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Sample Music Festival Returns to Berlin

Working with sound samples has long been a part of modern music culture. The Sample Music Festival is the first educational music festival aimed specially for turntablism, controllerism and music production. We caught up with the founder of the festival, Alex Sonnenfeld, who has a guest lesson series at ArtistWorks on Real Instrument Skratching. This year the festival takes place in Berlin, Germany October 16-18.


What is the Sample Music Festival all about?

Alex: It's a kind of podium to exchange expert knowledge and discussion, high quality live performance and trade to get pieces of information on the developments in the individual areas. Making music by means of sampling will be made more transparent and looked at from a theoretical standpoint using lectures, discussions, workshops and performances by some of the leaders in sample music artists.

The exhibition at the festival represents the current status of turntablism technology and allows (beside established companies such as Native Instruments, Stanton, Serato, Reloop, etc.) non-profit developers to present their ideas and own-build devices. There are lots of really talented cats out there such as John Beez, Focus, SirCut, Tommy Tone or Bob Krujger who lay down the foundation for the further development of sample culture. The aim of the festival is to provide all these guys a platform.

Another concept of our keynotes and workshops is to get some personal insights from the artists. I mean in this regards, thoughts and strategies on how to tackle a music composition or routine. No matter if it's...scratching, drumming or producing. This year I´m really looking forward to the keynote presentation from Rafik who will explain how he brings today's technology and routine together. 

Last year we had ESKEI83 give a talk about his approach of being creative on the one and twos. It's a little bit different to see an artist perform on stage or in a role as a guest speaker... it reveals more of their personality and is very authentic and valuable.

Beside all this grandeurs of DJing we also have some scientists invited who usually speaks in music universities like Cambridge, New York or Hamburg. It's pretty interesting to bring all these brains together on one stage because we all deal with the same subject... and this is music.

Like this year we had Kjetil Falkenberg Hansen who wrote his PhD on analysing and modelling scratch DJ performances at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm - he'll be interviewing D-Styles live on stage. The gap between science and skratch culture is neccessary to learn from each other, and this is the essence of the whole festival - to learn from each other.

Beside all that, SMF is just a happy meeting of old and new friends who join a great time by making music together. We also capture all the music sessions and we'll release them in form of a music sampler afterwards.

sample music festival 2016How did the idea for the festival come together for you?

Alex: 2 years ago I finished my thesis on music theory for turntablism and I was searching for a possibility to present this work. In the best case I wanted a venue where turntablists, companies and science could come together. Due to the fact that nothing exists in this constellation, I hatched some plans to develop this event concept. Turntablism was born out of battle culture... the next stepin my opinion is an annual scientific meeting to become more accepted in the public eye.

Who are some of your favorite artists currently creating sample music?

Alex: Performing and creating are two different forms for me which belong together somehow. One of my favourite performers is the Gaslamp Killer... his attitude when he plays live is next level for turntable art. Beside that I like all the Low End Theory stuf; Hudson Mohawke, Doshy, D-Styles, ZEKE, Mad Zach, Teeko, Eprom, Robot Koch, so many….

How has sample music changed in the past 30 years?

Alex: It's more accepted I guess and the way people deal with samples is more advanced in a way. This is due to the amazing edit tools of Ableton and DAWs; it's not better, but different. These days you can take a millisecond of a sample and modulate it via sound design to create a new synth tone from it. So the question about sampling now where does it start and where does it end? In these days every sound can be an instrument!

How important is knowing the history of sample music to understand and appreciated?

Alex: For me as a scientist it is pretty interesting because you can link the development of skratch culture with music in general. And this is very important because you can only master your knowledge about a thing once you understand the roots. For example, the idea of modulate recorded sounds goes back to the developing of "musique concrete" by Pierre Schaeffer (1943). He was the first person who ever used recorded sound-material and presented it in a musical context. Also he played this stuff backwards and would cut the samples by different process technologies using a reel to reel tape recorder. This is just one example from history… But for all those who just wanna have fun, I don't think it's so important to know all that.

Looking back at last year’s festival, what would you have done differently?

Alex: Regarding the program, actually not so much but when it comes to the organization there are plenty of things which we can do better: promotion, set up, sound, breaks, stream, video, all that stuff. But most of the time it depends on money. I got so many ideas to advance the whole event concept. We will see what's happening within the next years. In any case it would be awesome to welcome more people from around the globe for an amazing music weekend in Berlin.

What do you think is the appeal of sample-based music?

Alex: I think it's an essential need to transform material into something new - no matter if it's clay, paper, colors, whatever. This natural process can be found since the early ages in any facet of art; but the tools are always different. It can be made by a paintbrush, gouge, or by fader and record.

Art is always a reflection of the technology which existed in that time period and the needs of that society.

What is the relationship between skratching and sampling?

Alex: Skratching is sampling by hand. You can touch sounds by hand when you move the record. The mixer allows us to influence or to modulate every musical parameter (volume, eq`s, efx) by gestures (crabs, flares, etc.). Today's technology allows these playing strategies which replace the computer and let the player speaks with his hands - and this is what's it's all about. It enables you to put some soul in the music! Although, we work on computers and manipulate sound material which we didn`t create… confusing right?

Where can we go for more info about this year’s festival?

Alex: The website is www.samplemusicfestival.comAlso please check the program to see all keynotes, workshops and performances

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