Sampling can be tricky. Sometimes you’re lucky and you get just the right sound to slot into a piece that ends up making every other part of the creative process fall perfectly into place. I recall sampling a snippet of a choir from the radio that sounded incredibly groovy and evocative when I looped it. Even though the piece I built around it didn’t quite do it justice, I still bliss out every time I replay that loop on Bandcamp.
But there are many times when I labor on a sample for what seems to me to be a very long time, only to end up with nothing salvageable. Maybe it’s a lack of skill, but I find the process pretty hit or miss, with a lot more miss than hit.
One place I regularly return to for inspiration is Hal McGee’s oeuvre of microcassette recordings. There is a veritable goldmine of great material to sample, and one instrument that pays off big dividends for my personal creative work is the Vox McGee—Hal’s voice. There’s something about what Hal says and the way he says it that I find really inspiring, perfect for building some of my little sound odysseys around.
What is it? How does he do it? Well, I think it is conscious artistry. Sampling Hal’s voice from the microcassette recordings is not too different from ripping a great groove out of a classic song. Hal has been performing in these recordings for years, and one cannot ignore the fact that when he hits the record button, it’s like a jazz artist knowing when to start his solo or set up someone else’s. Lots of great riffs are born in the process.
So, yeah, sampling Hal may be considered cheating, and I am lucky he is generous in allowing these “collaborations.” I just hope that what I do is to take what he has offered the world and create something that stands on its own, humble though it may be.
is an electronic sound artist