December 24, 2004

The Place of Xmas-Carolling Dogs In The History Of Sample-Based Music

Danish field recordist Carl Weismann was one of the pioneers of wildlife sound recording. His great passion was birds… and his great nemesis was dogs. Back in the 50’s, while attempting to recorded clear uninterrupted birdsong, he found his efforts continually hampered by the interjections of barking canines. As they would wouldn’t go away when the tape was rolling, he was forced to get around this by becoming a master at locating these barks on the recorded tape then cutting them out with a scalpel. This naturally left him with a whole library of snippets of recorded dog barks. Instead of throwing them out, Carl decided to have some fun with them.
He took one of the simplest melodies ever composed, “Jingle Bells”, found dog barks whose tones approximated to each of the notes, and assembled it all into a festive novelty record. Originally, it was intended only for broadcast on Danish children’s radio, but in 1955, it found its way on to a single that got world wide release and it became a hit (selling 500,000 copies in the US).
And thus it became one of the more significant pieces of early sample-based music. There were experiments in tape manipulation by the likes of John Cage and Pierre Schaffer well before Weismann’s corny efforts, but only the elite were privy to these. In contrast, Weismann’s singing dogs were lapped up by the punters and arguably paved the way for popular music based on cutting and splicing, and sampling and sequencing.
If you’d like to hear the doggy bird-botherers in reassembled action, here’s an mp3. A reasonably priced 1971 vinyl repressing of Jingle Bells and Oh Susanna by the Singing Dogs can be purchased through Classic 45’s. (Weismann info plucked from Haunted Weather by David Toop)

Posted by Warren at December 24, 2004 01:57 AM | Xmas