Analytical précis of Chime by Orbital: towards an analysis of electronic dance music

Robert Ratcliffe
Date of publication: 

The following article presents a précis of the electronic dance music (EDM)[1] track Chime (1989)[2] by Orbital, including a written description of content, transcription of musical materials, diagrammatic representation of structure and textural segmentation, and details of equipment and production techniques. It is intended for the article to contribute to the emerging discourse on acid house, techno and the composition and production of synthetic-driven forms of EDM, and in particular, to serve as a model for pre-analytical data collection. In this way, the article employs an appropriate methodology, while showing a way of developing a richer data set from which one might proceed towards analysis.

1. Introduction

Orbital[3] (consisting of brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll) are one of the most popular, influential and enduring EDM acts to emerge from the UK. During a critically acclaimed and commercially successful career spanning over two decades,[4] they have produced eight studio albums, released a multitude of singles and remixes, collaborated on several film soundtracks, and developed a renowned live electronic performance act that continues to draw audiences throughout the world.

In 1989 Orbital produced their first single Chime, which was initially released as a limited 12-inch vinyl pressing by DJ Jazzy M on the Oh’Zone record label. Due to the instant popularity and demand for the record within the UK rave scene, Chime was subsequently licensed and distributed in various formats through Pete Tong’s Full Frequency Range Recordings (FFRR). The increased availability, dissemination and promotion of the track helped Orbital to achieve a relatively high position in the national charts and additional further exposure on the BBC programme Top of the Pops. The commercial interest generated by the record facilitated Orbital’s career, while Chime was immediately acknowledged as a classic amongst EDM audiences. Described as ‘the British “Strings of Life”’[5] (Reynolds 1999: 119) it remains one of Orbital’s most celebrated and instantly recognisable works.

2. Methodological approach

This article provides a detailed written description and musical transcription of Chime, together with additional background information concerning the composition and production of the track. The following strategy is employed:

  1.  Identification of equipment and production methods (including evidence obtained from magazine interviews and direct communication with Orbital)
  2. Classification of sonic components according to timbral characteristics, functionality and technological origin
  3. Transcription of musical materials (manual and computer-assisted transcription and verification)
  4. Written description of content, including determination of structure
  5. Presentation of section parameters, textural components and harmonic content (6) Graphic representation of overall structure and textural segmentation

The methodology employed draws upon a number of existing analytical approaches: specifically the précis writing of Tovey (see, for example, the précis of Beethoven’s ninth symphony (Tovey 1935), which has a symbiotic relationship with the subsequent analysis), Fischman’s methodological approach to the study of electroacoustic music (Fischman 1995 and 1997), and the ‘graphical representation’ of Couprie, particularly his segmentation of sound materials (see Couprie 2004). Butler’s approach to rhythmic notation provides a strategy for the presentation of transcribed electronic rhythm – this involved omitting rests between attack points and lengthening durational values for visual clarity (Butler 2006). Articulation and other surface details are omitted for similar reasons, despite the staccato quality and percussive-like nature of the pitch-based materials – a feature that may be traced to the sample-length restrictions and rhythmic programming methodologies of the sequencer and sampler technologies involved (specifically the prioritisation of semiquaver values for rhythmic input).

The notation of musical materials involved manual transcription and subsequent validation (of approximate pitch) using the Melodyne[6] software application. Propellerhead’s ReCycle[7] was used to calculate the tempo of the work, and to aid in the transcription of rhythmic patterns – basic unmixing[8] techniques, including separation of the left and right audio channels and equalisation/filtering also helped in this respect. It should be noted that the pitch and rhythm content of some material was difficult to determine due to the presence of multiple textural elements and the application of signal processing effects (specifically delay) – a problem frequently encountered during the transcription of EDM,[9] and noted by others (for example, Butler 2006;; Keller 2003).

3. Equipment and materials

Research concerning the tools of production used in the creation of the work studied should form an important part of any EDM analysis, as this may inform an understanding of the materials and processes, in terms of the interaction between compositional practice and technical resource characteristics. More broadly, such research ‘may be used to trace the relationship between genres, specific hardware and software, its idiomatic use, and the characteristics of the creative outputs associated with each genre’ (Ratcliffe 2012: iii). However, while there has been some discussion in this area (see, for example, Hawkins 2003), most existing analyses do not adequately explore the technological and procedural aspects involved, with technical resource identification often completely overlooked.

The following section lists the various technological resources used in the production of Chime, as verified by Paul Hartnoll during personal correspondence with the author. The list includes additional contextual and technical information related to the equipment, such as date of manufacture, relevant specifications and functionality, discussion of idiomatic use, and connection to the sonic and musical materials of the track.

Basically, what happened to me appeared to be the same as what happened to a lot of people in Detroit. You couldn’t afford a DX7, so you bought a DX100;; you couldn’t afford a 707, so you bought a 909 – you were getting all the cheaper versions, but actually those machines created the sound of techno and house music (Paul Hartnoll cited in Buskin 2006: 164).

Akai S700 (sampler)

The S700 is a rackmount digital sampler released by Akai in 1987. Standard specifications include:12-bit mono sampling (up to a maximum sampling frequency of 40kHz), six-voice polyphony, 4.8 seconds of sampling time and a maximum recording length of 0.8 seconds per sample at the highest available resolution (16kHz bandwidth) (Sellars 2001).[10]

Functionality within Chime: sampled sounds used as a basis for melodic material (piano phrase 1, 2, and 3) and the string phrase. According to Hartnoll, the source material for the string phrase was sampled at random from an unidentified easy listening album (Paul Hartnoll, email to author 8 July 2010). The piano material was edited and reused to create a piano loop for the unlisted track I think it’s disgusting (1991), which is located at the end of the first Orbital album (commonly referred to as the ‘green album’) (Hartnoll 2010).

Alesis HR-16 (drum machine)

The HR-16 is a 16-bit digital drum machine released by Alesis in 1987. It combines a collection of forty-nine drum and percussion sounds with a pattern- based sequencer. Patterns are created by means of step-sequencing or recorded performance using the sixteen drum pads located on the front panel. The latter approach allows for cyclical overdubbing and accumulation of material in real-time.

Functionality within Chime: drum sounds (initial kick drum, and first hi-hat layer) sequenced using the internal sequencer and then synchronised to the MMT-8 (Hartnoll 2010). According to Hartnoll, while the HR-16 provided the initial kick drum and first hi-hat layer for both the original demo and subsequent 7-inch single version of Chime, the machine was not available during the recording of the 12-inch version. In this case, a Simmons ‘drum brain’ was brought in to replace the kick drum sound, while sampled TR-909 hi-hats (on the shortest decay setting) were used as a substitute for the original HR-16 hi-hats (Hartnoll 2010).

Alesis MMT-8 (sequencer)

The MMT-8 is an eight-channel hardware sequencer released by Alesis in 1987. During the early 1990s, the MMT-8 was often employed as a master sequencer and real-time performance device by EDM musicians. The design of the hardware interface facilitated real-time pattern selection and manipulation (for example, individual mute controls for each sequencer track).[11]

Functionality within Chime: recording and playback of musical material, and control/synchronisation of the various technical resources.

Korg Poly-800 (synthesizer)

The Poly-800 is an eight-voice polyphonic, mono-timbral synthesizer released by Korg in 1983. It combines analogue synthesis with digital control. Notable features include patch storage, chorus effect, onboard sequencer and MIDI connectivity.

Functionality within Chime: melodic material (four-bar counter-melody). This element did not feature in the 12-inch mix (Hartnoll 2010).

Roland SH-09 (synthesizer)

The Roland SH-09 is a monophonic analogue synthesizer released in 1980. Main features include: a single voltage controlled oscillator (with four selectable waveforms), sub-oscillator, LFO, low-pass resonant filter, ADSR envelope, signal mixer and external audio input.[12]

Functionality within Chime: signal processing (gating) of the Poly-800 output signal (Hartnoll 2010).

Roland TR-909 (drum machine)

The TR-909 is a hardware drum machine released by Roland in 1984. It combines a grid-programmable step sequencer with analogue/digital sound generation. The onboard synthesizer features a collection of eleven sounds, produced using analogue synthesis (for the kick, snare, toms, hand clap and rim- shot) and stored digital samples (for the hi-hat and cymbals (Reid 2004)). These sounds can be modified further using a variety of pitch, volume, timbre and envelope controls, while external processing is facilitated using the individual audio outputs. The integrated sequencer allows rhythmic patterns to be programmed in real-time using a row of sixteen push-buttons located on the front panel (each button corresponds to a semiquaver note in 4/4 (default metrical setting)). Individual patterns can be chained together to form longer sequences or complete tracks. Additional available parameters include an accent function, flam control, and shuffle quantisation. The TR-909 has been used extensively within a diverse range of EDM genres, and in particular for kick, snare, hand clap and hi-hat sounds. It is one of the most frequently cloned electronic instruments, with a countless number of software and hardware emulations available.

Functionality within Chime: drum sounds (second kick drum, second hi-hat layer, snare, clap, and rim-shot) sequenced using the internal sequencer and then synchronised to the MMT-8 (Hartnoll 2010). According to Hartnoll, the TR-909 hi-hats used the longest decay setting available, in contrast to the shortest setting used for the HR-16 hi-hats (Hartnoll 2010).

Roland TB-303 (synthesizer/sequencer)

‘The Roland TB-303 is a monophonic, single oscillator synthesizer and integrated step-sequencer released in 1982. Its synthesizer section is basic with limited controllable parameters, consisting of variable oscillator waveform (saw or square), tuning, filter frequency, resonance, envelope modulation, envelope decay and accent amount. The sequencer is pattern-based, with each pattern containing a maximum of sixteen programmable steps (the rhythmic value of each step is the equivalent of a semiquaver or triplet quaver depending on the input mode selected). Multiple patterns may be linked to produce an extended sequence, or to create patterns that exceed the standard metrical value of 4/4. In addition, accent and slide (portamento) may be applied individually to each step, adding to the distinctive timbral identity of the instrument’ (Ratcliffe 2012: 38-39).

Functionality within Chime: ‘acidic’, mid-range sequence, programmed using the internal sequencer and then synchronised to the MMT-8.

Yamaha DX100 (synthesizer)

The DX100 is an eight-voice polyphonic, mono-timbral FM (frequency modulation) synthesizer released by Yamaha in 1985. The DX100 is small and portable, with a forty-nine key mini keyboard and limited performance controls (consisting of pitch and modulation wheels, volume control and a single data entry slider). It is notable for the preset ‘Solid Bass’ patch, as used on Chime and innumerable synthetic-driven EDM tracks (especially within Detroit techno).

Functionality within Chime: bass material (bass patterns 1, 2, and 3).

4. Additional equipment

Unspecified equipment was used to provide effects (such as reverb and delay) and to finalise the recording. According to Buskin, the 12-inch version of Chime was recorded using a Yamaha multi-track recorder (as a make-shift mixer) and a Pioneer cassette unit as a recording/mastering device.[13] As a result, the 12-inch version has a slightly slower tempo due to the imperfections of the recording technologies involved:

. . . I was still mastering onto my dad’s cassette machine which ran fast. So, ‘Chime’ is actually about one bpm slower than it should be! It came out at about 119 and it should have been 120 (Paul Hartnoll cited in Buskin 2006: 166).

The subsequent 7-inch single version released on FFRR was re-recorded at Marcus Studios in London (engineered by Tim Hunt), and did not use any elements from the original recording (Buskin 2006). Paul Hartnoll has commented on the sonic differences between the two mixes, and the significance of the recording techniques/equipment involved:

. . . the seven-inch version was cleaner than the 12-inch and I think there was too much space around everything, created by all the separation and tape compression. To me it sounds clinical – not warm and woolly like a Detroit record, which is how the original sounded (Paul Hartnoll cited in Buskin 2006: 167).

5. Commentary and transcription

The following section provides a transcription and written description of content. It comments on sonic and musical features, such as structural and thematic relationships between materials. 

A (Bars 1-16)

Bars 1-4 (0:01-0:08.9)

Bars 1-4 consist of a repeated, two-bar[14] string phrase:

Figure 1. String phrase.

This phrase is the most consistent element, providing a continuous, high-frequency thread throughout most of the track (from this point onwards the phrase is heard for fifty-two bars without interruption).

Bars 5-8 (0:08.9-0:16.8)

A continuation of the opening string phrase, and the introduction of bass pattern 1, generated by a Yamaha DX100 synthesizer:

Figure 2. Bass pattern 1.

Bars 9-12 (0:16.8-0:24.8)

Bass pattern 1 and the string phrase continue, while the main theme (piano phrase 2a/2b) is anticipated by the statement of piano phrase 1. An integrated delay effect can be heard as part of the piano material.

Figure 3. Piano phrase 1.

Drum elements are also introduced, consisting of a single kick drum on each crotchet, and a layer of semiquaver hi-hats (both generated by an Alesis HR-16 drum machine).

Figure 4. HR-16 kick drum and (composite) hi-hat rhythm.

Bars 13-16 (0:24.8-0:32.7)

Continuity is provided by bass pattern 1, the string phrase, and drum elements. At this point, the drums are complemented by an additional layer of hi-hats from the Roland TR-909. Section A terminates here. 

Figure 5. TR-909 hi-hats.
B (Bars 17-36)

Bars 17-20 (0:32.7-0:40.6)

Onset of section B. Bass and drum elements are subtracted from the mix, while the string phrase continues. The main theme (piano phrase 2a) is stated for the first time:

Figure 6. Piano phrase 2a.

Bars 21-28 (0:40.6-0:56.5)

Bass pattern 2 enters, doubling the main theme. This pattern is motivically connected to bass pattern 1:

Figure 7. Bass pattern 2.

The string phrase continues, and the drums are re-introduced with the addition of an electronic snare generated by the TR-909. In addition, the HR-16 kick drum is augmented by a syncopated, lower-pitched bass drum (also from the TR-909).

Figure 8. TR-909 kick and snare.

Bars 29-36 (0:56.5-1:12.4)

All parts continue, together with a newly introduced Roland TB-303 sequence, which is connected rhythmically to the string phrase:

Figure 9. TB-303 sequence.

At this point piano phrase 2a is substituted for the variant, piano phrase 2b (see below). A timbral change can be heard – the new piano material appears to be thicker and more prominent.

Figure 10. Piano phrase 2b.

A rim-shot sound is added to the drum mix. Section B terminates here.

Figure 11. TR-909 rim-shot.

A1 (Bars 37-44)

Bars 37-44 (1:12.4-1:28.3)

The onset of section A1 marks the return of bass pattern 1 and piano phrase 1. However, these elements (and the string phrase) are now combined with the TB-303 sequence and a full complement of drums, including a newly introduced clap sound provided by the TR-909:

Figure 12. TR-909 clap.

The clap sound is initially located to the left of the stereo mix. However, its position is manipulated during bars 41-44, where it pans from left to right (swapping places with the rim-shot, which moves simultaneously from right to left) before returning to the original position. Section A1 terminates here.

C (Bars 45-52)

Bars 45-52 (1:28.3-1:44.1)

A variation on previous material, section C is similar in content and instrumentation to section B, bars 29-36. However, the piano layer is now subtracted (the first time since its introduction, thirty-six bars previously) and bass pattern 2 returns, reminding us of the theme. The TB-303 sequence, TR-909 rim- shot, and HR-16 drum elements provide continuity, with new kick, snare, hi-hat and clap rhythms from the TR-909 (figure 13) – these rhythms are contrasted with previous material to form alternating two-bar (1+1) patterns, switching between the variant (b) and the original pattern (a): b+b / a+a.

Figure 13. Variant TR-909 pattern: bass drum;; snare drum;; clap;; hi-hats.

During this section the listener may perceive a change in the intensity of the string phrase, although it is not clear to what extent this effect is created through removal of the piano component or direct manipulation of the string part. Section C terminates here. 

B1 (Bars 53-84)

Bars 53-56 (1:44.1-1:52.1)

Onset of section B1. At this point, the main piano theme (2a) returns after an absence of sixteen bars. The string phrase is withdrawn for the first time and the bass and TB-303 sequence are also removed, leaving a stripped-down version of the drums (as heard in section B) to provide continuity. 

Bars 57-60 (1:52.1-2:00)

Recalling section B, bars 17-20. The drums are temporarily withdrawn, while piano phrase 2b (initiating the timbral change heard previously (see bars 29- 36)) and the strings return. There is a gradual increase in the intensity of the string part.

Bars 61-68 (2:00-2:15.9)

The drums are reinstated and continuity is once again provided by the string phrase and piano theme. Bars 61-68 can be viewed as a repetition of section B, bars 29-36, with the addition of a clap sound from the TR-909.

Bars 69-84 (2:15.9-2:47.6)

This is an extension of section B, having a similar function to the ‘repeated chorus’ encountered in popular music. The drums, piano theme, string phrase and DX100 bass provide continuity, while a synthetic, four-bar counter-melody (generated by a Korg Poly-800) is heard for the first time, replacing the TB-303: [15]

Figure 14. Korg Poly-800 counter-melody.

The piano and string materials appear to be suppressed in order to accommodate the counter-melody within the mix. Another subtle change can be heard inthe subtraction of the clap sound. The alternating two-bar drum patterns of section C reappear during bars 77-84 (minus the clap).

D (Bars 85-88)

Bars 85-88 (2:47.6-2:55.6)

Onset of section D. This brief musical interruption is a variation on existing material, featuring bass pattern 3 and piano phrase 3, which are motivically related to previous patterns:

Figure 15. Bass pattern 3.

Figure 16. Piano phrase 3.

The string phrase and Poly-800 counter-melody are withdrawn, while the drums – now playing the original, one-bar pattern – provide continuity. The listener may perceive a rhythmic displacement between the piano part and drums. Section D allows for prolongation, with the final termination delayed by a further chorus (B2).

B2 (Bars 89-96)

Bars 89-92 (2:55.6-3:03.5)

A final reinstatement of the main theme (2b), coupled with bass pattern 2, the string phrase and core drum elements.

Bars 93-96 (3:03.5-3:11.5)

At this point several textural layers are subtracted from the mix simultaneously, leaving only the string phrase and piano melody – this can be viewed as a repetition of section B, bars 17-20. The final notes of the material are emphasised through an amplitude/velocity change.


All textural elements are withdrawn, allowing the delay and reverb to fade away. 



6. Summary

The structure of the track is articulated through the addition and subtraction of the various patterns,[16] which form a series of interlocking layers. The way in which the patterns combine and interlace affects our perception of rhythmic and metrical characteristics, encouraging multiple interpretations of the material as we engage with the individual layers, their interactions and resulting transformations (Butler 2001, 2005 and 2006). This construction is typical of synthetic-driven forms of EDM, and is directly related to the functionality and idiomatic performance characteristics of the tools of production, which promote rhythmic-oriented programming, pattern-based design and a layered approach to texture and materials.[17] In particular, the programming methodology of the TR-909 drum machine, and real-time control interface of both the HR-16 drum machine (featuring manual recording/overdubbing) and MMT-8 sequencer (serving as a central recording and playback device) allowed Orbital to create, audition and combine patterns quickly and intuitively. The nature of the material and Orbital’s use of interlocking patterns can be demonstrated through analysis of the main theme: a closer inspection reveals that piano phrase 2b is a composite of two concurrent rhythmic patterns (see figure 17), which can be detected through separation of the stereo signal and isolation of the left and right channel’s respectively. Further evidence of this construction is provided by Hartnoll:

. . . I did the main riff on two different rhythms. One of the things I did like about it was having them next to each other on the MMT-8 and then, for extra oomph at any point, I could put the two on together and it phased. You know, where the same notes hit I’d get this nice sort of sample phase, the machine being unable to handle playing the same thing twice. (Paul Hartnoll cited in Buskin 2006: 166)

This situation is further complicated by the application of a delay effect, which contributes to the rhythmic, timbral and spatial complexity of the material. The same construction is apparent during piano phrase 3, while piano phrase 1 and 2a disclose the original configuration, consisting of a single pattern with integrated delay effect – the left channel appears to contain a filtered effects return.

Figure 17. Piano Phrase 2b, mm. 29-32. Concurrent rhythmic patterns (left and right channels).

Clearly a full analysis and discussion of the rhythmic and textural aspects of Chime in relation to the theories of Butler (Butler 2006) would be a productive way in which to proceed using the detail listed. At present there is a small but increasing amount of analytical work that examines the characteristics and prominence of rhythm within EDM, with this aspect explored in the most depth by existing musicology (see, for example, Britton 2010;; Hawkins 2003;; Keller 2003;; and the work of Butler). However, a consideration of other musical features (melodic, harmonic etc) and their relation to sonic, technological and procedural aspects should not be dismissed, and may offer further insight into musical design and function. For instance, the approach proposed by Wooller and Brown (Wooller and Brown 2008) offers ‘a framework for discussing tonality in EDM’ by exploring ‘rate of tonal change, tonal stability, pitch/noise ratio and number of independent pitch streams’ (Wooller and Brown 2008: 91). Their embryonic work points toward new formal theories for the study of the genre where existing techniques for tonal analysis may be inappropriate. A case in point would be the central chord progression within Chime suggested by piano phrase 2a and 2b (see figures 6 and 10). This material appears to have been constructed using a technique common to Detroit techno and early forms of EDM, whereby a sampled chord is assigned to the notes of a keyboard and then played/sequenced as melodic material. As Wooller and Brown suggest, in such cases ‘conventional’ harmonic analysis might give way to a more relevant and informed approach, with the material treated in the same way that it was ‘produced and perceived’ (Wooller and Brown 2008: 91).


Tempo: 121bpm

Metre: 4/4

Tonal Centre: Eb 

Table 1. Global parameters of Chime (7-inch single version). 

Figure 18. Structure of Chime (7-inch single version).








(16 bars)




String phrase
Bass pattern 1
Piano phrase 1 
Drum elements

Tonic/dominant exchange



(20 bars)




String phrase 
Bass pattern 2 
Piano phrase 2 
Drum elements 

Repeated chord progression (starting and ending with the tonic)



(8 bars)


String phrase 
Bass pattern 1 
Piano phrase 1 
Drum elements 

Tonic/dominant alternation



(8 bars)


String phrase 
Bass pattern 2 
Drum elements 

Repeated chord progression (starting and ending with the tonic)



(32 bars)





String phrase 
Bass pattern 2 
Piano phrase 2 
Drum elements 

Repeated chord progression (starting and ending with the tonic)



(4 bars)


Bass pattern 3 
Piano phrase 3 
Drum elements

Drone-like suspension of the tonic



(8 bars)



String phrase 
Bass pattern 2 
Piano phrase 2 
Drum elements

Repeated chord progression (starting and ending with the tonic)

Table 2. Section parameters, textural components and harmonic content of Chime (7-inch single version). 

Figure 19. Segmentation of Chime (7-inch single version).

7. Conclusion: towards an analysis of electronic dance music

The musicological investigation of EDM is an emerging area of research, with few existing analytical tools or methodologies available for the study of the genre. In response, this article suggests a possible approach to the preparation of an EDM analysis, which has been demonstrated through the study and exposition of the track Chime by Orbital.[18] The methodology employed shows a way of constructing a richer data set from which one might proceed towards analysis, achieved through a combination of written commentary and description, manual transcription, computer analysis (for clarification of pitch, rhythm and tempo), and additional contextual information, including composition and production details. However, while this approach is suitable for the work under discussion it is not universally applicable due to the diverse nature of the materials, techniques, structures and ideas encountered within the genre. Consequently, a more comprehensive approach may be required, and in such cases it is proposed that the techniques demonstrated be consolidated using additional analytical tools sourced from both electroacoustic music and popular music.

A wide variety of sonic and musical materials are encountered within EDM, ranging from the abstract electronic sounds, transformations and hidden images of ‘equation’[19] (1999) by the Aphex Twin, through the piano, vocals and orchestral strings of Unfinished Sympathy (1991) by Massive Attack, and mimetic use of recorded machinery and sounds of deforestation in Timber (1997) by Coldcut. Methods of design and organisation are equally diverse, encompassing algorithmic and generative approaches (for instance in the work of the Aphex Twin (Martin 2001) and Autechre (Tingen 2004)), numerical structuring mechanisms, intuitive montage and juxtaposition of sample-based elements, and use of narrative images and predefined forms, as seen, for example, during the construction of Wonky (2012) by Orbital. Such diversity poses a number of challenges for the EDM musicologist, and requires an adaptable and multifaceted approach to analysis.

As I have shown elsewhere, the concepts and terminology of electroacoustic music can be effectively applied to the analysis and description of EDM (see Ratcliffe 2012), which is particularly helpful when studying more experimental forms of the genre. For instance, the EDM analyst may wish to conduct a sonic analysis, examining the spectromorphological properties and interactions of sounds, and their contribution to overall sonic texture (Garro 2010). This may involve visual representation of materials using sonogram,[20] waveform, and frequency component views of the track, which might be combined with musical notation and forms of illustration. Further analytical devices, such as Emmerson’s language grid (Emmerson 1986) and Smalley’s spatiomorphology (Smalley 1986 and 1997), and software tools like AudioSculpt[21] or the Acousmographe[22] would also help to address the current lack of analytical and theoretical devices available to the EDM analyst, providing a technical repertoire and descriptive vocabulary for the study of the genre[23].

Another possibility is the use of popular music production software and techniques to aid in the transcription of EDM – touched upon here in the use of Melodyne and ReCycle. The transcription of EDM is problematic, as pitch and rhythm content is often complicated by the interaction of textural elements and the application of signal processing effects. A possible strategy is the use of ‘unmixing’ techniques (for example, phase inversion, noise reduction, spectral editing, or equalisation and filtering) to isolate and extract individual textural elements, facilitating a more accurate transcription. Unmixing techniques are frequently used in sample-based EDM, and specifically in the creation of mashups,[24] where borrowed material (for instance, a vocal part or melody) is extracted from an existing recording and adapted for subsequent use in a new work. A direct result is the emergence of specially designed software to facilitate such practices (for example, QuikQuak’s MashTactic[25] and Zynaptic’s Pitchmap[26]), and these devices may offer a secondary function as tools for the study of EDM.


This article would not have been possible without the support of the AHRC. I would like to thank Paul Hartnoll for his help in answering a multitude of questions, and Rajmil Fischman, whose analysis of Crosstalk by Mike Vaughan (Fischman 1997) provided an initial methodology for the précis. Sincerest thanks to Nick Reyland for his help and detailed remarks, and to Diego Garro and Mike Vaughan for additional input, comments and suggestions. Thank you to Jon Bickle at inMusic Ltd (Akai and Alesis), Ian Bradshaw at Korg UK Ltd, Dan Burton at Roland UK Ltd, and the Technical Support Team at Yamaha Music Europe for confirmation of the product release dates. Finally, thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable ideas and improvements.

[1] ‘In this article, the term EDM is used more broadly, encompassing both mainstream forms, such as drum ‘n’ bass and techno, and experimental sub-genres, such as breakcore and IDM’ (Ratcliffe 2011: 235).
[2] The précis describes the 7-inch single version of Chime (1990), sourced from the retrospective compilation album Work 1989-2002 (2002b). Several other versions of the track exist, including various live mixes (for example, the Live Style Mix (2002a)), alternative studio versions (such as the original 12-inch mix (1989) and Chime Crime (1992b)), and artist remixes (for instance, the Joey Beltram Mutation (1992b) and Ray Keith Mutation (1992a)).
[3] Their name is derived from the M25 London ‘orbital’ motorway (Buskin 2006;; Sicko 1999), which played an important role in shaping the geographical profile of the London rave scene during the late 1980’s (see, for instance, Collin 2009;; Reynolds 1999).
[4] The group disbanded from 2004-2008 to pursue individual projects, but reformed in 2009.
[5] A seminal Detroit techno track produced by Rhythim Is Rhythim (Derrick May) and released in 1987. Like Chime, Strings of Life features a prominent use of melodic piano and string material, including piano parts contributed by Michael James and string samples sourced from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Sicko 1999: 80).
[6] Melodyne is a pitch analysis and editing tool. It uses DNA (Direct Note Access) technology to provide ‘access to individual notes in polyphonic audio material’ (Celemony n.d.). See: (last accessed 28 March 2013).
[7] ‘ReCycle is a software application for editing sampled loops. It is optimised for working with rhythmic material, such as breakbeats and percussion. Using a form of audio analysis known as ‘transient detection’, the software enables rhythmic material to be separated into individual sound fragments, which can be played from a sequencer (using generated control data). This facilitates the independent control of pitch and tempo without unwanted signal degradation. A range of further processing options are available, such as compression, equalisation, and gating. ReCycle may also function as an interface for audio file transfers between a computer and hardware sampler (via MIDI or SCSI)’ (Ratcliffe 2012: 14). For further information see: (last accessed 28 March 2013).
[8] This term refers to a repertoire of deconstructive audio editing techniques, commonly used for the disassembly of stereo mixes and the isolation of mix elements for individual processing and treatment. Unmixing is especially helpful when access to the original recorded parts/stems is restricted – a situation often encountered during unauthorised sampling and remixing. For further information an introduction and overview of unmixing techniques and related software tools is provided by Computer Music magazine (see Break Tracks Apart 2012).
[9] In such cases a study of alternative mixes or remixes might prove useful, as textural components (retained from the original mix) are often presented differently or exposed as solo material.
[10] For more information see the Sound on Sound retrospective: (last accessed 21 August 2012).
[11] Orbital would use the MMT-8 as a central control interface during live performances: ‘I very often bring in basslines and breaks on the three or the four...I like to get that feeling of tumbling into the next bar. That’s where the MMT-8 will always win. You hit it and it starts immediately. It’s like unmuting a channel on a desk’ (Paul Hartnoll cited in Scott 2000: 10). For further information on the MMT-8 see: (last accessed 21 August 2012).
[12] For more information see the Sound on Sound retrospective: (last accessed 21 August 2012).
[13] Paul Hartnoll expanded on his approach to recording and mastering: ‘I’d always recorded onto four tracks [using the multi-track] and then mastered onto my dad’s 1970s Pioneer cassette player . . . but then it occurred to me: ‘hang on a minute, why don’t I bypass the recording phase and just mix live from these instruments into six channels?’ I had to sum four of the channels together as pairs if I was recording, whereas this would give me six channels of mixing and I could go straight to the tape deck without losing any quality’ (Paul Hartnoll cited in Buskin 2006: 164).
[14] It may also be viewed as a four-bar pattern due to the change in accentuation heard at the end of every two bars. This is supported by the rate of textural addition, with bass, piano and drum elements introduced at regular four-bar intervals (see figure 19).
[15] It is interesting to note that the Poly-800 counter-melody is rhythmically identical to the TB-303 sequence.
[16] Textural density and rate of change varies between the main and transitional sections of the track: the main sections feature textural changes at a rate of eight bars, while a faster four-bar rate is utilised during the introduction, breakdowns and conclusion.
[17] Of course, the sonic significance of the chosen equipment should also be acknowledged.
[18] While this article is intended as an example of analysis preparation, the detail listed could be used as a basis for further work. Possible uses might include: a critical discussion of Orbital’s work, compositional methods and artistic development;; a survey of transatlantic musical exchange and influence within EDM (Chime adapts acid house and Detroit techno elements toward a more popular-oriented aesthetic);; an investigation of the impact of technical resource characteristics on musical language (including form, materials and syntax). [19] This is the second track from the Windowlicker EP (1999). Several hidden images are embedded within the waveform of the track, which can be viewed using a sonogram analysis. Other experimental EDM tracks that contain hidden images include 3 Recurring (1999) by Plaid, and Look (2001) by Venetian Snares (Niinisalo n.d.).
[20] The use of waveform images and application of sonogram analysis to the study of EDM has been demonstrated, for example, by Hawkins in his analysis of the house track French Kiss (1989) by Lil’ Louis (Hawkins 2003), and Zeiner-Henriksen (Zeiner-Henriksen 2010) in his comparison of bass drum sounds in the music of Astral Projection, Basement Jaxx and
[21] ‘AudioSculpt is a software application for carrying out detailed sound analysis, processing and transformation. For more information see: (last accessed 5 May 2011)’ (Ratcliffe 2011: 239).
[22] ‘The Acousmographe is a tool for analysis and representation of electroacoustic music, and by extension, of all phenomena recorded sound. Its development is a long term project arose from the need for composers and musicologists to have tools for transcribing music unwritten, with graphics and text annotations synchronized to listen to the representations and usual techniques of the signal (amplitude - spectral analysis)’ (INA/GRM n.d.). See: (last accessed 28 March 2013).
[23] Some of these devices have been used, for example, by Ramsay in his electroacoustic reading of the EDM track Internal Clock (2009) by Monolake (see Ramsay, 2012).
[24] ‘The term ‘Mashup’ is used within popular music to denote a compositional technique in which two or more existing records are superimposed to create a new track. This often involves the use of vocal a capella material, which is layered against other recordings. One of the most frequently cited examples is Freak Like Me (2002) by Richard X and the Sugababes, which combines Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me (1994) with Are ‘Friends’ Electric? (1979) by the Tubeway Army’ (Ratcliffe 2012: 28).
[25] MashTactic is a multi-band filter plug-in, providing controls for the analysis and manipulation of frequency content and stereo balance within a completed mix. For further information and an evaluation copy of the software, see: (last accessed 28 March 2013).
[26] Pitchmap is a plug-in for editing and re-tuning polyphonic audio in real-time. See: (last accessed 28 March 2013). 


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