Research Output

Can Music be Digitised? Samplers, Democratisation, and 'the Digital Age'

  Rather than an abrupt or revolutionary shift from analogue to digital, I will argue in this paper that the use of digital technologies such as samplers have been part of a more gradual process of socio-musical change. As well as examining the argument that the availability of cheaper sampling technologies like E-mu’s SP-12 and Ensoniq’s Mirage represented a form of democratisation, I will explain why it may be problematic to talk about the digitalization of music. This is partly an ontological distinction, which recognises music as a social process and not an object that can be digitised (Bohlman 1999). Sounds can be recorded digitally and converted into a series of zeroes and ones but when they reach our ears they are waveforms that have been converted back from digital to analogue. As Eliot Bates argues, ‘we don’t ever hear digital music, we hear analogue reconstructions of waveforms that were stored digitally’ (2016, p. 277). By focusing only on ‘the digital’ or ‘digital music’ there is a risk of duplicating the kind of determinism that can be found in both academic and non-academic discourses about the ‘digital age’ and the ‘digital revolution’. This is to ignore all the non-digital processes that are part of music making and consumption.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    13 December 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    M1 Music

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    781 General principles & musical forms

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Harkins, P. (2018, December). Can Music be Digitised? Samplers, Democratisation, and 'the Digital Age'. Paper presented at Music, Digitalisation, and Democracy



Music, sampling, democratisation, technology, E-mu SP-12, STS

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