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Ugh, stop twitching
the psychological ramifications of sampling a friend
music Posted 2009-09-12 16:34:36 by Jim Crawford
Not so long ago, Chris and I were having lunch and talking about our respective storied musical histories. He described a situation to me: in the late 90s, he was sitting in a friend's house, making noise with a cheap acoustic guitar by plucking and striking in ways a guitar was never intended to be plucked or struck. While picking at the strings between the nut and the tuning pegs, he found a tone he liked: “Hm! This sounds Asian!” (2009-Chris relayed this thought in a self-deprecatory tone, being much more familiar with Asian cultural music than his past self.) So he sampled the tone, and wrote a tune around it.

Perhaps a year after that, I grabbed the sample and wrote a tune using it myself. I hadn't known the story behind it at the time, but now whenever I listen to my tune, I can't help but imagine that there's a tiny bit of late-90s-Chris-Hampton-abusing-a-guitar-at-his-friend's-house embedded throughout. It adds a little bit of emotional depth and a little bit of historical resonance. A recording is a slender cross-section of the life being recorded, and listening to someone else's recording adds a little bit of their life to your own.

But when I pulled a similar stunt with the modified organ Paul McCartney played in the opening of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, it was harder to feel the same way, even though there's presumably an even more elaborate story involved in the creation of that exact tone. Perhaps if I were personal friends with Paul and he relayed the story to me himself, my feelings would be different.

So it makes me a little bit sad that I'm the only person who is going to think of Chris's story when hearing the song. In fact, just about any work is inevitably going to have special historical resonance for the people involved in creating it that the audience isn't going to share. It requires a little bit more effort from the artist, to be able to see past the context he provides for his own work, and make it accessible to people who don't share the context.

It also helps that the audience builds in their own historical resonances. (And in my case, I think I've come to terms with the fact that for the most part, I'm the primary audience for my own music.)
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