10 of Music’s Weirdest Sources for Samples


This week sees the release of The Marriage of True Minds, the new album by Matmos, and as much as anything, this means that we’re excited to spend hours on end picking over where on earth all the sounds on the record in question come from. The Baltimore-based duo have long been some of the music world’s foremost exponents of sampling all sorts of weird and wonderful sources for the sounds they use, and in celebration of the arrival of their new record, we thought we’d look at their weirdest moments, along with some other artists who’ve specialized in finding samples in strange places.


Sources: surgery, aspirin tablets, a rat cage

One of the most continuously fascinating aspects of Matmos’s career over the years has been the question of what on earth they’re gonna sample next. The answer to that question has involved all sorts of weird shit, from the pages of a Bible turning to the sound of aspirin tablets being thrown at a drum kit. Still, for sheer disconcerting strangeness, it’s hard to go past their 2001 EP A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure, which featured samples of liposuction surgery, LASIK eye surgery, rhinoplasty, and “the plucked and bowed cage of our rat Felix.” Yikes.

Matthew Herbert

Sources: food

Herbert has made a career out of making music that samples unusual sounds, sounds that often tie into the conceptual themes that underlie his albums. His 2005 record Plat du Jour was a sort of aural equivalent to Fast Food Nation, addressing the question of where our food comes from by sampling the sounds of the processes that go into putting meals on our plates, from 3,255 eating apples to a tank running over a meal eaten by Tony Blair and George Bush. 2011’s One Pig took the idea a step further, being comprised entirely of the sounds from the life of, yes, one pig, from its birth until its abrupt end at the hands of an abattoir worker.

Hype Williams

Sources: Ezra Pound

There are all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds on Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s records, and we’re guessing that their signature woozy beats and synth sounds are based around at least some measure of wacked-out sampling techniques. Nothing, however, was quite as unexpected as their sampling giant of modernist poetry, T.S. Eliot editor, and fascist sympathizer Ezra Pound — which they did on “Bad Mind,” above.

Einsturzende Neubaten

Sources: sheet metal, shopping trolleys, a freeway pillar

In NU Unruh, the German industrial pioneers have a full-time sampler of crazy sounds, and it’s something that’s shaped their singular aesthetic over the years. Memorably, they recorded their first record inside one of the columns that held up an expressway near Berlin, and the experience of listening to their work (especially their early stuff) is kinda summed up by the title of one of the tracks off their second album, Kollaps: “Schmerzen Hören (Hören mit Schmerzen),” which translates as “(Hearing Pain (Listen With Pain).” Quite.


Sources: a street crossing

“Walk Now” (above) was clearly influenced by the Hartnoll brothers’ trip down under — the bass is a didgeridoo sample, which isn’t especially unusual, but the sound that drops at 2:06 or so is somewhat more distinctive. The terse electronic beeps could come from anywhere — unless, of course, you happen to hail from your correspondent’s home town of Melbourne, in which they’re instantly recognizable as coming from one of the city’s numerous pedestrian crossings. The slow beeps signify “Don’t walk,” while the frantic, sped-up sound signifies that it’s time to cross.

Tori Amos

Sources: various aspects of a bull

Amos’s field recordings are responsible for some of the more unusual sounds that crop up on her tracks — unsurprisingly, there’s an exhaustive fan-compiled archive of what’s what here (right at the bottom of the page.) Perhaps the most unusual source is that for the sounds on “Professional Widow,” Amos’s gloriously snarky swipe at Courtney Love: “The roaring sound that you hear in the rhythm loop of the song is actually a bull roaring. Additionally Tori has said that the sound of bullshit being shoveled has literally been mixed into that loop.”

Aphex Twin

Sources: his own face

We’ve mentioned this before at some point, but it bears discussing again: embedded into the waveform of the second track on Richard D. James’ Windowlicker is an image of the producer’s (rather terrifying) face. If you’re interested in how it works, there’s more information here. And what does the face sound like? Ear-bleeding noise, obviously.


Source: Annie

“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” is so ubiquitous these days that it’s easy to forget just what a weird piece of work it is — using a sample from a Broadway musical wasn’t exactly a well-trodden path to commercial success on the song’s release in 1998. Even better, by the way, is the fact that Jay-Z lied through his teeth to get clearance for the sample.

Diego Stocco

Source: a tree

We mentioned the work of Californian producer Diego Stocco earlier this year when we looked at crazy homemade instruments. Stocco samples all sorts of crazy sources, although we still think the best thing he ever did was the track above, which is entirely based around samples of one of those strange little bonsai trees.

Sonic Youth

Source: an amplifier dying

Almost lost amongst the majesty of the rest of Daydream Nation, “Providence” is a piece of beautiful musique concrète-influenced atmospheric sound, built around a reflective piano melody, a couple of reverb-laden messages left by Mike Watt on Thurston Moore’s answering machine, and a curious background noise that sounds something like the wind on a particularly crazy New York day. It turns out, however, that what you’re hearing is actually the sound of one of Moore’s long-suffering Peavey amps melting down. Of course it is.