can time stretch (and/or pitch shift) any WAVE or AIFF sound file in the style of the ‘cyclic’ time stretch which featured on old Akai sound samplers, like the S950 / S1000 / S2000 / S3000 series. It’s definitely worth checking out and in our tests yielded some pretty authentic sounding results. However, please be aware that as Akaizer is freeware, it’s not supported by 64bit systems and may not work with your current OS.
The Jungle time-stretched vocal is a hugely evocative sound that can instantly transport you back to the mid to late-90s club scene. However, it is also a technique that still sounds unarguably futuristic and your DAW will allow you enough control over the various parameters to take this technique and develop it way further if you wish. Alternatively, you can easily achieve that classic sound and give your tunes that 90’s Jungle flavour with ease. Get up and get stretching!
Digital sampling using your DAW is pretty standard these days but it was only a few years ago that every studio in the land had at least one or two hardware samplers in their equipment rack. Now though, the sampling capabilities offered by DAWs are only limited by their user’s imaginations (and copyright laws of course), so why would anyone want to buy an external sampling box with the inevitable compromises that small bits of gear bring?
The answer only becomes clear once you physically try out a piece of hardware. There is still nothing that compares to jamming on a step sequencer, away from a computer screen, with a couple of encoders to tweak the filter and effects. It’s still one of the very best ways to come up with fresh ideas and its way more fun than fiddling with your trackpad or mouse. Working with a dedicated piece of hardware allows you to move away from visually fixating on the screen and the arrangement in front of you, and instead can facilitate the kind of intuitive, creative workflow that all producers desire. Jamming on a dedicated box creates a direct connection to the dance floor experience because you can ‘play’ it and move to the music, rather than operate it, which brings a physicality to the task that is hard to capture when sitting at a laptop. Dedicated external bits of kit also allow electronic producers to perform their work live, to improvise and create on the fly.
With this in mind, we present the first of our sampler reviews, looking at three of the best samplers on the market for under €300. Here are the contenders:
First up is the popular addition to the expanding Korg Volca family, the Korg Volca Sample, which is currently retailing for around £140. The Volca Sample is a small (it’s the size of a small book) but well-specced sample player with emphasis on live performance. It has no inbuilt sampling ability of its own, instead, you fill it with your own samples via either an iPhone or iPad. As with all the machines we’re looking at, the aim is to provide the user with as much tweakability from the front panel with minimum menu delving, to facilitate workflow. So you get a powerful 16 step sequencer, a bunch of tiny encoders to adjust various parameters and a basic ‘calculator’ LED screen to show parameter levels.
There are lots of decent sound manipulation possibilities, with accessible parameters for each of the Volca’s ten sample slots. You can instantly tweak the sample start point, playback speed, pitch envelope, level, pan, attack and decay, and samples can also be looped and reversed. This means that you can very quickly warp a sample beyond all recognition and opens up all sorts of creative avenues.
In terms of effects, you get a single perfectly usable reverb – but these kinds of limitations are always a bad thing. In addition to the step programmer, squashy little pads and diminutive pots, there are two larger ‘analogue isolators’ for bass and treble, which provide an instant EQ boost or cut, and which are the only analogue part of the otherwise entirely digital Volca. Best of all in terms of creativity is that just like on their classic Electribe range, you can easily slip into motion sequence mode and record all your tweaks to the sequencer.The sample rate is 32kHz / 16 bit and the output – a single 3.5 mm stereo mini-jack – is a little noisy, which all adds up to a pleasingly slightly crusty sound.
Build quality is slight, but sturdy enough for live work. The Volca Sample can run on either six AA batteries or with an (un-supplied) mains adaptor. Samples are loaded in via an iPad or iPhone but of all the machines we’re looking at here, the Volca has the smallest memory with only 4MB. This, along with the fact that step sequencing doesn’t exactly lend itself to melodic composition, may mean that the Volca may be best suited to drum programming and abstract non-musical elements / FX.
Obviously, at this price point, there are going to be compromises – the Volca comes with a tinny inbuilt speaker, but it doesn’t really do the machine justice. In terms of connectivity, it only comes with a MIDI in, no out or through which would have been useful. Likewise, a stereo 1/4 jack output would have been more desirable than the 3.5mm stereo out. Some may find the 4MB of sample memory limiting but this misses the point of a machine like this, which is all about instant performance, improvisation and the joy of creating. With the Volca Sample, Korg has managed to scale down a substantial amount of functions into a tiny, effective and fun package, with an impressive amount of audio manipulation and mangling possibilities.
Retailing at around £160 the Akai MPX16 is described by Akai as a ‘compact sampling powerhouse’. It’s a great looking bit of kit, with 16 brightly coloured illuminated pads dominating the front panel. Samples are loaded via an SD card and you can load up to 48MB of your favourite samples at a time. The MPX16 will only play WAV files, but comes with drop and drag conversion software. You can also record samples via the stereo input or through the onboard mic.
In terms of connectivity, the MPX16 connects via USB, has both MIDI in and out, and is powered by either USB or mains – and the mains adaptor is supplied too – meaning you can use it independently of a computer. It’s also nice to see full sized 1/4 inch jacks on the stereo ins and outs too, and there’s also a headphone socket. Regarding the MPX16’s MIDI implementation, unfortunately, the encoders don’t send MIDI CCs so you can’t record live knob tweaks to your external sequencer.
When it comes to the all-important editing and mangling of your sounds, the MPX16 has four encoders on the front panel controls with a push-button matrix for selecting either tuning, pad groups, envelope control, panning, volume and of course filter cut off, resonance and envelope amount. Having four available knobs to tweak four available parameters means the MPX16 is particularly good for live jamming and improvisation.
Maximum polyphony is 64 voices; you can loop your samples and the MPX16 also features non-destructive editing, so you can chop up a loop into little pieces, keeping some parts and discarding others with ease. Akai samplers were always highly praised for their filters, and the MPX16 comes with resonant 24dB low pass filters on each of the 16 pads. There’s also a reverb that you can adjust for each individual sample. Sample tweaking is easy and accessible but if you do need to delve into the menu, the MPX16’s screen is a backlit LCD display rather than the ‘calculator’ screens that are prevalent at this price point.
The MPX16 also comes with a built-in stereo microphone for field recordings. This is a nice addition, but as ever with onboard mics, the one time that it might be really handy is if you’re out and about whereupon the mic’s sensitivity to physical movement and vibrations will be picked up and included in your recording.
The build quality feels durable and the MPX16 integrates with ease with DAWs. Drawbacks, however, would have to include the slow sample loading time, which might be a problem for live performers. Overall, it’s a great-looking little box, very well suited for live performance and jamming. Plenty of onboard tweakability and with those Akai filters, you can squelch up your sounds with ease.
Costing around £180, the Maschine Mikro is the priciest sampler we looked at. NI call it a ‘compact groove production studio’. It has substantially more functions than either the Volca or the MPX16, but can’t be used independently of your computer. What you get for your money is a cool looking little box with 16 enticing multicoloured lighted pads, a single encoder, lots of buttons and a decent backlit LCD screen. Best of all, it comes bundled with Maschine software and 6GB quality sounds, including 7000 one-shots, 400 loops, 300 drum kits and 388 sampled instruments. The Maschine software can run either under a DAW host or as a standalone, but you always need to use it in conjunction with a computer. An especially nice bonus is that the Mikro can host third-party plug-ins, which really opens up its potential.
Again, it’s a box that has been designed to withstand the rigours of live use and feels solid and sturdy. The number of onscreen buttons speeds up workflow and generally, the Mikro is intuitive and easy to use. There are no MIDI ports, all connections are through USB. Although the largest of the three samplers we’ve looked at, it’s still highly portable, is light and will slip into your laptop bag with ease.
The Mikro can claim to be a fully-fledged sampler rather than a sample player. It has 32 note polyphony and can sample at up to 24 bit 192kHz. However, if you prefer a more gritty approach, it can easily emulate older samplers like the MPC60 or SP1200. Unlike the other two boxes reviewed, it can take Rex files with ease. Perhaps the biggest factor in its favour (after the impressive bundled sounds and instruments) is the Mikro’s comprehensive effects section. It features 22 dedicated effects, including all the standard reverbs, delays and choruses, as well as more esoteric algorithms, and the potential for sound warping is huge.
The combination of pads, buttons, a decent LCD screen and a large single encoder means that again, this machine has been designed with jamming and improvisation in mind. It’s also great at looping and can split an audio loop by either transients, musical division or a number of equal parts and distribute it over the pads for instant remixing.
At this price point, the Mikro is a sleek looking and impressive option for live beat making and improvisation, as long as you don’t need a completely stand-alone device.
The availability of well-specced, intuitive sample players at this price point has been a welcome addition to many studios and these three boxes are all strong contenders for your live or home set up. Whilst the consumer will always have to pay to get more functions, each box reviewed undoubtedly has it’s own strengths and charms. Your opinion on the Volca will probably depend on whether you like using a step sequencer or not, although the addition of a little analogue processing might sway you too. The Maschine Mikro has the most functionality and features but requires a computer. The Akai has more features and memory than the Volca, and those Akai filters, but has less audio manipulation options than the Mikro.
For generating new ideas, composition on the fly and fully-fledged live performance, any of these three machines would provide you with plenty of opportunities to jam with your favourite samples and assist you in easily coming up with fresh ideas, and maybe even a chart-topping banger!
Sampling is a significant part of the audio landscape now, but there was a time when it was utterly revolutionary. Indeed, there’s a strong argument to be made that sampling, and the advent of the sampler, was the most radical development in the history of 20th century recorded music. The ability to take a piece of someone else’s recorded audio and use it in your own composition completely transformed the process of making music and was a substantial contributing factor in the birth and evolution of dance and electronic music. Entire genres have been built around just a few samples and a drum machine or sampled drum beat – see French house, techno and hip hop. Jungle/Drum & Bass leant heavily on the use of funk breaks and the ‘Hot Pants’, ‘Apache’, ‘Funky Drummer’, and ‘Think’ breaks as well as the now-ubiquitous ‘Amen’ break – the origin and importance of which much has been written (including a couple of excellent documentaries)
Although artists like the Beatles and others had used tape loops on their records back in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that sampling technology caught up with the desires of producers and artists. However, in 1980 you’d need to pay around £20,000 to buy a Fairlight CMI, a digital synth which also contained a rudimentary sampler. But hardware samplers soon dropped in price and increased in functionality. The Akai S-Series of samplers arrived in 1986, just in time to assist Techno, Acid House, Hardcore and Jungle to bloom and develop into the countless sub-genres we have today and it was quickly followed by the iconic MPC, famously used by J-Dilla, Pete Rock and DJ Shadow and responsible for many a hip hop anthem. Whether you know it or not, no matter what type of dance or electronic music you enjoy, Hip Hop, Techno, Jungle, UK Garage or House – you can be almost certain it’s full of samples.Sample It, Chop It, Loop It!
Now, of course, software samplers are standard across all DAWs, and even iOS apps, and it’s an oft-quoted statistic that the processing power we all carry round in just our phones is way more powerful than the computers that got us to the moon and back. Modern software samplers are characterised by the ease by which we can sample any audio and incorporate it into our own work. Pitch, tempo, style – nothing is a barrier – the software will aid you in manipulating almost sample to fit in your track with the minimum of fuss.
All of this means that the landscape of music has altered significantly in the last 30 years, with new technology enabling musicians, producers and consumers to create and interact in new, exciting ways. Nowhere is this more true than in electronic music, where the DJs’ role has now fully merged with that of the producer, with DJs often making use of sampling, looping and re-edits in their sets and many of them releasing music largely based on the grooves and loops of older tracks. This is where legal issues become relevant.
The major issue around sampling is that using another person’s original recordings without their permission constitutes a copyright infringement, for which there will likely be legal consequences. Court cases and claims may well prevent you from ever earning a penny from the work containing the infringing sample if it isn’t cleared in advance. The central issue is covered by the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, and can be summed up succinctly as “If it’s not yours, you don’t have the right to use it without permission”. To understand exactly what we can and can’t legally sample, we need to look at this in a little more detail.
The Legal Bit…
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is a set of laws that dictate how creators can control the ways their material can be used (in the UK, under UK law). When a producer uses someone else’s sound recording without their prior permission – ie: when they sample a loop, vocal, instrument, drum beat or even just a single note from someone else’s work – in legal terms it is considered to be:
- A breach of copyright in the original sound recording,
- A breach of copyright in the music (and lyrics, if lyrics have been sampled),
- An unauthorised use of the performances in the original work.
This applies, in theory at least, in all of the following cases:
- Even if you only used a tiny snippet.
- Even if you buried it under other lots of other programmed parts.
- Even if you reversed it, pitched it down and processed it through every single effect you own.
- Even if you’re pretty sure no one will notice it.
In UK law, we use the doctrine of “substantial similarity”, which means that a substantial part of the copyrighted piece of music has to have been used in order for there to be an infringement. In practice, this might mean that if you sample a single horn hit from someone else’s tune and use it in one of your productions, you might get away with it – but you should know that all major record companies have entire departments, peopled by professional researchers, musicologists and lawyers, whose job it is to find sample infractions and to collect money for them. And if that horn stab was from a famous song, made a substantial contribution to your track, and you’ve not asked for permission, then legally you’ll not have a leg to stand on. There are also ethical and professional considerations too – we wouldn’t like it if someone profited from our work without crediting and remunerating us, so should surely show others the same professional respect as well.
Read The Small Print!
As a general rule of thumb, it’s very likely that any record contract you sign will require you to indemnify (protect) the label against any potential claims arising from copyright infringement. This means that it’s your responsibility to ensure that any samples have been cleared. So you’ll need the permission of the record label and usually the publisher too before you release any sound recording containing the sample. It might be that if the copyright wasn’t assigned to a publisher then you’ll need to track down the original copyright owners – or even their heirs – and bear in mind that some songs have more than one writer, so this can be quite a lengthy process.
It’s common practice these days to employ a sample clearing company who can negotiate a usage rate for you with the record label or publisher – and this is far more sensible than waiting until your tune blows up big and then asking for permission as you will have already broken the law. If you didn’t ask for permission and your tune blows up, it’s entirely possible that the record company legal team will attempt to get a higher percentage, perhaps even 100% of the royalties, than if you’d sought permission. There are also sample replay companies who specialise in uber-authentic recreations of pretty much any record you can imagine. Scorccio‘s recreations are so good, they often have the rightsholder going after the label because they are utterly convinced it’s the original recording.
A sample clearing company will charge you a flat rate and attempt to get you the best deal available. Remember, record companies want to make money, so it’s usually in their interest to strike a deal with people who sample their catalogue. All these considerations shouldn’t deter you from sampling – the big companies are set up for this stuff – you just have to do things the right way. The deal you get will depend on how much of the copyrighted audio you used, how well known the original recording was, the prominence of the sample and the likelihood of your release being successful.
Of course, none of these restrictions apply to legally bought sample packs. When you pay for a sample pack you are paying for a licence to freely use the samples in your own compositions. You can build a track entirely from legally bought samples and even if it’s a huge hit, you won’t have to pay anything provided you purchased the sounds legally to begin with. This is the big advantage of using royalty-free samples over other original published works – once you’ve paid for it, it’s yours.
There are some limits here though, and again, the law is very clear on this. Most sample providers will have some variation of the following guidelines about what you can and can’t do with the samples you buy: you can use the samples in your own compositions, but you can’t sell, loan, rent, lease, assign, or transfer samples to another user, or use them in any competitive product and potentially library music (although this varies between companies and products). So this means that the licence is non-transferable and you are not allowed to share your sample pack with the rest of the internet or try to sell them as if they were your own.
So that’s our basic guide to the legalities of sampling. We hope you find it useful. If in doubt, you should always seek the advice of the Musicians Union or talk to any of the sample clearance companies online and if you do choose to release a record that contains a sample, our lawyers have advised us to advise you that this article does not constitute legal advice and does not take the place of a qualified music attorney.