Stravinsky and the Orchestra Hit

The history of music is full of little weird stories. A neat one just heard is the history of the orchestra hit.

My earliest digital keyboard (a Casio of some kind) had a sound labeled “Orchestra Hit”, and I used it constantly. You’ve never really heard beginning piano until you hear the opening of Für Elise played with just orchestra hits!

It turns out, though, that the orchestra hit goes back further than the cheap 1990s keyboard. The sound even goes back further than 1980s pop music. It actually goes all the way back to Stravinksy.

This 9-minute video explains the whole thing and covers the history of pop music, early digital synthesizers, Stravinsky, and more.

If you’d rather read about it, you can check out The Story of ORCH5, or, the Classical Ghost in the Hip-Hop Machine, a paper first published in the Popular Music journal in 2005. From the paper’s abstract:

Perhaps the first digital sample to become well known within popular music was actually a piece of Western art music, the fragment of Stravinsky’s Firebird captured within the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, the first digital ‘sampler’, as ‘ORCH5’…[I]ts sound first became part of an ongoing Afro-futurist musical project, and by 1985 was fully naturalized within the hip-hop world, no more ‘classical’ than the sound of scratching vinyl. To trace the early popular history of ORCH5’s distinctive effect, so crucial for early hip-hop, electro, and Detroit techno, is to begin to tell the post-canonic story of Western art music.

Like I said, music history is full of neat little stories.