Digging traces of sampling in the tracks of Swiss producer and – as he calls himself – «dub scientist» Daniel Jakob aka Dubokaj led me to two interesting potentials of the production method: sampling as a hidden means of producing tracks and sampling ambient sounds as cultural signifiers. Listening to his recent album Alpine Dub (Mouthwatering Records 2016) and emailing with the artist back and forth, a few samples caught my attention: among them a drum beat by Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji and some animal bells. To learn more about these samples I met Daniel in his studio in Bern.
Hidden Sampling in «On The Plant»
We always talk about samples that we can actually hear in the final version of a track or samples where the producer tells listeners that they are processed in the track (which is still quite often not verifiable by the listener). But we don’t talk about samples that no longer appear in the final track, though they nevertheless shaped the production process. One such example is Dubokajs «On the Plant».
In our email conversation Daniel told me about a sample from the Nigerian percussionist Babatunde Olatunji that he has supposedly used here. To dig into the origins of the sample we had to go a few years back. Until 2011, he used a drum loop from Olatunji in live performances. You can already hear this loop in «Loibrumm», an unreleased track from his former project Filewile. It was in that folder on Daniel’s hard disk where we found the first hint to the track «Takuta» by Olatunji – Daniel sampled the intro loop from the first two seconds of the track. For the Filewile project he heavily sliced the Olatunji beat.
Almost five years later, when he was working on his new project under the moniker of Dubokaj, he was browsing through his files and came to the Olatunji sample once again. He cut and warped and took it as one of the basic loops to work with for his new track. But when clicking through the history of the project files it became obvious that the beat was only there in the beginning of the process. At a certain point, the sample disappeared from the files.
This exemplifies Daniels playful approach to musical production. His workflow is rather a messy drag-and-drop than a straight concept: «I use to work with a lot of samples. Some drop out during the production process and some survive.» Nevertheless, even Daniel was surprised that we couldn’t find the Olatunji sample anymore. Due to the fact that the sample was part of the project for a certain period, and that there is a short drum loop in the final version that recalls the Olatunji sample, we have to assume that it inspired Daniel during the production process and shaped the track to an important degree. «The sample helped to compose a new groove», Daniel agrees.
This case study of musical sampling raises three main points. First, it becomes evident that in many cases sampling has to be regarded as a process that spans many years. There is quite a period between saving some sound snippets on the hard drive, using them a first time in a live show or another unfinished track, and then finally bringing them to their (temporary) destination in a certain track. Second, there is such thing as «hidden sampling»: samples that are used only for a certain period within the production process and then disappear. And, finally, producers often don’t really know, or aren’t aware of, the samples they have used in their tracks. They don’t save the source material or – as in the case of Dubokaj – they remember wrongly what they have used exactly. But let’s now have a look on another Alpine Dub track:
Sampling Cultural Signifiers in «Uniborg»
Here Dubokaj uses different kinds of samples: self recorded vocal samples, synths and basses as presets from Reaktor’s Monark by Native Instruments, and, finally, some goat bells. Let’s have a deeper look on the latter (appearing in the beginning, at 2:29 and at 3:33).
Daniel took the sample most probably from a YouTube video. He was browsing the video platform for this particular sound and wanted to incorporate it as flavor for his track. Once extracted from the video file, he edited the sound, again warped it, pitched it a little bit down, and layered two different clips of the same sample – one on the left and one on the right (panning). The sample also inspired him to add another high-frequency, bell-like sound on top of the goats, built with an instrument, designed in Max for Live, that he uses regularly. In this instance, he even enlarged the original goat sound.
According to Daniel these sounds have the function of ambient sounds. On the vinyl version of Alpine Dub you hear such sounds appear even between the tracks. With these sounds he told me he wanted to create a certain atmosphere on the album (he couldn’t really specify what kind of atmosphere he had in mind). Disregarding any potential intention by the producer, these sounds fit perfectly into the PR concept of Alpine Dub and the fiction of a Swiss dub producer from the Alps. At this point, the sample turns into a cultural signifier even though we don’t know where the goats are really coming from. Moreover, the concept of Alpine Dub was most probably included only after Daniel has done the main work on the track.
Looking through the media coverage on the album the bells are not discussed as a musical signifier for the Alpine surrounding at all. Interestingly, however, I gained another impression on the track’s reception when doing a short listening test: the interview partners who have been strongly connected to the track or the project didn’t speak about the bell sounds and the ones who weren’t familiar with the track immediately identified it mainly as «cow bells from the Swiss Alps». It seems, finally, that «place» is an important topic on the Alpine Dub project, even though it might not have played an important role during the production process.
A Documentary on Alpine Dub by Pascal Greuter
Dubokaj: Alpine Dub Re Dub (Mouthwatering, 2017)
The interview has been conducted in Bern, Switzerland, 19.8.2016. This article has been published in the context of the PhD research on sampling in experimental electronic music by Hannes Liechti. For more info click here.
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