Perspectives on Sampling

Two elements from the research on sampling practices: the spider of sampling reasons and a screenshot from Ableton Live

Today the production method and cultural technique of sampling has become a kind of lingua franca for producers in electronic music around the globe. Musicians and producers often sample instruments, field recordings, media material, and previously released music in their tracks. In doing so they transform the meaning of the source material particularly as regards its cultural and political contexts. The PhD project of Norient editor, curator, and scholar Hannes Liechti investigates sampling strategies in (experimental) underground electronic pop music, and aims to contribute to a greater Ethnography of Sampling in music which still has to be written.

Sampling is an issue that has been a topic of controversial discussion since the days of early hip hop in the 1980s. In public discourses as well as in the academic literature the focus has mostly been put on issues of copyright and subsequent questions of originality, authorship, and creativity. A broad study on the production level of sampling is still missing, especially in the field of electronic pop music. More than ten years ago Tara Rodgers pointed out that the «musical and political goals» of samplists haven't been adequately explored (Rodgers 2003: 313) – and this is still the case today.

This project understands sampling as a process, that encompasses (at least) «selecting, recording, editing, and processing sound pieces» (ibid.) and analyses it through the «Referenzanalysekatalog» (RAK – catalogue to analyze the use of references) by Thomas Burkhalter (2015 – see article on with its research perspectives on «music-making as a practice», «music as a media product», and the «musician as an actor». The project focuses on the following questions: Why, what, how and with what consequences are producers today using the technique of sampling? What kind of strategies, positions, attitudes, meanings or discourses are lying behind the procession of pre-recorded sounds in their tracks? How are these strategies being read from actors close to the producers or the broader reception? How do musicians use sampling to achieve nuanced musical expression and cultural commentary? (Rodgers 2003: 313)

Looking at some of the case studies presented in the series «Sampling Stories» on, it is clear that sampling is an important means to comment on political and cultural issues. Whether intended as incendiary or not, sampling practices trigger controversial debates: in spring 2017 some media reported on techno DJ Dax J, who sampled a Muslim call to prayer during a live gig in Tunisia. He was sentenced to one year in jail after the gig. DJ Dax J fled the country and apologized on Facebook to the Muslims he offended:

«I am incredibly saddened that anyone would believe that I played a track, featuring a 20 second vocal of the ‹Call To Prayer / Adhan›, for any reason other than its musicality and the beauty of the vocal.» (April 7th, 2017)

This example shows a gap between the artist’s intention behind the act of sampling and the reception of the musical output. An in-depth analysis of sample-based pop music thus has to take into account particularly the position and habitus of the artist to analyze questions such as: What does it mean when a British techno DJ samples a Muslim call to prayer during a gig in Tunisia? How important are ethical guidelines when it comes to sampling? To what extent does the technique of sampling enhances a frivolous contact with culturally «meaningful» material?


«The accelerated processes of digitalization revolutionized the production of music on many levels. The Internet is a growing super-archive, and the prizes for data storage on computers and online clouds sink. Almost every music and sound is reachable within a few mouse clicks. Acoustic data can be stored and manipulated easier than ever via music software on computers and tablets, steered via midi-controllers and apps.»

Theresa Beyer, Thomas Burkhalter, Hannes Liechti (ed.) (2015): Seismographic Sounds – Visions of a New World, Bern: Norient Books.


Upcoming Lectures

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Sampling Stories

In this series tracks from musicians that have been involved in the research are presented to the readers of Norient. These stories of samples and the corresponding sampling strategies provoke feedback, contradictions, and further specification that will be included in the research as well. Find all past sequels here:

Vol. 19: Kritzkom

Berlin-based producer Kritzkom rarely works with samples and, accordingly, on her 2016 techno track «Inner March for Utopia» synth basses and melodies dominate. But if one digs deeper one can find the traces of a sample of the Kurdish national anthem.

Vol. 18: DJ Raph

After being invited by the Iwalewahaus Bayreuth the Nairobi-based electronic musician and producer did an artist residency in Germany, rummaging through the institution’s extensive music archive of ethnographic field recordings from Africa.

Vol. 17: Lara Sarkissian

In the tracks of the San Francisco-based artist, sampling is as much identity-generating as a political tool. Here are five reasons why sampling is so important in the ambient-shaped tracks of the upcoming producer.

Vol. 16: Eomac

Tracing the genesis of a track by producer Ian McDonnell (Eomac, Lakker) we can follow the steps to learn how sampling is used to replace a conventional vocal track and discuss questions on the circulation and handling of media material in times of Web 2.0.

Vol. 15: Eduardo Navas

In this interview Norient asked Eduardo Navas, one of the main scholars theorizing the phenomenon of remix, to clarify some of his points and to talk about algorithms, the surplus of remix studies, and cultural appropriation.

Vol. 14: Olivia Louvel

It was early 2016 when female:pressure launched their #rojava campaign. With a bundle of tracks and more, they aimed to raise awareness around the resistance movement in Northern Syria. Here we meet one of the artists who have contributed to the project.

Vol. 13: Chino Amobi

Chino Amobi is heavily sampling in his tracks, from airport soundscapes to chicken clucks and – not least – gun shots. In this short quote he explains why the latter are in fact uniting people.

Vol. 12: Ratkiller

The heavily sample-based tracks by Estonian electronic producer Mihkel Kleis show the total disembodiment of the samples from their sources. This approach becomes apparent when both listening to the tracks but also looking behind the scenes of its production.

Vol. 11: Zavoloka

«Volya» is the only record so far in which the Ukrainian experimentalist has used sampling material with a strong political connotation: field recordings from the revolutions in Kiev. A background talk about the soundscape of the Maidan.

Vol. 10: YATTA

It is the very discrete mixture of samples, jazz vocals, folk spirit, live instrumentation and experimental electronics that characterizes the weird and beautiful song sketches of interdisciplinary artist Yatta Zoker from Brooklyn, NY.

Vol. 9: Dr. Das

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Aniruddha Das understands sampling as a political, yet militant instrument. In the interview he gives insight into his sampling practice and talks about musical exoticism, political meaning, and the use of distortion within his musical production.

Vol. 8: Dubokaj

Digging traces of sampling in the tracks of Swiss producer Daniel Jakob aka Dubokaj led me to two interesting potentials of the production method: sampling as a hidden means of producing tracks and sampling of ambient sounds as cultural signifiers.

Vol. 7: Katie Gately

A psychological approach to sampling: the American avantgarde-pop musician Katie Gately samples familiar, sometimes scary sounds and noises form the everyday that are deeply connected to her childhood memory.

Vol. 6: RE:VIVE

We trace the history of the carillon of the biggest church in Rotterdam, the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk. Its bell sounds play an important role in the tracks of the compilation «010», released by the Dutch initiative RE:VIVE (by Gregory Markus).


With her new project, COOL FOR YOU, Berlin-based multidisciplinary artist Vika Kirchenbauer tends to «decompose harmonies as colonizers». What comes out are high-pitched voices, unfamiliar harmonies, and rumbling and raw rhythms.

Vol. 4: M.E.S.H.

In times of constantly bubbling news tickers that have long ago stopped covering sport events only, Berlin-based James Whipple has produced a LP that is dealing with the resultant feeling of information overload.

Vol. 3: Moro

In «Libres» Argentine producer Moro is bridging the Atlantic slave trade with the current refugee crisis. The main element of the track is a sample of chain sounds, transformed into a historically meaningful rhythm.

Vol. 2: Ibaaku

Although it’s been labeled as an afro-futuristic project and also comes along as such through an eclectic and futuristic sound collage, fashion, photography, and music videos, Alien Cartoon by Senegalese producer Ibaaku is deeply rooted in place.

Vol. 1: Ptyl

By using a vast amount of samples from the most well known underground bands, in his track «Drag Dorks in Vampire Suits» Israeli electronic industrial artist Ptyl tries to «criticize musical underground scenes of producing repetitions of the same thing when mimicking a certain style».



These tracks are building the basic pool of material for the research project (to be continuously completed):


Past Lectures

May 25, 2018, University of Vienna, Institute for Musicology (A)
Collegium Musicum Populare (CMP) by IASPM D-A-CH
Paper: «Prinzipien des Samplings in der Forschung»

December 2, 2017, Bern University of the Arts (CH)
Research Symposium «The Future Sound of Pop»
Paper: «Rattling Chains and Cackling Chickens. Non-Musical Sampling in Experimental Electronic Popular Music»

July 14, 2017, TU Berlin (D)
PhD Workshop: «Cut'n'Paste Culture – Sample-based Pop Music and its Analysis» feat. Bonaventure & Kabuki

June 26, 2017, University of Kassel (D)
19th Biennial IASPM Conference
Paper: «Sampling Politics. Cultural Commentary through Sampling in Experimental Electronic Pop Music»

December 15, 2016, University of Bern (CH)
2. GSA Forschungstag Paper: «Spurensuche im Global Pop»

October 22, 2016, Karl Franzens University Graz (A)
Darüber hinaus ... Populäre Musik und Überschreitung(en). IASPM-D-A-CH-Konferenz 2016
Paper: «Remix von Orts-Referenzen im Global Pop. Ansätze einer multiperspektivischen Track-Analyse»


Read More about Sampling on Norient

Baron, Jaimie: «Copy and Past(e)»
Beyer, Theresa: «Der Sample-Dompteur Christian Marclay»
Brockhaus, Immanuel: «Gardener of Sounds –And.Ypsilon»
Burkhalter, Thomas: «Remixing References»
Burkhalter, Thomas: «Music of Bombs and Bullets»
Burkhalter, Thomas: «The Sample Shapes the Song»
Burkhalter, Thomas: Grab, Simon: «Sampled Lebenswelt»
C-drík Fermont: «Polyrhythmic Ukranian Noise»
Cumbiónico: «Sounds from the MIDI east»
Daughtry, Martin: «Posthuman Grooves»
Navas, Eduardo: «Regenerative Culture»
Norient: Debate: Archive and Sampling
Spahr, Michael: «Schweizer Verschwörung»


Bibliography (Selection)

Behr, Adam; Negus, Keith; Street, John. 2017. «The Sampling Continuum: Musical Aesthetics and Ethics in the Age of Digital Production» Journal for Cultural Research. Published online 12.6.2017. [Link].

Binas-Preisendörfer, Susanne. 2010. Klänge im Zeitalter ihrer medialen Verfügbarkeit. Popmusik auf globalen Märkten und in lokalen Kontexten. Bielefeld: transcript.

Burkhalter, Thomas. 2015. «Remixing References.» In Seismographic Sounds. Visions of a New World, edited by Beyer, Theresa; Burkhalter, Thomas; Liechti, Hannes. 467–469. Bern: Norient Books. [Link].

Burkhalter, Thomas. 2016. «Wie Schweizer Musiker die Welt vertonen. Künstlerische und symbolische Strategien in translokalen Musikproduktionen.» In Unsichtbare Landschaften: populäre Musik und Räumlichkeit (Populäre Kultur und Musik 15), edited by Bottà, Giacomo. 159–177. Münster: Waxmann.

Butler, Mark. 2006. Unlocking the Groove. Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Chapman, Owen B. 2011. «The Elusive Allure of ‹Aura›: Sample-based Music and Benjamin's Practice of Quotation.» In Candadian Journal of Communication 36 (2). 243–261.

Cutler, Chris. 1994. «Plunderphonics.» In Music, Electronic Media and Culture, edited by Emmerson, Simon. 87–114. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Grossmann, Rolf (2005): «Collage, Montage, Sampling.» In Sound. Zur Technologie des Akustischen in den Medien, edited by Segeberg, Harro; Schätzlein, Frank. 308–331. Marburg: Schüren.

Harkins, Paul. 2010. «Appropriation, Additive Approaches and Accidents: The Sampler as Compositional Tool and Recording Dislocation.» In IASPM@Journal 1, H. 2. [Link].

Ismaiel-Wendt, Johannes. 2011. tracks'n'treks. Populäre Musik und postkoloniale Analyse. Münster: Unrast.

Ismaiel-Wendt, Johannes. 2016. post_PRESETS. Kultur, Wissen und populäre MusikmachDinge. Hildesheim/Zürich/New York: Georg Olms Verlag/Universitätsverlag der Stifung Universität Hildesheim.

Kautny, Oliver; Krims, Adam (eds.). 2010. Sampling im HipHop (Samples 10). [Link].

Kvifte, Tellef. 2007. «Digital sampling and analogue aesthetics.» In Aesthetics at Work, edited by  Melberg, A.. 105–128. Oslo: Fagbokforlaget. [Link].

Lacasse, Serge. 2000. «Intertextuality and Hypertextuality in Recorded Popular Music.» In Critical Essays in Popular Musicology, edited by Moore, Allan F.. 147–170. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Metzer, David. 2003. Quotation and Cultural Meaning in Twentieth-Century Musi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morey, Justin. 2017. A Study of Sampling Practice in British Dance Music, 1987-2012. Doctoral thesis, Leeds Beckett University. [Link].

Navas, Eduardo. 2012. Remix Theory. The Aesthetics of Sampling. Wien/New York: Springer.

Ratcliffe, Robert. 2014. «A Proposed Typology of Sampled Material Within Electronic Dance Music.» In dancecult – Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 6 (2014), No. 1: 97–122. [Link].

Reck, Hans-Ulrich. 1995. «Das Hieroglyphische und das Enzyklopädische. Perspektiven auf zwei Kulturmodelle am Beispiel 'Sampling' – Eine Problem- und Forschungsskizze.» In Sampling. Ein Symposium der Lehrkanzel für Kommunikationstheorie an der Hochschule für angewandte Kunst in Wien, edited by Reck, Hans Ulrich; Fuchs, Mathias. 6–29. Wien: Hochschule für angewandte Kunst.

Rodgers, Tara. 2003. «On the process and aesthetics of sampling in electronic music production.» In Organised Sound 8 (2003), No. 3: 313–320.

Schloss, Joseph Glenn (2004): Making beats: the art of sample-based hip-hop, Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, reprint with added afterword 2014.

Sewell, Amanda. 2013. A Typology of Sampling in Hip-Hop. Doctoral thesis, Jacobs School of Music Indiana University. [Link].

Théberge, Paul. 2004. «‹Ethnic Sounds›. The Economy and Discourse of World Music Sampling.» In Music and Technoculture, edited by Lysloff, René; Gay, Leslie. 93-108. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Williams, Justin A.. 2015. «Intertextuality, Sampling, and Copyright.» In The Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop. 206–220. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Project Credits

Research Disciplines: Anthropology, Musicology, Popular Music Studies K
eywords: Sampling, Remix, Globalization, Digitization, Music Production, Cultural Meaning

Prof. Dr. Britta Sweers (University of Bern),
Dr. Thomas Burkhalter (University of the Arts Bern)

The PhD is part of the research project «Glokale Sounds – Wie Tracks Referenzen auf Orte verarbeiten und neu kodieren» funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNF and conducted by Dr. Thomas Burkhalter (Norient).