For me, it goes back to Lil’ Kim.
Let me back up. Much as we take it for granted in 2015, once upon a time in a far-gone decade called the 80s, sampling was a new technology. Groundbreaking (and expensive) instruments such as the Fairlight CMI and Synclavier brought new possibilities for playing with recorded audio. Suddenly, sounds and sequences which used to take days of work from skilled tape manipulators became keyboard-mapped.
Here’s Herbie Hancock demonstrating sampling on Sesame Street with a Fairlight CMI (watch for guest appearance from a very young Tatyana Ali):
[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKoisNv1ftw[/youtube]
Into the late 80s and early 90s, samplers got smaller and more affordable. But sampling still wasn’t “perfect”. Most samplers were 8- or 12-bit, with noticeably low sample rates. This bit and sample rate crunch – in addition to digital hiss and other jittery ghosts in the machines – is part of what continues to make artifacts like the Emulator, Linndrum, and SP-1200 so desirable to this day.
And here’s where Lil’ Kim comes in. Check out “Rain Dance”, by Jeff Lorber Fusion:
[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNqfnZ24pSg[/youtube]
Now, listen to Lil’ Kim & Lil’ Cease’s “Crush on You”, a classic 90s Bad Boy production from Fanatic of the 3 Boyz from Newark collective (watch for an Aaliyah cameo):
[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWC79TcWWsI[/youtube]
While “Rain Dance” is clearly the sample source, it doesn’t sound so much like a jazz fusion combo on “Crush on You” as it does like a fuzzy flute synthesizer. That’s the magic of old samplers – that digital grit which could truly transform a sample and apply a unique stamp of imperfection. Pitch- and time-shifting also served to exaggerate these artifacts.
In 2015, our sampling options are many – most DAWs have samplers built-in, and hardware samplers are at or above CD-quality audio – the Elektron Octatrack, for example, samples audio at 24-bit / 44.1 KHz, with sophisticated algorithms for time and pitch stretching (to be fair, there are also bit crushing effects on the Octatrack). There’s still the curiosity of that digital charm that’s the default in an old sampler, however; in fact, for many musicians making music that celebrates the digital past (e.g. vaporwave or anyone releasing on Death of Rave), we want it more than ever.
That’s where TAL-Sampler comes in. Coming from TAL – a company renown for its free plugins, as well as its excellent models of the Juno 60 and SH-101 – this isn’t just another software sampler. The plugin emulates a few digital/analog convertors, including those of the Linndrum series and Oberheim DMX (via the AM6070 8-bit PCM DAC), the E-mu Emulator II, the flexible “sample hold” mode, and the straightforward (and less vintage) “linear” mode. With controls specified by DAC model, you generally get the self-explanatory sample rate, hiss, and saturation, plus some added nonlinearity in “jitter” (sample clock) and “offset” (table scaling – just trust us, it sounds more vintage) controls. As a trip back in time, TAL-Sampler is a pretty sweet experience – and the flexible control routing isn’t bad either (see GUI shot above).
Check out some of what TAL-Sampler can do in our audio demos:
In these examples, you can hear a demonstration of the “Crush on You” sample, a wildly time-stretched beat, and some classic jungle-style pads and breaks – here’s an example of the original article in A Guy Called Gerald’s “So Many Dreams”:
[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BD-0hScHwc8[/youtube]
TAL Sampler isn’t the first plugin to do this – 112db’s Morgana is another option – but the specific controls for each model are particularly nice. While there are plenty of other options for getting the sound of old samplers – there are more than enough bit-crusher plugins out there – TAL Sampler does have a special feel to it. It’s also, like most TAL plugins, on the cheaper end of things, at 60 USD.
So, the problems of the 80s and 90s have become carefully modeled features in the 2010s. This Brian Eno quote has recently been making the rounds, and seems to sum up how imperfections turn into desirable qualities:
Good food for thought. In the mean time, TAL Sampler, borrowing from Biggie: I gotta let you know that I got a (bit) crush on you.