Sample Size

Sample Size

By Austin R Ryan

            Like plenty of progressive rock fans, I fell hard in love with the genre and gave it most of my ear. I felt all too eager to spread my musical self-discovery to others, and spent plenty of evenings putting on Rush and The Mars Volta for friends and trying to explain to them why they needed to look more impressed than they did. After a I got enough “cease and desist” looks from my friends, I accepted that this genre would not be everyone’s favorite and tried to keep pressure free music exchanges going where I could. Yet the more and more I listened to progressive rock the more I found my friends giving me pieces that reminiscent of my favorite brand.

Particularly, I remember Kanye West’s Power. People loved Power, because it radiated its title. I never loved rap, and at points hated it, but Power felt fluid and forceful. I remember hearing Power again and again for a while, and whenever I did I went home and listened to King Crimson. Power featured a sample of that beautiful moment in King Crimson’s 21st century schizoid man where the music readies to lurch right into the pounding rhythm of a violently undulating trumpet, steadied by the aggressive roll of the drum and bass beat.


Power never compelled me to listen to more Kanye. It only ever made me retreat to King Crimson because that simple sample reminded of how much more I liked King Crimson than Kanye. Similarly, when I played 21st century schizoid man for friends who heard the song, they started discussing Kanye, which leads to listening to Kanye. I always expected sampling to open up musical avenues for people. So far I’ve been proven dead wrong on that note.

For my friends, that sample did not open up King Crimson, it just lead them back to Kanye, just as it only pushed me further into a prog rock cloister. When a sample really hit me nothing compelled me to pursue the source of that sample. In fact, even samples I knew did not push me to appreciate the source of the sample more. Immortal Technique wove in Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold into Land of The Gun so well that I felt my head spin like a revolver in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly whenever I heard the song. The incredible sampling made me appreciate Immortal Technique more than I had before, but it did not make me think to pick up some Ennio Morricone soundtracks, even though it was that soundtrack that ran shivers of nostalgia down my spine, and did at least some of the emotional legwork for Land of The Gun.


I felt a bit frustrated at the way samples could overpower a song and still go unrecognized and abandoned by myself and others. It seemed like samples provided an avenue for exchange that no one went down. A sample of an old song left the old song just as dead as before. However music cannot be blamed for how people listen to it, and conversely samples deliver wonderful bits of cultural memory that make them fascinating. Immortal Technique does something remarkable in Land of The Gun by using that simple sample to conjure up images of a traditional cultural view of the west as wild and untamed. He follows up on that image and uses his lyrics and the mesh of violent noise to relate it to the city streets. Similarly, Willy Moon’s sample in Railroad Track adds an element of power to the song that it would otherwise lack. That steady vocal force blends in with the tremor of noises rippling across the track. The pound of the church bell, the strike of the lightning and the soothing high and low pitch gliding into the track brings it all together beneath the Willy’s energetic voice. Without saying much, Willy Moon creates a story and the sample he uses is beyond crucial in the construction of that story.!


If there ever were an area of rap I’d tell other genres to embody, it is the sampling. Even though sampling’s full potential as a glorious touch of history for a new listener may never come to fruition, a sample can build up a story with all the deluge and force of memory and culture. A sample may not open up as many paths as it should, but it can dot the path you are headed down with scenery just as visceral as the drum roll, the guitar riff and the bass groove.


An interesting website if you want to track some samples down: