Sampling is one of the most well known techniques in music. It refers to the reuse of various sound recording portions (or samples) which are then manipulated in various ways in order to create an entirely new song. Sampling, more specifically, drum sampling, has been one of the foundations of modern genres like hip-hop and rap. But, what is the history behind this technique? Let’s take a brief look into the history of drum machines and drum sampling, shall we?
The Drum – An Overview
The drums are one of the oldest musical instruments known to man. Some of the earliest findings date all the way back to the Neolithic cultures in China, around 5500 BC. However, the drum kit as we know it today has only been around since the 19th century, when, in the 1840s, American marching bands started experimenting with various percussion instruments and combining them into different trap sets. Since then, until today, drum kits would evolve in a number of ways, however, one of the most important events in drum history was the invention of the drum machine which allowed for the use of digital drum samples.
The Drum Machine
Some of the earliest examples of drum machines actually predate a lot of modern drum designs, and go back as far as the 13th century. Al-Jazari, an Arab engineer invented a programmable musical device consisting of four automaton musicians with two drummers. These drummers could be made to play various rhythms and drum patterns through the use of moving pegs. However, the first true modern drum machine came to be sometime in the 1970s and 1980s with companies like Roland and Krog being the flag bearers of innovation. Many artists from this period, including musical legends Pink Floyd, experimented with drum machines and electronic drum sounds. And, while some of the earlier models could only produce acoustic drum samples, Roland’s legendary TR seires (from TR-606 to TR-909) could produce unique synthesized drum sounds.
A New Era of Music
These machines changed the way we experienced music and rhythm, and, even though human drummers were still more flexible when it came to the sheer number of options at their disposal (like playing ahead or behind the beat), the pure novelty of electro took over the world of popular music. Techno, disco and other forms of electronic music were the next big thing, and drum machines were simply more convenient in producing this type of music.
Furthermore, machines like the TR-808 were known for their distinctive sub-heavy kick drum sounds which carried with itself a real funky vibe. Add this with its relatively cheap price tag, and you got yourself a real winner. The rise of hip-hop and rap, which relied heavily on drum samples (and sampling in general), sealed the TR-808 as one of the most well-known drum machines in history. It is still used and referenced by artists to this day, like Kanye West for example, whose album 808s & Heartbreak, uses it in every track. In 2014, Roland even released an updated version of the machine, the TR-8 Rhythm Composer, which included samples from Roland’s other machine, the TR-909.
In conclusion, the drum machine has had a continuous influence on the way we perceive and produce music. From its humble beginnings, over the classics and to the latest iterations, it doesn’t look like we’ll see a stop in their growth anytime soon.