Join us for our traditional look back at the news and features that floated your boat this year.
Best of 2023: Considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld is also synonymous with slap bass. You may recall that a somewhat synthetic example of the sound was used to underscore Jerry’s opening monologue and to create the show’s between-scene audio transitions, and proved divisive to say the least.
On first listen, you might think that this was just a preset from an ‘80s synth. The names of the Yamaha DX7 and Korg M1 have both been put forward in the past, while others have speculated that it was the 360 Systems MIDI Bass that provided the sound. However, when this last instrument was suggested by Robotussin on Instagram, who should pop up to provide a correction but Seinfeld soundtracker Jonathan Wolff.
“I never owned any product from 360 Systems,” he confirmed. In fact, it turns out that the Seinfeld bass sounds were “Frankenstein-engineered from multiple sampled bass guitars using sample edits, compression, EQ, phase manipulation and gain staging.”
Digging a little deeper into the phase manipulation (after providing a "nerd warning!") Wolff says: "I selected a narrow frequency (filtered obviously through a separate bus), reverse-phased it and (slightly flanged, delayed, and detuned to avoid cancellation) added it off-center back into the mix. Full stereo, it looked weird on a scope but had little audible effect. However, when summed mono, it created a sharp nasal edge to the bass."
Clever stuff, but why in the archive E! News report above, then, does Wolff appear to be playing the sound on a Kurzweil synth?
“I triggered the notes using a keyboard controller, which (to nice folks viewing interview videos of me working) is sometimes confused with the actual source,” Wolff explains. "No synth for you."
Wolff has actually revealed some of this information before, also confirming that the slap bass licks changed episode on episode to fit with the beats of the monologue. And, as he told Mel Magazine in 2021, the sound itself evolved, too.
“It got to the point that the peeps in my office would leave me little sampled bass sounds when they had a minute and got weird sounds out of it,” Wolff explained. “I’d often incorporate them into Seinfeld cues, so in that way, it stayed fresh, while evolving to become a little more aggressive, more nasal, more weird.”
Weird it certainly was - so much so that, at the end of Season 1, the network wanted it changed for Season 2. Wolff suggested to co-creator Larry David - who loved the theme - that he should accept this and let him compose something more conventional, but David was having none of it, going so far as to throw Wolff out of a meeting in which the music was being discussed.
“I was like, ‘Look, there are other things on this list, choose your battles. Give ‘em this one, and then you’ll win a few others,’” Wolff remembers. “But Larry wasn’t having it. He started up, ‘Wolff, what are you saying? You’re done here! Out!’”
The slap bass stayed in the picture, then, and has since transcended Seinfeld via its use in countless mash-up videos and memes. "I actually like seeing young musicians incorporating samples from my work. Fun," says Wolff.