Monday, December 13, 2010

Back in My Day... Remember When Samplers Actually Sampled?

A lot has changed the way we create and listen to music these days. A lot of the changes I'm generally pretty cool with, although transitioning from hardware to software took some getting used to. But one thing that has always driven me a bit crazy about software samplers - namely that very few of them actually sample anymore.

I get the logic. We have tons of excellent dedicated audio editors that allow us to edit and process sounds with more precision than any sampler. So why not eliminate the sampling process, let people record sounds in their DAW and edit away in their editor of choice? Because it makes sampling a much less spontaneous process, and I think it has had a detrimental effect on how many musicians use sampling in their music. With my old EPS-16+, I hit the sample button, trigger the audio I want to sample, and choose the root key, and I'm done. With Kontakt or EXS-24, I've got to record the audio in my DAW or editor, edit and re-save my individual samples, then I have to fire up my software sampler, import the sounds, map them and make sure their root key is set correctly, and save the instrument within the sampler. Hardly very efficient.

I think this more deliberate process discourages the kind of experimentation we saw at sampling's birth. Instead of trying to make new instrument sounds from junk found in our closets, sampling seems to have become more of a glorified loop playback method. Is this a product of the evolution of sampling, or is it at least partially due to the way the tools changed? My guess is it's a little of both. The changes in tools are usually good, but not always. During the late 80's and early 90's, many synth manufacturers decided we no longer needed resonant filters. Turns out we totally did. Maybe the approach software samplers generally take is a similar mistake. I'd love to see more soft-samplers including the option to sample within the sampler itself. It would be interesting to see if this changed the way we all use sampling again. And it might keep the old-timers from grumbling quite so much.

10 comments:

manson baptiste said...

In Ableton Live, you have to route your incoming signal to an audio track, like patching the sampler. Then you press record. If you want to use a more advanced sample playback device, you can drag n drop any audio to Simpler or Sampler, the two sampling devices built inside Ableton Live.

There is the same amount of steps as with your hardware sampler. The sampler doesn't sample by itself, but loading anything available in a session is one click away.

After a few years of usage, I think this is the "less worst"/best approach I've seen so far.

Anonymous said...

The Elektron Machinedrum still allows this type of on-the-fly sampling in 12-bit even!

fractured said...

Anonymous, I believe you missed the point. The hardware samplers still have the sampling function intact. The software samplers do not.

I'd love to see a sampler that can be set up as an aux send in your DAW. You then route any audio you want to it, from a live input, to a combination of tracks at various levels. Trigger with the "record" button and sample away. When you have what you want, play it back and view in the built in waveform view, and trim to your desire. Save As whatever you wish and map it to your keyboard zones. The trick is to then have the plugin open on an instrument track as well, so you can go right to playback.

Is there a way to set an instrument up so it opens the complementary input aux device?

Jeff Knapp said...

Properllerheads realized this with Reason and have added direct sampling into all of their sampler instruments including both of the drum machines. It was one of their "gee whiz" features for Reason 5. Pretty slick.

Ruud de Graaff said...

I think there is a direct sampling trend going on. IIRC the new FXpansion Geist drum machine now does sample too.

And I totally agree with Manson Baptiste. In Ableton Live sampling is a breeze: hit the record button in an audio clip and drag and drop your sample into Simpler or Sampler :)

papernoise said...

Samplers evolved into sample-players, fed by sample-libraries. That's the evolution I see. That's why the software does not have a rec button. Who need a rec button when all you do is load the library of your choice.

I for myself keep on using the software sampler as I did back when all I had was a Korg DSS-1, but I mainly use stuff I record on the field, and I like to record with something small and portable.

Robert said...

To the other posters: TL;DR.

To Tom: AMEN, BROTHER.

Tom said...

@manson - I'll have to pick up Live one of these days. The new version of Logic makes it easier to create sample instruments too, but it's still not as intuitive for me as the old way. Then again, I started sampling the old way, so... (on an Ensoniq Mirage no less... the least user-friendly instrument in the world... haha)

It's good to see some manufacturers flirting with bringing back these capabilities... I think that new Korg sampler is a step in that direction, too...

isotopeofme said...

I tend to agree with @papernoise. I can't bring myself to buy kontakt (I use a freeware sampler) because it just seems bogged down with rompler capability. I'm as guilty as anyone of loading up my x0x samples when it comes to drum time, but that's about the only time I use a sample set that I didn't create.

Honestly, even with a hardware sampler, I tended to record first then import to the sampler, so I don't find the process cumbersome with software.

Vlad said...

You can sample pretty much like in good ole days with Reaper. Record some audio, select a portion of it (or all of it, up to you to decide), then import into Reaper's Samplomatic5000 sampler module (a single click command). Choose the root note and there you go. Drag'n'drop supported as well.