Following the instruments and users: the mutual shaping of digital sampling technologies
Harkins, Paul Michael
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The socio-musical practice of sampling is closely associated with the re-use of pre-existing sound recordings and the technological processes of looping. These practices, based on appropriation and repetition, have been particularly common within the genres of hip-hop and Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Yet early digital sampling instruments such as the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (CMI) were not designed for these purposes. The technologists at Fairlight Instruments in Australia were primarily interested in the use of digital synthesis to imitate the sounds of acoustic instruments; sampling was a secondary concern. In the first half of the thesis, I follow digital sampling instruments like the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu Emulator by drawing on interviews with their designers and users to trace how they were used to sample the sounds of everyday life, loop sequenced patterns of sampled sounds, and sample extracts from pre-existing sound recordings. The second half of the thesis consists of case studies that follow the users of digital sampling technologies across a range of socio-musical worlds to examine the diversity of contemporary sampling practices. Using concepts from the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), this thesis focuses on the ‘user-technology nexus’ and continues a shift in the writing of histories of technologies from a focus on the designers of technologies towards the contexts of use and ‘the co-construction’ or ‘mutual shaping’ of technologies and their users. As an example of the ‘interpretative flexibility’ of music technologies, digital sampling technologies were used in ways unimagined by their designers and sampling became synonymous with re-appropriation. My argument is that a history of digital sampling technologies needs to be a history of both the designers and the users of digital sampling technologies.