An unexpected bird, heard over and over in music since 1989: the loon
December 13, 2015 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Listen to the "Loon Garden" sample from one of the E-mu Emulator II's stock library of sounds, and it may sound familiar in an unusual way. Instead of invoking a feeling of being near the Great Lakes, you might get taken to dance floors or mixes of the past and present, from 808 State's "Pacific State" and Sueño Latino's "Sueño Latino (Paradise Mix)" (both vaguely tropical numbers from 1989), to the more recent Rustie's "Up Down (feat. D Double E)" and Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" (NSFW). Philip Sherburne tracked down the story of a sample that keeps coming back, collecting more examples and getting some great insight into a number of notable tracks.
posted by filthy light thief (41 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is so exactly in my wheelhouse*, thanks.

I don't have the time or patience to do this myself, but I really would like someone to Kickstarter up a video/book/something called "Presets", doing basically exactly this story for many of the classic presets. The Jump stab! ORCHHIT5! Digital native dance! That annoying flute at the start of "Sledgehammer"!....there are so many.

*Unrelated: hopefully I am not the only person in the world who was waiting for a "not in my wheelhouse" gag in Game Of Thrones when Tyrion was getting mightily sick of being in his wheelhouse.

posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:46 PM on December 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


That annoying flute at the start of "Sledgehammer"!.

That's also mentioned in the Pitchfork piece - it's "Shakuhachi", a Japanese flute. And now you know.

And I agree - that would be an awesome book / CD set.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of my favorite sample companies recently put out Emulator II OMI Universe of Sounds: Vol 1 which is an original third party library, so the Loons aren’t on there, but I bet most of the sounds that Mr. Mitchell just named are.
posted by bongo_x at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just love these pieces where someone totally geeks out on those overlooked pieces of common information in our lives.
posted by Samizdata at 8:57 PM on December 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's also mentioned in the Pitchfork piece - it's "Shakuhachi", a Japanese flute. And now you know.

I actually knew that! Mostly because I stumbled across a rip of that sample in an old MOD file and clumsily re-created the Sledgehammer intro as an unwashed teen, rather that doing my homework or something more life-enhancing.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:59 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suddenly feel the urge to contact the National Wildlife Service in Ottawa
posted by Space Coyote at 9:14 PM on December 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Back in the day every recording engineer I knew had that loon sound and a shakuhachi sample in their Atari S1000 floppy disk collection. I think I added the loon to about 15 different techno tracks.
posted by bhnyc at 9:16 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like this Jon?
posted by readyfreddy at 9:20 PM on December 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't have the time or patience to do this myself, but I really would like someone to Kickstarter up a video/book/something called "Presets", doing basically exactly this story for many of the classic presets.

posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:46 PM on December 13 [+] [!]


This book exists, although not in precisely the form you describe. "Disruptive gear and iconic presets, their background and impact – from Korg’s M1, Yamaha’s DX7 and Roland’s 909 to Ableton Live, Native Instruments Reaktor, Sidechain compression and Auto-Tune – are discussed with unprecedented depth and clarity."
posted by mykescipark at 9:42 PM on December 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Welp, I'm adding that to my "Christmas presents to self" list. Ta!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:47 PM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, I wonder where the people using it in current productions are getting it? I would have to guess from random folders of samples like bhnyc describes. I can’t imagine that most of them even know the source, much less have access to it.
posted by bongo_x at 9:54 PM on December 13, 2015


So, I wonder where the people using it in current productions are getting it? I would have to guess from random folders of samples like bhnyc describes. I can’t imagine that most of them even know the source, much less have access to it.
It depends. Some production communities are very interested in understanding where all the samples came from. I have a few archives of drum machine samples that are very carefully organized, for example.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:24 PM on December 13, 2015


No credit given to the actual loon. Here (for anybody who doesn't have a lake with a loon on it conveniently to hand) is an explanation of their call. The idea of a bird which waits until dusk to send out a call saying "I am here, are you?" and waits for one saying "Yes I am!" happens to be the absolute essence of clubbing (you just need to edit out the ornithologist).
posted by rongorongo at 10:35 PM on December 13, 2015 [16 favorites]


Oh, I loved this so much. The Emulator II video is just a goldmine of 'So that's where that came from!' moments. Also, it lead me to (rediscover) the marvellous, drifty magic of Derrick May's 'Sueño Latino' remix...
posted by prismatic7 at 10:45 PM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ooh, thanks prismatic7; I haven't heard that Derrick May remix in years! Brings back some good memories, that does
posted by matrixgeek at 1:15 AM on December 14, 2015


As a midwesterner from generations of scando-germans whose only vacation choice was fishing trips to wilderness cabins on lakes, this feels really jarring. Of course it all makes sense now.

Hard to believe the Emulator was 10 grand worth of studio tech, now basically free.

The loon on Pacific state is easy to pick out, but I clicked the Anaconda video and funny enough, that much Butt seems to make it impossible to hear the samples.
posted by C.A.S. at 3:36 AM on December 14, 2015


Oh wicked this is my chance to ask about a related mysterious dance music sample which I always think about and can never communicate to my peers.

Problem is I can't find any tracks with it in right now...

It appears mostly in (ragga?) jungle, and it's a cross between a baby squawking and a dog's squeaky toy. It goes, "eh-er" in a fairly high pitch. Does anyone know what I'm talking about here?
posted by liliillliil at 4:38 AM on December 14, 2015


rongorongo: The idea of a bird which waits until dusk to send out a call saying "I am here, are you?" and waits for one saying "Yes I am!" happens to be the absolute essence of clubbing

I would now love to see a parody David Attenborough piece on "the lonesome and seductive call of the Whistle Possee in it's native environs."
posted by filthy light thief at 4:51 AM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a sample-loving musician, I was always shocked by the fact that, given the amazing capability samplers give us to produce gorgeous new landscapes composited out of sonic materials only available to us with cut and spliced tape before, so many high-flying musicians just took their Fairlights and Emulators into the studio and played nothing but stock sounds. It's like having a damn TARDIS and only using it to go grocery shopping.

One of the reasons I fell in love with The Residents, for instance, was that, as one of the first groups to use an Emulator (I) on an album, they took the possibilities offered by sampling and made something that sounded like nothing else out there. The fact that big name musicians could afford to hire whole teams of Fairlight techs and yet still plaster their dire eighties albums with nothing but strings of the same sounds everyone else was using was just...sad.

There are just two reasons to use ARR1 in a song: (A) It's 1981 and you are Slava Tsukerman and you're just learning the basics of the Fairlight CMI at PASS to score your peculiar take on the NYC new wave scene, or (B) you're Thomas Dolby in the studio in 1983 and it's Miller Time at the bar where all the English meet. It's a gorgeous, evocative sound...and it's already been used brilliantly. Let's move on, shall we?

Mind you, I'm a preset-hater, so that's my full disclosure. I play gigs with a friend who's a modular synth freak (I'm not rolling my eyes, honest I'm not) and more of an eighties-devotee than I'm inclined to be, and the one paramount rule in our sets is that he never, ever use that fucking horrendous 909 handclap at any given point. He thinks it's a perfectly respectable sonic punctuation mark; I think it's the aural version of clusters of weeping anal warts that turns every crack in the music into a carnie sideshow of horror.

I recently went on a relistening binge with my all-time favorite of Kate's, The Dreaming, and was quite pleased to note that, of the stock sounds she used, the grainy old tiresome chestnuts were nowhere to be found, and she hadn't discovered Page R yet, so her percussion still had some life in it. Thank goodness some folks along the way knew how to use the Fairlight as something other than a gigantic cash machine full of cheap and cheesy hits.
posted by sonascope at 5:01 AM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't have the time or patience to do this myself, but I really would like someone to Kickstarter up a video/book/something called "Presets", doing basically exactly this story for many of the classic presets. The Jump stab! ORCHHIT5! Digital native dance! That annoying flute at the start of "Sledgehammer"!....there are so many.

Me too.

More specifically, I was wondering recently whether anyone had compiled a taxonomy of orchestra hit samples; I know that ORCHHIT5 is the classic one, though there are some others (Korg and Roland had their own, and there was another which was used in a lot of late-80s pop/R&B records, which is distinct from the one used in 1990s boy-band hits styled along those lines).
posted by acb at 5:03 AM on December 14, 2015


It appears mostly in (ragga?) jungle, and it's a cross between a baby squawking and a dog's squeaky toy. It goes, "eh-er" in a fairly high pitch. Does anyone know what I'm talking about here?

You might be thinking of the "Yeah! Woo!" sample, famous enough for its' own wikipedia page.
posted by scodger at 5:19 AM on December 14, 2015


I wonder if you're thinking of a Brazillian cuica.
posted by Evstar at 5:39 AM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


no credit given to the actual loon

The birds never get any respect, not even when they cover the Rolling Stones (Flashplayer popup). (From the excellent Do or DIY with People Like Us podcast on WFMU, full playlist for this episode here)
posted by gorbichov at 6:07 AM on December 14, 2015


I suddenly feel the urge to contact the National Wildlife Service in Ottawa

My wife and I were camping in Parc national du Mont-Tremblant and I heard a loon and almost flipped out, it was so cool. It is seriously the only bird call I can ID, thanks in no small part to owning, for no good reason, The Cry of The Loon.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:45 AM on December 14, 2015


liliillliil: Could it be "Happy Baby", from a 1964 collection of sound effects? (warning, WhoSampled rabbithole)

Famously heard in Prince's "Delirious" and Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?", but surely appears in jungle, as so many samples eventually do.
posted by hollyholly at 6:52 AM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mind you, I'm a preset-hater, so that's my full disclosure.

I can see where you're coming from to an extent. When I get a new VST effect I wipe the presents if possible, then spend some time with a good pair of headphones sweeping through the different knobs to see how they interact with each other. I find a lot of manufacturers make slightly over the top presets to pop out and show what they can do, but which are tacky or over the top in the long run. Especially compressors and mastering plugins.

VST instruments on the other hand are often a bit more complicated and the presets can be handy to have as a jumping off point.

One thing I do hate is when some indie band is lauded for 'incorporating electronic influences' and it turns out they've just gone for the first shitty stock no-swing drum machine preset they found.
posted by kersplunk at 6:57 AM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Fairlight CMI, one of the other huge synths of the 1980's that cost bazillions at the time is available as an app for your iPad for around $40US. 80's powerhouse Art of Noise was basically a demo for Fairlight.
posted by misterpatrick at 8:15 AM on December 14, 2015


Is it telling that as soon as I read 808 state I knew exactly which sound this was? Great FPP, will read more after work.
posted by marienbad at 8:27 AM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


:)

I heard the loon in the latest Essential Mix by Roman Flugel, and that's also what it brought to mind, even though it was a clearly different track. Still, it took me back and made me wonder "what exactly is that sound?" I thought it was a whippoorwill, but found no mention of such a bird in Pacific State, then came upon the loon article in Pitchfork.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:06 AM on December 14, 2015


Filthy Light Thief: my one-stop-shop for enlightening information about the electronic music I grew up listening to. (And which I suppose now qualifies as "oldies.")

I've obsessed over electronic music since my early teens, but had basically no access to the related community or culture, so I had no idea who was doing what or what sort of tastes were forming in the genre. Sometimes I taped stuff off the college radio station, sometimes I would get lucky and stumble onto a CD compilation that appealed to me. Very occasionally, I'd meet someone who shared my tastes and we'd swap CDs. In retrospect, it felt like groping around in the dark, clinging on to any shining light I could find, but still having little idea of the space I was navigating.

Now, thanks to Internet, it's pretty easy to get a sense of how modern music all fits together, it's easy to connect with people who share that taste, and it's easy to see what is and is not popular. And, over time, I've been able to piece together ideas about the landscape of the music I liked in the 80s and 90s.

But nothing—nothing!—like I have discovered in Filthy Light Thief FPPs. So, thank you for shining light on this loon sample that always bumped me whenever I heard it, but moreso: thank you for (perhaps epon… ironically?) all of your very illuminating posts.
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2015


When I heard the loon, my first thought was Demon's Theme by LTJ Bukem. Good shit.

As for this question: It appears mostly in (ragga?) jungle, and it's a cross between a baby squawking and a dog's squeaky toy.

I almost think maybe I know what you're talking about. Is it Lyn Collins "Think About It"?

In particular, the sound I'm thinking of is u-ziq - Meinheld (amongst other samples he's used this on), and Squarepusher's "Come on my Selector"? (Both links are to whosampled so you can hear the sampled bit and the source).
posted by symbioid at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons I fell in love with The Residents, for instance, was that, as one of the first groups to use an Emulator (I) on an album, they took the possibilities offered by sampling and made something that sounded like nothing else out there...

On their 1986 tour they were performing some pretty cool live versions of older songs (Lizard Lady) re-arranged for Emulator. The Residents were very forward thinking about the possibilities of sampling.

The fact that big name musicians could afford to hire whole teams of Fairlight techs and yet still plaster their dire eighties albums with nothing but strings of the same sounds everyone else was using was just...sad.

It's funny. With a little bit of custom FM tweaking you can make a DX7 sound unearthly, but instead every recording from the mid-80's used that same horrid fake electric piano patch (shudders).
posted by ovvl at 11:25 AM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]



The Fairlight CMI, one of the other huge synths of the 1980's that cost bazillions at the time is available as an app for your iPad for around $40US. 80's powerhouse Art of Noise was basically a demo for Fairlight.


Not just iPad - the thing runs on my iPhone, which is insane. Plus Peter Vogel even updates it every now and then.
posted by lagomorphius at 11:28 AM on December 14, 2015


With a little bit of custom FM tweaking you can make a DX7 sound unearthly

Brian Eno got it (most people couldn't bother to figure it out).

"Eh-er" doesn't really strike me as an accurate description of the Think Break, but people do ask about that one a lot, either not understanding that the vocal bit comes with the drums or not recognizing it when it's pitched up.
posted by atoxyl at 11:32 AM on December 14, 2015


Regarding the unfortunately-renamed Peter Vogel CMI app, I'm still holding out until Vogel figures out that no Fairlight fan who ever lived is remotely interested in simulating the lousy power supply of the CMI or wants to hear floppy drive sound effects, complete with a selectable success/failure factor in whether your drive will work. Could be such a neat thing, but instead, it's an expensive nostalgia toy. Shame.
posted by sonascope at 2:40 PM on December 14, 2015


you can make a DX7 sound unearthly, but instead every recording from the mid-80's used that same horrid fake electric piano patch (shudders).

Jesus, that takes me back to the eighties and just how excited the music geek and indulged kid in my suburb were to get ahold of one of the first DX7s after NAMM. Ugh. Other sounds of the era that should die but will probably get nostalgia reflected - the Roland Jazz Chorus guitar sound, and the gated fucking drum.

Although Townhouse Studios, in my neighborhood in London and ground zero for Phil Collin's creation of In the Air, has been turned into million pound condos, so hopefully that sound can never come back and the only the new yuppies homeowners get haunted by the ghost of those fills.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:23 PM on December 14, 2015


With a little bit of custom FM tweaking you can make a DX7 sound unearthly

Brian Eno got it (most people couldn't bother to figure it out).


While I am a consummate Eno enthusiast, as a programmer of fine sounds, I should point out that he didn't use the traditional means by which one had to approach the DX7 to develop his mastery, and instead had a big buck Jellinghaus knob-based programmer, so he could sort of feel his way around with a zillion knobs on a huge blue box instead of navigating the menu system like the rest of the world.
posted by sonascope at 4:54 PM on December 14, 2015


(old Moonlighting reruns. get it now for your DX7 fix forever)

Yes to mining old MOD files for sample heritage.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:40 PM on December 14, 2015


In particular, the sound I'm thinking of is u-ziq - Meinheld (amongst other samples he's used this on), and Squarepusher's "Come on my Selector"?

That's what I immediately thought of too. It does get used in a llllllot of jungle and breakcore.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:27 PM on December 14, 2015


As regards the DX7, I was for many years the proud owner and utterly bemused user of a DX21, which took the DX7's FM synthesis, simplified it, and made it harder to program. I ended up selling the thing on ebay and hating myself for not having that sound available (NI's FM8 and Ableton's Operator just aren't the same...)

Then I got one of the last batch of Xavier Hosxe's derangedly magnificent PreenFM2 expanders. Not only does it load DX7 sound banks, but it's 4-part multitimbral and has a comprehensible knobs-and-buttons interface. And there's a random patch generator to get you started with the grindy, fizzy nonsense.

Basically, you can sound like early Front 242... or later Front 242, as the whim takes you :)
posted by prismatic7 at 7:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read some interesting stuff about why the DX series aren't quite replicated by the likes of FM8. They had a lot of weird approximate math going on to make everything work on the limited hardware. I've seen the PreenFM before and it looks cool but I wasn't sure whether it actually includes that sort of black magic or is just contemporary DSP in a box. Because I mean - software has done a lot for making FM less of a pain in the ass.
posted by atoxyl at 4:04 AM on December 15, 2015


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