History Of Mixing

Cut Up Or Shut Up:

An Edited History Of Cut'n'Paste

by Neil McMillan

The story begins with magnetic tape, the means by which all the early edit masters constructed their cut-ups. The first working reel-to-reel machines were brought over to America from Germany by Jack Mullin in late 1944. Used by the Nazis for propaganda radio broadcasts, the tape's audio signal was of a quality far superior to that produced by wire recording. Soon Mullin found himself employed on the Bing Crosby show, where he pre-recorded performances then edited them into a broadcastable format using a razor blade and adhesive tape. The producers and engineers worried that the sound might substantially deteriorate during this process, or even worse, the spliced tape might split. Miraculously, it did neither.

It wasn't long before the possibilities of tape editing were being explored to the full. In 1948, by which time reel-to-reels were being installed in studios around the world - the experimental European composer Pierre Schaeffer was using vari-speed machines to loop, chop and re-edit sounds taken from the everyday environment. Sections could be played at different tempos or even reversed, allowing backwards reverbs and attacks to be produced. Further effects could be created depending how the tape was sliced. Cutting at 90 degrees produced a hard attack or abrupt finish, while softer angles allowed for less severe attacks and decays. Sounds could also be manipulated by stretching the tape in certain places, or by splicing together equal-sized segements of tape and leader tape to create artificial tremelo.

Later, in the '60s, Britain's own Delia Derbyshire, who claimed to have made the longest tape loop in London, employed similar effects to create her memorable recording of Ron Grainer's original "Doctor Who Theme". The Beatles, too, constructed several songs from re-edits, loops and sections played backwards, and from the '60s on, many of Miles Davis's albums for Columbia were basically cut'n'paste edits of long studio jams, the editing and mixing being done by Teo Macero. The extended funky edits of the mid-to-late 1970s are familiar - "Sesso Matto" being one example amongst many, but such practices were also being widely adopted in the recording of both popular and other forms of music the decade before.

"We interrupt this record to bring you a special bulletin. The reports of a flying saucer hovering above the city have been confirmed"

If Pierre Schaeffer and co. set the tricknological blueprint for what could be done with tape, it was to take a pair of comedians to produce the first recognisable cut-up with it. Buchanan and Goodman's 1956 novelty "break-in" single, "Flying Saucer" (a Luniverse 45 and 78), was the first commercially successful record to "sample" and replay bits of other records. Imitating Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds", Dickie Goodman and Bill Buchanan pretended to interview witnesses to a Martian invasion (along with the Martians themselves), the answers being provided by song excerpts cut up on tape. Both funny and inventive, "Flying Saucer" influenced not only Steinski but, consciously or not, everyone else who ever picked up a reel-to-reel or sampler. It didn't so much break the mould as smash it beyond repair, selling over a million copies, spawning hundreds of imitators and causing copyright ruckus in the process.

Both together then separately, Buchanan and Goodman continued to produce records for a number of labels with varying degrees of success. Most interestingly for this story, Dickie Goodman made several "funky" break-in 45s in the early '70s. However, he was not the first to do so. In the '60s, King records had released a couple of break-in singles, including Steve Soul's "A Talk With The News (James Brown)". Based on the Goodman blueprint, these featured a reporter emulating an interview with JB by using snatches of his vocals. It seems likely they were used as lighthearted promotional records. (According to the Record Collector JB discography, "Steve Soul" was an alias for Brown himself.)

With that in mind, although Dickie Goodman was not the first to bite JB (if sampling yourself counts as biting), he was the first to do so on his own terms. Goodman's '70s productions, often with an element of political satire to them, also use a greater variety of elements than the King break-ins.

Titles like "Watergrate", "Mr President" and "Energy Crisis '74" all appeared on the Rainy Wednesday label, as did the Goodman-produced "Super Fly Meets Shaft" and "Soul President #1", both by John and Ernest. While none of these keep any kind of rhythm, and are therefore not funky cut-ups in the contemporary sense, they all sample R&B hits and in that way pre-empt the disco and hip hop jams. And despite occasional comic misfires, it's easy to see how the humorous interplay between spoken word and sampled excerpt sets the blueprint for the satirical and narrative elements not only of Steinski's cut-ups but, even if unconsciously, many a scratch DJ's acapella routines.

From another perspective, the break-in records are still some way removed from what are considered funky cut-ups today. On the flip of "Super Fly Meets Shaft" is a stuttering cut'n'paste of the single word "Superfly" from the Curtis Mayfield theme, but it's more suited to inducing epilepsy than making people dance.

On another break-in of the period, Steel, Jake and Jeff's "The Impeachment Story" (a 1974 Peach-Mint 45), a continuous funky backing track runs under the dialogue, a feature not be heard on Goodman's productions. Although the sampled punchlines occasionally come in on the beat, the results are pretty disjointed and you have to head for the flipside, Lou Toby and his Heavies' "Heavy Steppin", if you want anything with a serious groove.

But these were comedy records, after all. Even if Steel, Jake and Jeff's record did have continuous music running through it, it was not their intention to chop everything to the beat. And even if they'd thought about it, the chances are they wouldn't have had a reference point to work from. That kind of editing was already beginning to happen on tape, but it had been inspired by club DJ mixing methods still largely unheard of, and remained similarly shrouded in mystery.

A funky interlude

Before getting into the history of the disco edits, it's worth remembering that those using reel-to-reel, turntable or sampling technology are not the only originators of cut'n'paste. The funk music of the late '60s and early '70s, for example, not only provided the raw material of the funky cut-ups, but could be said to have pre-empted them stylistically. The intense repetition of a simple riff followed by an extended bridge or break, which characterises much funk, has essentially the same choppy structure as a mix pieced together from bits of other records. Certain highly segmented funk tracks: JB's "Coldblooded", "The Road" by the Communicators and Black Experience Band and Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio", for example amply demonstrate the spirit (if not the letter) of the splice.

There are also cut'n'paste parallels in the development of the Go-Go scene in Washington DC. Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, a covers band who didn't stop between numbers during gigs, gradually began "editing" the verses and bridges from their set while extending the long percussion jams in between. As Coldcut's Jonathan More describes it, there would be a humungous beat, then chorus after chorus after chorus, interspersed with call-and-response, "Are you alright everybody", "Everybody in the house say Yo!" That's a similar attitude to cut'n'paste in a way, remove all the bollocks and just have chorus after chorus with a humungous beat!

As chance would have it, "chorus after chorus with a humungous beat" isn't too bad a description of another early '70s phenomenon, the mixed DJ sets being put together by the disco pioneers in downtown Manhattan. This article, however, is not the place to investigate the history of DJing, the topic is more than adequately covered by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton in Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. The first question to be posed is: who was the first to use a reel-to-reel to emulate the technically brilliant new skill of mixing and cutting records to the beat? In other words:

Who made the first mastermix?

Eh dunno.

But neither does anyone else.

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life supplies some clues. By October 1974, John Addison had been making live reel-to-reel recordings of New York DJ sets for some time, selling them over the phone for a hefty $75 a pop. In the same month, just as Billboard magazine was alerting the industry to this illegal practice, Spring records released the Disco Par-r-rty LP as "the first non-stop dancing LP record". No DJ or editor was credited for this segued mastermix.

Prior even to this, Tom Moulton claims to have made a 45 minute tape from segued edits of songs. Although not a DJ himself, Moulton had been disappointed by Fire Island jocks who couldn't extend the most dancefloor-friendly parts of tracks. At that time, everything was played off 45, and the extended 12" remix, in which Moulton was to play a vital role, was yet to come. Seeking a solution in the splice, Moulton got to work, coming up with the finished reel some 80 hours later. It's almost certainly one of the first mastermixes made.

For many, however, one Walter Gibbons was the definitive, if not the first, early mix editor. Resident at Galaxy 21 on 23rd Street between 1972 and '76, Gibbons is widely credited as one of the most technically gifted and inventive DJs ever, and was a major influence on both Kool Herc and, through DJ Pete Jones, Grandmaster Flash. Famous for his mixing, phasing and quick, seamless cutting up of two copies of a record, extending the breaks without anyone noticing, Gibbons had another trick up his sleeve. He introduced his own specially prepared edits into the mix via his reel-to-reel.

Colin Gate, a Scot who spent some time in New York and got the chance to look through Gibbons' record collection after his death in 1994, is unequivocal about his role in the history of the cut-up:

What I say is that the first "cut-ups" were by Walter Gibbons - the first great "mixing" DJ. These date from 1974/5 and use funky records like The Fatback Band [building] up to latin percussion jams, cut up on reel-to-reel tape and used to provide a continuous mix (sometimes 20 minutes plus) in the clubs of New York. A good example of this would be the "looped up" "break" (remember, nobody knew these terms back then!) from the Cooley High soundtrack album ["Two Pigs and a Hog"]. First he used two copies [of the record] to capture the break, then did it on tape to be cut onto an acetate, thus saving the hassle of doing it live all the time.

Here, then, are the first records that substantially resemble the cut'n'paste joint as it's known today, Walter Gibbons' acetates. Born partly out of experimentation, partly out of necessity (no doubt saving the wear on his 45s was also a consideration), Gibbons' cut-ups weren't technically overdone in comparison to the work of the Edit Kings in the '80s. However, opinions differ as to their complexity. For Danny Krivit, an early fan of Gibbons' edits whose own story is to follow, they were all "about extension". For Colin Gate, on the other hand, some of them were straight cut-ups. For example, [there would be] drums taken from the Fatback Band, James Brown horn stabs and cut up words/vocals over the top. This is in 1974/75 remember, so it was revolutionary at the time and was definitely the first time a DJ had put anything like this down on vinyl.

At the time, Gibbons worked for Salsoul Records, becoming a pioneer of the remix in his treatment of Double Exposure's 1976 track "Ten Percent" (perhaps the definitive early 12" single). Gate continues:

[Gibbons also made] lots of unreleased dub mixes of popular Salsoul tracks which utilised the bass and drums and placed some reggae dub effects over the top. This, to my knowledge, must have been the beginnings of house music as it took the faster 4/4 disco beat and repeated it in a trance-like fashion, [a style] much copied by other DJs including Walter's "prodigy" Larry Levan. Other tunes were edited in such a fashion as to repeat certain instrumental breakdowns so the mix could be extended for a bit to heighten the tension in the club, so that when the "official" mix was dropped the people were screaming out for it. This formula eventually mutated into house music through better, quicker and cheaper editing equipment.

Danny Krivit recalls how Walter's versions were made available to other DJs:


I used to go to a place in Manhattan called Sunshine Sounds. They didn't really have bootlegs back then, what they had was acetates. You could buy a single copy of a record and they would make that record for you right there. And for some reason they weren't considered a mass-produced thing like bootlegs were, so people weren't chasin you down. You bought the mastermixes from different DJs "Love is the Message", or some other special mix. I still have a few of em today that are really fierce. But that was around 1976.

Krivit recognises that Gibbons was certainly not the only one to make such recordings. In fact, it seems everyone was at it:

At that time, [for] a lot of people, if you wanted to do anything with tape, in any sort of quality, it was all about a reel-to-reel. So if you knew how to use a reel-to-reel at all, it wasn't that far of a jump to know a little more on how to splice one. So people would make their own versions, I remember Frankie Knuckles in the early '90s gave me a whole bunch of his old edits from back in the day, and I filled up a whole DAT tape just with edits he had done in the 70s! And I knew Larry Levan had some. Different people had their own edits. Francois Kevorkian,[Gibbons' drummer at Gallery 21] was big on it, Joe Clausell used to do it back when he started. It just seemed that all the DJs who were somebody did it.Alongside these early re-edits, more commercialised "disco mixers", bootleg records segueing together up to 50 songs, began to appear around 1975.

Bought to be played in the more populist clubs of New York, they were particularly sought after by DJs technically unable to mix or cut live. (Playing re-edits as a substitute for mixing was a practice which continued for years; Danny Krivit remembers Shep Pettibone, a gifted editor, being particularly guilty of it in the '80s.) As Colin Gate recalls, "The songs were generally disco hits of the day mixed with a few sound effects and maybe some funky percussion looped over and over to provide a backbeat. A popular trick at the time was to play one of these mixers on one turntable while constantly crossfading to the original song that it used on the other, thus prolonging it all night if need be".

Patrick, a long-time devotee of disco mixers, has compiled a list of them dating from the late '70s to the early '90s . Cataloguing both legitimate DJ-only labels such as Disconet (the American precursor of DMC on which the "Lessons" series first appeared), the Sunshine Sounds acetates and shady bootleg merchants like Bits & Pieces and J&T (of which more later), Patrick's is the most comprehensive archive available.

Most importantly for this story, it's clear that new developments in the production of the disco mixer were beginning to happen around the early '80s. As Patrick notes in his descriptions, records started to become mixed, not merely segued, and strange new effects began to creep in. Finally catching on to the techniques of experimental tape manipulators like Pierre Schaeffer, or stumbling upon the methods themselves, the downtown editors were about to become Edit Kings.

The editor as star

Freddy Fresh, another life-long slave to the edit, describes just what made these new editors stand out from the crowd:

The Latin Rascals, Omar Santana and Charlie D did their mixes on reel-to-reel (usually Otari) tape decks, cut them into pieces with razor blades then re-taped them together. This formed what are called multi-edits which is the song repeating machine-gun fashion. Extremely cool and extremely talented editors were popular at the time: Chep Nunez, Roger Pauletta (his brother-in law), Luis Flores, Dino Blade, Juan Kato, Joe Barrion, Dini Bellafiore, Andre "Phoenix" Estrada, Omar Santana, Carlos Berrios, Latin Rascals (Albert Cabrera and Tony Moran), Charlie Dee, Shep Pettibone etc.

As Fresh recalls, it was also radio that helped make these guys stars. "They would do radio mixes for stations like WNYU New York, WRKS "KISS" FM, KTU-92, and WBLS 107.5 New York. It was a legendary thing to hear a Latin Rascals or Awesome 2 mastermix. You'd know them by the incredible edits that could NOT be done live or on decks, but were made with surgical-like precision."

By this time, then, the cut-up, at least in one of its manifestations, had moved beyond the club scene which gave it birth. This gave it the space to develop flashy new techniques, such as the machine-gun edit, which would have seemed intrusive and overdone in a dancefloor environment. At the same time, however, New York's musical climate was changing rapidly. Before there was any club brave enough to merge disco, hip hop and the new latin-tinged freestyle genre, the radio editors were happily chopping up all three and more.

Among the most sought after bootlegs of these mixes are the Big Apple Productions records which began to be released around 1982. Up to six volumes of these exist, in several different guises, on labels such as Ouch and Pasha (see Disco Patrick's site for a complete breakdown), but the ones most highly regarded are the (Orig.) Big Apple Productions on J&T records. While no-one seems to own a J&T copy of Volume One (a B&W version does exist, but Patrick is convinced it's different), the other mixes are well known and loved by cut-up connoisseurs.

Volume Three, made by Danish ex-pat DJ Duke and released in 1987 (although it sounds as if it was recorded much earlier), combines live mixing and cutting with tape editing to produce a classic b-boy jam, merging "The Mexican", "Funky President", "The Champ", "It's Just Begun" and so on. But it's Volume Two which really takes the prize.

Simply titled "Genius at Work" (as were all of the (Orig.) Big Apple Productions records), and credited mysteriously to "Ser and Duff", Volume Two is actually the work of The Latin Rascals' Albert Cabrera and Tony Moran, in conjunction with a little-known duo called The Kids from Brazil. Beginning with a series of fast edits designed to imitate a TV changing channels, the mix launches into some classic electro-tinged hip hop before gradually moving into more uptempo territory, cleverly repeating certain parts and skillfully blending others together with gunshot edits and other effects linking it all up. On the evidence of this, Cabrera and Moran's quick rise to the status of Edit Kings, called upon by all and sundry to rearrange and spice up their tracks, including some stone-cold classic hip hop joints, was inevitable.

While Moran is now a bigshot producer for the likes of Whitney Houston, Martine McCutcheon and Celine Dion (ouch!), Albert Cabrera is still involved in editing, albeit on computer, for long-time associates Masters at Work amongst others.

Special thanks to Neil McMillan for this piece of his article.

The full version of this article was printed in the Big Daddy magazine, issue 11 (spring 2002).