Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Machine that Goes Ping

Everyone knows the famous Monty Python scene from “The Meaning of Life” when Michael Palin, playing the hospital administrator, commends Graham Chapman and John Cleese’s use of The Machine that Goes Ping to assist a woman give birth.

Few people realize that most electronic producers today also use the same piece of equipment in the studio. There is a sound that frequently crops up in many dance tracks that unlike all the other sounds and techniques used by producers invariably sounds the same, like a ping. People often complain they can hear what pre-sets and plugins people are using, but strangely nobody ever seems to have commented on the Noise that Goes Ping in so many tracks. But this noise is not just endemic to one genre or era, it has occured since the early days of electronic music and has continued almost unchanged almost anywhere to everywhere as we shall see.

So what is this noise? The noise is of course just a little ping, but perhaps its timbre sticks out more than other recycled sounds like kick drums and hi hats because it is used in a grey area between percussive decoration and melodic tool and is invariably at the front of the mix. Maybe a tech head can tell us ho to make it?

But how does it sound? You can hear it at the start of Space Dimension Controller’s “The Birth of a feeling” (R&S) first at the 56 second mark (track not on web). It is also one of the first sounds on Julio Bashmore’s 2011 hit “Battle for middle you”, Resident Advisor’s third best track off the year.

Martyn also employed it in “We are you in the future”, the epic closer to his “Ghost People” album from last year (first coming in at 1:33 and then used throughout, including the breakdowns).

BNJMN perhaps takes the cake, using a whole run of pings (beginning at 1:48) in his track “Keep the power out” from last years “Black Square” album.

One of the first examples I can find is from the Power Plant mix of Craig Loftis’s Chicago house track “Yes I’m right” originally recorded sometime between 1982 and 1989 and once a big hit at the Power Plant club (sound begins at 21 secs).

Changing genres slightly, the Fuck Buttons also use the sound in “Surf Solar” the opening track off their last album “Tarot Sport” (coming in with the beat at 1:41).

The sound is there in plenty more tracks when you look for it (sorry, I lost my list), from dubstep, house and techno, like a secret code, a glyph or a gene within the music passed on from generation to generation.

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