A sampler, in regard to audio, is an instrument capable of playing back and manipulating audio recordings. they have been developed to include increasingly versatile and impressive functions over the past seventy years. This essay will try to present and examine the notable historic developments that have led to the modern sampler.
Some of the earliest sampling can be heard in 'Wochenede' (1930) by German filmmaker Walter Ruttmann ^. Sounds were recorded using Tri-Ergon's sound-on-film system, which captured the audio as lines of varying translucence on photographic tape. He spliced and rearranged the film to create what he described as a "sound film without images"^. Ruttmann was in a rather fortunate position, sound-on-film systems were intended for recording synced audio to motion picture and would have been inaccessible to anybody outside the film making industry. #
By the 1940's a few others had began exploring recorded audio's potential for composition. French composer Pierre Schaeffer's work in this period was seminal. He was enthusiastic in sharing his ideas and techniques; encouraging other to experiment for themselves as discussed by Barry Schrader’s in his book 'Introduction to Electro-Acoustic Music' (1982):^.
Schaeffer developed a theory of composition [...] [and] documented his work in A la recherche d’une musique concrÃ¨te [...] [allowing] others to study his work and repeat his experiments. [...] Schaeffer’s work led to the founding of the first institutionally sponsored musique concrÃ¨te studio [...] [attracting] many composers, such as Pierre Boulez, Pierre Henry, Darius Milhaud, Oliver Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen. (p.14.)
This is what set Schaeffer apart from his predecessors and contemporaries who produced works following similar ideas. Schaeffer and a number of others went on to pioneer the fundamentals of sampling such as, splicing, reversing, looping and pitch shifting.
Magnetic tape became commercial available in the late 1940s. This breakthrough led to the invention of the first samplers. Amongst these the Phonogene, invented by Schaffer in the late 1940s. It was able to transpose looped tape recordings by playing them back at different speeds, which were controlled via a keyboard. The first commercially available sampler was invented and named after Harry Chamberlin, in 1949. Chamberlin also used magnetic tape but unlike Schaeffer who wanted to deconstruct and mutate sound^, Chamberlin wanted to emulate existing instruments. Each key on the Chamberlin keyboard had a mechanism that would pull magnetic tape past a playhead, sounding a recording of the respective pitch and played on the selected instrument. # Magnetic tape made sampling more accessible because the technology was simpler, cheaper and more flexible than sound-on-film, shellac discs and wire recorder. For these reasons Schaffer and Chamberlin were able to create the very first samplers.
The complex design of the Chamberlin made it...