The sound that connects Stravinsky to Bruno Mars

I’ll play it again. It’s a sound effect called an orchestra hit. Bruno Mars, he’s the king
of nostalgia and he used that effect in “Finesse” to take you back to the 80’s. Take a listen to any pop, dance, or hip hop song in the 80’s or 90’s and you’re gonna
hear a version of it. There are all types of orchestral hits. But the original one, this one here. Isn’t from a few decades ago. In fact it was first played in 1910 at the Paris Opera. We can thankfully hear the greatest composer of our time, Stravinsky, performing
his own works. Telling us all those subtleties of his musical wishes and
intentions, which could never be fully documented in the cold black print of a
score. This is the famed 20th century Russian
composer Igor Stravinsky. He’s about 80 years old here, but when he first
composed the Firebird Suite he was… 28 years old. Holy sh*t. And during his adult life the world changed dramatically, two or three
times. That’s Robert Fink, he wrote a history of that sound you just heard. Firebird is his first major successful piece it made his reputation. Everybody
loved the Firebird. Stravinsky is like one of those rock stars who has one huge
hit early on in their career and then they have to play that song every
concert for the rest of their lives. He adjusted the score a bit over the
years but the jarring opener of one of the last scenes in the ballet remained
one of Firebird’s most dramatic moments. Right, because what it is is it’s
basically a gesture for the orchestra. It shocks the hell out of you, in
the context of the original piece. So how did that — become so ubiquitous that in
1992, NWA said this about it on Straight Out of Compton? To figure that
out you have to go to Australia. I’m Peter Vogel, I developed the first
commercial sampling synthesizer which was the Fairlight CMI back in about 1975. The other person who was involved was Kim Ryrie. This is the Fairlight CMI. To put it simply it’s one of the most influential
musical innovations of the past 100 years. It was one of the very first
digital synthesizers, a digital audio workstation, and the first digital sampler
all in one. With the aid of computers, you could create the music that you had in
your head a lot more easily than if you had to sit down and learn to play
instruments from scratch. It was really a lazy shortcut. You got to see this
unbelievable machine, I don’t even know if we can get a camera back here? Or do we have a camera? Oh he’s back here already. Forgive me. This is showing one of the sounds, what the pattern looks like. Do me a favor: punch up let’s see how the sales are in Omaha. The two major things
that it introduced to music production were visual sequencing and digital
sampling. It was the first instrument that had a screen based sequencer, that
allowed you to actually compose complex pieces of music, have the machine play it
for you. It was called Page R. Here’s Herbie Hancock demonstrating it
for Quincy Jones. And there’s two ways to do it: you can either write it on the screen
or you can play it on a keyboard. Oh okay. See, now if you write it on a screen… This is a tool that anyone today can take advantage of. Hell, I can
sequence a drum pattern on my iPhone. In the early 80’s sequencing like this was a
revelation. There is a way in which the Fairlight’s interface is incredibly far
ahead of its time. I mean it’s like a Star Trek thing, right? You’re using a
light pen to write on a cathode ray tube. Do something with a light pen. Well the world is going crazy ladies and gentlemen. Many of the musicians who used
it sort of became the Fairlight’s ambassador. Stevie Wonder was the first
person I delivered one to in the United States and then people in the studio
would gather around and they said hey I know someone would be really interested
to see this. Next thing you know he’s in London setting one up
for Peter Gabriel. He introduced me to Kate Bush, there were some guys from Led
Zeppelin there. What really made the Fairlight a game-changer, though, was the
digital sampler. You could hook up a microphone to the Fairlight, record any
second of sound, and then play it at any pitch on the keyboard. The Fairlight also
came with a stock library of sounds too, on giant 8-inch floppy disks. So we started off with maybe one floppy disk with 50 different sounds on it. People who were using it would send us back floppies and say hey look at these
samples I’ve created. While working on the basic song ideas, Gabriel was also
compiling a library of sounds which he might use on the album. For this he used
a computerized instrument called a Fairlight. Peter Gabriel actually broke the glass
and Kate Bush used it in her music. There were baby screeches, smashes, drips,
and rotary dials. And then there was the orchestra hit. Ironically the the orchestra hit was a complete accident which was sampled by
me. I just happened to have a vinyl
recording of the Stravinsky Firebird Suite nearby when I was messing around. That Orchestra hit, which I think was right at the beginning of one of the
tracks. And I thought alright it’s a good sound. Peter called the sound orch2 and put it on an
eight inch floppy disk full of those other stock sounds. Planet Rock was the first smash hit record to use orch2. In the first two seconds of the song it’s used five times. So the thing that
you can know immediately about Planet Rock is that 50,000 people copied it. That 8-bit Orchestra hit started popping up in all sorts of songs. Within a few years of the Fairlight
being around, all sorts of synths and samplers came with a stock variation of
the orch2 hit. And they got crisper and cleaner with new technology. You can hear that transformation in the hit Swedish producer Max Martin made
with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys. But that original orch2 sample, it
remains the most iconic. And it’s probably why Bruno Mars used it, or at least a very close simulation of it, in Finesse. When you hear that orchestra hit,
you’re hearing something which is very much about the middle 1980’s. It’s
actually something that was first thought of by a guy in 1909. It’s like a moment where a whole bunch of times are sewn together. It is kind of timeless. That is the actual piece of vinyl that orch2 was sampled off. So you can tell it was a long time ago when you paid, $6.99 for a record. So there are three links
that are in the description below, one to Robert Fink’s paper, another to a Fairlight CMI iPhone app which Peter Vogel
helped create, Last but not least I made an orchestra hit playlist on Spotify. Enjoy it.


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