Bonobo's World of Sampling
Bonobo or Simon Green, has laid the foundations of his sound with samples. He has added in elements such as acoustic guitars and drum sets to his live shows, but sampling is where it all really began. So, what sounds was he drawing inspiration from? He says early traditional Hip-Hop, grabbing beats and working with those. "I was digging for thrift store drum breaks or raiding the exotica section in record stores to find an interesting sound palette to sample."(Ableton.com, 2017)
Now he looks for sonic texture and sounds that are more atmospheric - as we can hear in Migration (link is available below). "If I’m sampling from vinyl, I’m going to the avant-garde free jazz section."(Ableton.com, 2017) However , these days it's not really a vinyl situation anymore due to the way technology has influenced music so artists like Bonobo can sample from YouTube or any online platform that offers music to be sampled - there are many.
The question you might be asking is : different sampling platforms would surely carry different textures? Getting a sample from YouTube has a grainy effect and that effects what sound you'll be able to make from that. Bonobo states that this can either make or break the aesthetic you're going for. The way it can be manipulated and re-contextualised is where Bonobo's skill comes in and his passion shines through. Taking a familiar sound and creating something "that is in fact something familiar but cleverly manipulated or juxtaposed to something else to make it sound completely out of this world." (Ableton.com, 2017) Which i can completely resonate with as an artist, wanting to bend and break the rules to fit my vision is a great way to make music and push boundaries.
An example of this manipulation and re-contextualising is a song by Erykah Badu produced by Madlip where he uses a Japanese rock record and flips it into an 808's style rhythm. This is what Bonobo is talking about where it's familiar but turned into something completely different by turning it onto it's head.
Are you curious about Bonobo's techniques? Well look no further. "One of the biggest tools is simply re-pitching a sound to make it sound completely different. Slowing things down and speeding things up. To me that’s where you get some really interesting tones. Especially with acoustic instruments when they are pitched in a way that they could never be played."(Ableton.com, 2017) Warping is a great example on how Ableton changed the game with being able to take a sample of audio and slow it down/ speed it up without damaging the audio too much beyond use (although sometimes that creates the aesthetic you're looking for).
You might ask next then, is there a specific method to his madness? Like a lot of creatives I know, the process is unstructured and a bit messy. It's intricate and delicate in his Ableton sessions as he says "...like when the gain balance between two samples will create a harmony in the middle, which didn’t exist in either before."(Ableton.com, 2017) This is something I really resonate with again and can definitely say is a fun way to create, when things just happen and a mistake ends up sounding unique and amazing. He also says it's important how these sounds are sequenced that creates a sense of flow which musically makes sense because one beat being too off or in the wrong place could throw everything off or be slightly too far from the sound you're looking for.
Another method he uses is the process of elimination. Lets say he has 3 sounds, the first was the fundamental or framework and there are now two other elements. He'll take that first framework away and have these two sounds that probably wouldn't have been anything on their own, but in context they create something weird and wonderful. He also likes to work on one thing at a time, have room for internal references for that specific project and taking space to let a project breathe is another method of Bonobo's. When you're not feeling it, just give it some space as it's easy to get bogged down on something.
Some of the equipment and software Bonobo uses are in the box of Ableton. Things like effects chains, vocal treatments chops and edits, sampling sounds around him and sounds of nature, effects on bass ("I often use a return channel to get some shape out of the bass. It’s a good way to split the frequencies of the bass so that the sub bass is clean and in mono and the higher end of the bass sound can be filtered off")(XLR8R, 2019)
Bonobo's genre is Nu Jazz, Trip-Hop, Electronica and Downtempo. One of my favourite songs of his and a good example of sampling is Migration, find the video below.