A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Loveless, sampled

Here's a short passage from Mike McGonigal's book about Loveless, coming in September...


The most radical changes in pop music occur with shifts that might appear really minor from the outside but actually represent huge leaps. Often, it’s as simple as one tool being used for something it was never intended for, as with the turntable becoming a musical instrument via the scratch, or the 808 bass sampling keyboard getting tweaked to make crazy squelches. One of the things that flipped other musicians and producers out about Loveless is that the sampler is used as more than a phrase machine, largely because the band were sampling themselves. OK, maybe this isn’t such a "radical change in pop music," but the results do sound really cool.

"We chose non-organic sounds," says Shields; "that’s why people didn’t immediately go 'That’s a keyboard,' even though it is. There are multi-layered parts to some songs, like the opening of 'Only Shallow,' with me playing the same thing three or four times. It was the usual rock and roll bending the strings type of thing, but I had two amps facing each other, with two different tremolos on them. And I sampled it and put it an octave higher on the sampler. On Glider’s one guitar track, 'I Only Said,' that’s one guitar track and a couple of overdubs. A lot of the hooks were sampled vocals or feedback we didn’t want to use. You can hear it has the movement of natural sound. The 'synth' solo two thirds of the way through 'Sometimes' is Bilinda’s voice, and a little oboe sample in there from the keyboard itself."

"For us, where the sampler had a great value, was that instead of having the option to play things on a keyboard based on some sounds you could find anywhere, we’d sample our own guitar feedback, which instead of just being one tone, it could be a tone having bends and quirks in it," Shields explains. "And then, by using the human voice as well for the top end, you’ve got these organic things happening, even though sometimes you’re using keyboards to play them. You are letting the organic part be part of the rhythm of the sample. We’d edit them as such. God, so much of time we spent making the record was doing that kind of stuff. I mean, we did that massive experimentation thing in the summer of 1990, but before in 1989, one of the most sampled songs we created was ‘Glider.’ It’s just a guitar riff, and then something that sounds like gates creaking — and that’s all guitar feedback, loads and loads of guitar feedback that we just sampled and played in. But in those days we didn’t have a keyboard so we played it all by pressing the button on the sampler. So there wasn’t even a keyboard involved. It was just touching the sampler itself, you know?"

"Most of the songs have got samples on them," Kevin says. "On 'Soon,' there’s a bit that goes 'ah ah ah' where it sounds like Belinda’s voice — that’s just me hitting a key on the sampler — well it was actually a Bell delay unit, but we made a sample out of it. And the first thing in 'Only Shallow' — those kind of high sounds — that’s just a sample." At the time, they were fumbling in the dark to use these methods, but Shields notes that "everything we did is now just stock, normal, standard techniques for making music. We were just using the technology to achieve our aims." Everyone else using samplers at the time, like Pop Will Eat Itself or Age of Chance, "used their technology to make it sound like technology [stutters intentionally] — that 'N-N-N-N-Nineteen' type thing. What we did — and which then became the prominent way of using samplers — was to try and make it sound like you’re not using a sampler."


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