The story of ORCH5, or, the classical ghost in the hip-hop machine

  • Fink R
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Perhaps the first digital sample to become well known within popular music was actually a piece of Western art music, the fragment of Stravinsky's Firebird captured within the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, the first digital 'sampler', as 'ORCH5'. This loud orchestral attack was made famous by Bronx DJ Afrika Bambaataa, who incorporated the sound into his seminal 1982 dance track, 'Planet Rock'. Analysis of Kraftwerk's 'Trans Europe Express', also sampled for 'Planet Rock', provides an interpretive context for Bambaataa's use of ORCH5, as well as the hundreds of songs that deliberately sought to copy its sound. Kraftwerk's concerns about the decadence of European culture and art music were not fully shared by users of ORCH5 in New York City; its sound first became part of an ongoing Afro-futurist musical project, and by 1985 was fully naturalised within the hip-hop world, no more 'classical' than the sound of scratching vinyl. To trace the early popular history of ORCH5's distinctive effect, so crucial for early hip-hop, electro, and Detroit techno, is to begin to tell the post-canonic story of Western art music.

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  • Robert Fink

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