1. Such nostalgic and recuperative intentions are evident in a great deal of music that samples old sounds and recordings, or more directly with bands like Counting Crows that attempt to restore the sound of classic rock by returning to "authentic instruments" current in the sixties such as the Hammond B3 organ. Significantly, this trend has continued across the divide from vacuum tubes to transistors with the revival of interest in the "quirky" sounds of an earlier generation of analog synthesizers from the seventies. In this framework the defining characteristics of the older technology are valued over the new, rather than brokenness or obsolescence, musicians speak of the warmth, authenticity, humanity, and even sexuality of analog sounds, tube amplifies, and vinyl LPs, as compared to the coldness, inauthenticity, and disembodied character of digital recording, integrated circuits, and compact discs (Goodwin 1988 265, Théberge 207-13). Eno describes how the apparent "weaknesses" and limitations of instruments and media, these aspects regarded as "most undesirable," become ‘their cherished trademark." (see fn. 6) There are, to be sure, genuine demonstrable acoustic reasons for the strength of feeling on this subject—digital media do have certain limitations in contrast to analog—but the terms in which the debate is carried out suggests that the issue goes far beyond the aural dimension. In a 1999 Spin magazine interview Matt Sharp of The Rentals remarked, for example,

    Analog synths are a lot more sexual than digital synths. I definitely have a relationship with them that goes beyond man-and-machine. They’ll work for one take, but on the second one they’ll change completely. They’re like "Fuck you"—like a stuck up cat. ("Man in the Moog" 52)

  2. Perhaps the most common way the "warmth" of analog is evoked is through the use the sound of scratchy surface noise in the background. The approach is similar to what happens in the Portishead example above, but without the disruptive intrusions of silence. Instead, the sound of vinyl provides a soothing blanket of noise, giving the other musical material a patina of age and physicality—as if to restore Benjamin’s lost aura to the work by reembedding it in the fabric of tradition.10 The way the sounds of old machines are used in this recuperative or restorative mode can be compared to what happens in Pink Floyd’s "Wish You Were Here," in that both depend for their meaning on the presentation of an earlier sound world while rendering transparent the modern apparatus that makes it all possible. Indeed the effect of authenticity depends on investing the old technologies with the illusion of reality, through techniques that can be compared to the "reality effect" in film theory.11

  3. Trip hop band Alpha created a similar sort of "reality effect" in the song "Over" from their 1998 release Pepper. Here the sound of a scratched record is at first foregrounded and then absorbed into a rhythm track with which it remains perfectly synchronized and integrated for the rest of the song. What in the age of vinyl would have been interpreted as a flaw, as a sign of brokenness, is here reinscribed as "antique" and located in a sphere of comfort defined by the band’s use of samples by Herb Albert and other soft music of the seventies. Only at the very end is a disturbing element introduced with a distorted vocal sample that undercuts the preceding calm.

  4. Significantly, this synchronized scratch effect could only happen with a sampled record scratch. If this were an actual scratch on an actual vinyl disc the inward spiral of the tracks would not allow the scratch to stay in rhythm with the music.12 This manufactured defect is typical of what can be done with hardware and software tools now available to musicians, which, as Stan Link has described, make it easy to introduce the non-linear response of analog instruments, all aspects of turntable noise, and the blurring, static, and distortion associated with the sound of lo-fidelity.

  5. The character of "Over," which contrasts sharply with the more manic dance pieces earlier on the CD, can be explained by its concluding function as the last track, bringing the listener down to a contemplative state. A similar technique is used at the end of Mezzanine by Massive Attack (1998) which recreates the silent scratchy bands at the end of a record, thus capturing the moments of afterglow when an album was over before you lifted the needle. The last track of the 1999 release Play by Moby uses a related effect in the song "My Weakness." The piece features a grainy sample of choral singing, as if overheard across a great distance of space and time. Significantly, as the source for the sample is not identified in the liner notes, it enters into the vague and timeless category of "historic field recordings" of African-American music from the first half the century from which many of the samples are drawn on the CD.13 We hear the sounds through a dense mist of scratches, hiss, and added echoing effects, and gradually the choral sounds are swallowed up in synthesized strings and resonant piano chords evoking a Coplandesque Americana.

  6. It is not coincidental that all three of the preceding examples of an intensely nostalgic and restorative use of old sounds are the final tracks on the recordings, thus embedded from the start with a sense of endings, memory, and the past. It is as if the intentionally faked antique character is understood and acknowledged on some level as a sort of imperfect and ultimately futile consolation. In comparable terms, Paul Théberge cites Jonathan Crane’s commentary on the "interpretative instability," produced by "Golden Oldies," as "the airing of past hits ultimately mak[ing] us even more aware of our affective place in the present" (205-6).

  7. The underlying elegiaic character of Moby’s "My Weakness" and many other pieces that sample old sounds—as if mourning for what is irrevocably lost in the past—has a significant racial dimension. The search for authenticity and wholeness has often been bound with notions of whiteness and blackness. Many of the compositional techniques discussed here originated in hiphop music, and pieces draw explicitly on a range of African-American styles. Tricia Rose has described rap music’s involvement with "faulty, obsolete equipment" and the deconstuctive techniques of using machines against their original purposes: "Worked out on the rusting urban core as a playground, hip hop transforms stray technological parts intended for cultural and industrial trash heaps into sources of pleasure or power" (22). While acknowledging the critical and oppositional aspects of these reconfigurations of technology, she emphasizes the recuperative intent of hip hop sampling by linking it to black poetic traditions and cultural forms. Rose describes the prevalent sampling of Motown recordings, and rhythm and blues within hip hop as "paying homage, as archival research, as school" (74-75).

  8. The situation is more complicated when, as is often the case, hiphop techniques and samples are taken over by white DJs or musicians. Certainly there is still a concern with paying homage, of archival research, of capturing something of the presence of James Brown. The liner notes for DJ Shadow’s Entroducing from 1996, proclaim "This Album reflects a lifetime of vinyl culture," and "All respect to James Brown and his countless disciples for inventing modern music." The cover illustration shows a record store with customers flipping through stacks of vinyl LPs. FatBoy Slim’s You’ve Come a Long Way Baby similarly shows a wall full of sagging shelves stuffed with vinyl. But there are inevitable anxieties that seem to accompany this pursuit of the real through the sampling of African-American music. This is dramatized in many pieces through the opposition of black voices, with recordings of stereotypical white voices, often explicitly linked to main stream media, corporate America, educational films (see, for example, FatBoy Slim’s "Rockafeller Skank.")

  9. Anxiety about the ultimate failure of efforts to capture a sense of wholeness or reality through old sounds and samples strongly marks the music of The Lo-Fidelity All Stars. On their How to Operate with a Blown Mind, (1998) the British band makes extensive use of scratchy records, and old instruments, and samples, many of which are taken from African-American music. But their treatment of the borrowed materials emphasizes their artificiality and age, their status as quotations. Simon Reynolds has written of the poignant effect of this "Dance Music from England with a Dark Side," as reflecting "the plight of the contemporary musicians whose memory is overloaded with echoes from the past (40). This is particularly clear in "Nighttime Story," again the final track on the album, which is assembled from layered loops of a drum track, distorted African-American voices, and a soul singer. Underlying it all is an antiquated melodramatic organ, alternating between two chords with an intense soap opera/funeral home tremolo.

  10. The sampled musical elements initially seem incompatible with the verbal images in the spoken text that introduces the piece:

    Bombers rip across the screen
    laying waste to city’s dreams
    and what’s it all going to mean/
    when audio psychosis spills
    from the speakers’ cones
    and you can hear the music tear
    tearing through your bones.

    Each sample by itself would seem expressive, affirmative, and hopeful as they repeat, "Peace brother Peace," "Keep on, keeping on," and "Come on back to me." But the obsessive mechanical repetitions of the loops and their superimposition prevents the listener from accepting them as genuine or grasping hold of them—with every repetition they slip further away. The process culminates when the loops suddenly stop and a recorded white voice, with a "square" American accent as if from some ‘50’s film, says, "I had no idea it had to end in such tragedy." The CD thus ends with a real sense of loss, but it is as if no one remains to feel it.