Scavenging Samples

Ever wondered how snatches of Indian vocals seem to crop up in the oddest of places? Hip hop producer Blockheadtook Remix Magazine on a day tour of record stores in NYC where he bought a bunch of decidedly off center albums. After fortifying himself with a fat slice of pizza, he proceeded to extract disparate elements from a number of tracks and blend them into something uniquely his own. Here's how he worked an Indian LP:

Then an old LP from India called Hits of Shankar-Jaikishan, Vol. 1 (Angel, 1964) has a vocal sample with potential. "This is where time-stretching would work, but whatever; time-stretching takes the skill out of it," he shrugs. "If you have time-stretching, the only talent you need is to tell whether something is out of tune or not. I get a lot of flak for speeding up vocals, but I like to work with vocal samples the same way I do a horn or a piano: I don't care how fast or slow it is as long as it's in key."

The vocal line is lovely and haunting at the same time, and although it's troublesome, Blockhead is willing to go to some extra lengths to make it fit. The aging ASR-10 is unwieldy by today's standards, but Blockhead knows its functions inside and out from a decade of exclusive, nonstop use. His skills with the limited controls make a strong case for expertly mastering a select amount of gear/software rather than taking on a wide range of systems and knowing them only superficially.

"It's funny because it already sounds like it's backward," he comments as his fingers fly over the Ensoniq's buttons. “I'm doing a lot of filtering stuff to make the high part of it I like come out more. I don't know what these numbers (on the bare-bones LCD) mean, but when I move the slider, it takes out some of the crackle. Now it sounds like it's coming through the radio, which I like.

"I slowed this sample way down, and I think it sounds almost like a reversed instrument at times. Obviously, I don't speak any Indian [languages], so I have no idea what she's saying, but it resembles an African stringed instrument and Mickey Mouse at the same time. It works with the track because it's got this lighthearted feel to it. The sample itself is kind of fun."

Globalization in the backyard indeed. The complete track ("Big City Boy") is available here. Check it out!

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- March 31, 2006 8:18 PM // Music