Digital Technology and Music / Digital Sampling Challenges Both Theory, Practice of Music Industry

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - Digital sampling, a new technology that allows any sound to be recorded, re-created and manipulated by compute r, has begun to change the way music is made. It also challenges the ethical, legal and economic basis of copyright protection - and may demand new definitions of originality in music.

Sampling can be compared to cloning an entire organism from a single cell. A digital sampler can generate a melody - or a symphony - from a one-note sample. With a sampler and a handful of record albums, for instance, a keyboardist can easily fabricate a ""performance'' from the sounds of John Coltrane's saxophone, Gene Krupa's drums, Paul McCartney's electric bass, Murray Perahia's piano and the voices of Enrico Caruso and Sarah Vaughan - combined in a piece that they never performed.

""Sound sampling is the epitome of technology trying to squeeze into copyright law where it just doesn't fit,'' said M. William Krasilovsky, a lawyer and the co-author of the authoritative ""This Business of Music.''

""Suppose you use Jascha Heifetz's sound to play "Rock Around the Clock,' '' Krasilovsky said. ""If you put his name on it, you would be abusing his right of privacy. But if you simply used his distinguishable sound and refashioned it, it may be protected under copyright law as a derivative work.''

Sampling has already begun to have a major impact on the music business on many fronts, including these:

- Artistically, sampling offers musicians unparalleled flexibility. It puts virtually any sound - live or recorded, natural or synthetic - at a performer's finger tips, allowing musicians to reshape borrowed sound in new contexts.

- Economically, sampling threatens the employment of studio and concert performers. With the realistic sounds of strings, winds, orchestras and choirs at a single player's disposal, there is less need to hire musicians on individual instruments.

- Legally, the ability of digital samplers to borrow recognizable sounds raises questions that current laws do not address. For example, if the sounds of recognizable musicians are assembled ina facsimile performance, whose performance is it? Does it belong to the musicians who played the samples, or the musicians who assembled them, or both? …