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Turntablism at Berklee
February 11, 2003 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Hip-hop turntablism at Berklee College of Music? I think it's a great idea, although I'm not sure that this is really what their typical student is looking for. Though apparently the book is already quite popular.
posted by soplerfo (88 comments total)

 
That's great to see the music school acknowledge the turntable as instrument. I don't know about the US, but in the UK, more turntables are sold than guitars. People are making new sounds in music with them, as well as simple mixing and editing that goes on with two turntables.
posted by mathowie at 8:50 AM on February 11, 2003


I've prayed for the day a book like this would come out, and it's finally here."
- QBert, Invisibl Skratch Picklz


Um, why?
posted by gottabefunky at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2003


I like the fact that if the faculty were to accept turntablism as a legitimate class, they'd then have to decide on a "core repertory".

That would be a fun meeting to sit in on.
posted by Spacelegoman at 8:57 AM on February 11, 2003


Now, more than ever, we know that hip-hop is dead.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:00 AM on February 11, 2003


Now, more than ever, we know that hip-hop is dead.

perhaps, but I still think it'd be interesting to learn turntable techniques and maybe even some history on the subject. I'd actually be most interested in a class on turntablism in a non-hip-hop environment. using the turntable in different musical settings. I guess I'm just happy Berklee's being a bit more forward thinking than I think they have in the past.

I think everyone knows you can't learn hip-hop in a class.
posted by soplerfo at 9:09 AM on February 11, 2003


I don't know about the US, but in the UK, more turntables are sold than guitars.

I'm pretty sure more CD players are sold in the US than guitars. That stat always bothered me-- it's not like you fill out a form when you buy a turntable stating that you're going to make music with it.
posted by neustile at 9:10 AM on February 11, 2003


Now, more than ever, we know that hip-hop is dead.

is it? Just because its not in your face 24/7 doesnt mean its dead.
posted by monkeyJuice at 9:35 AM on February 11, 2003


neustile: the turntables you buy for mixing and scratching are different than your ordinary record player. Also a lot more expensive. (A friend of mine paid $1500 CDN to make some *wicky-wicky*.)

When I had my choice of instrument, I thought about turntables. Then I bought my guitar. Sorry folks, a guitar is so much cooler. And you don't need other people's records to play.

As for DJ QBert, I've heard his solo stuff. Terrible. Same goes for every other turntablist / DJ who has released an album. It's really, really boring stuff. Obviously that's just a personal opinion but I think of myself as fairly open when it comes to music. (I listen to everything from The Beatles and Hank Jr. to Cattle Decapitation and Linkin Park.)
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:37 AM on February 11, 2003


Ok, that's it for today, yo. For next class you need to compare and contrast the techniques of Kid Koala's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome versus the X-ecutioners' X-pressions. Peace out.

monkeyJuice,

actually I think it's more the opposite: 24/7 face inning = serious artistic ailing.

Dark Messiah, seriously, Kid Koala.
posted by hackly_fracture at 9:42 AM on February 11, 2003


seriously, Kid Koala.

Does he bring the beat that makes me move my feet? 'Cuz all my homies know I'm down for some EQ adjusting, pelvic thrusting craziness!
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2003


We've been down this road before. Conclusion: half of MeFiers like new music, half of MeFiers can't stand any music perceived as being "black" until it's fifty years old or the number of white musicians playing it begins to exceed the number of black musicians.
posted by badstone at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2003


badstone, that's really stupid.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:04 AM on February 11, 2003


Yeah, I wasn't too thrilled about it either.
posted by badstone at 10:04 AM on February 11, 2003


Then why post such a transparently wack assessment? New music vs. old music, fine, whatever. Asserting that some people don't like some music simply because it's played primarily by black folks is just dumb.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:09 AM on February 11, 2003


So, I just noticed you didn't post to that thread. You just read the entire thing in 20 seconds?
posted by badstone at 10:11 AM on February 11, 2003


No, I read the entire thing when it was first posted, but didn't comment.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2003


Pardon my utter ignorance of turntablism, but is there really any theory to it? I'm having trouble seeing much value to a class that focuses on how to play a particular instrument. Sure you can take classes on jazz at conservatories, but you don't generally take classes on the saxaphone or the drums.

I could see a class on hip-hop though. I'm not much of a fan, but I do think it's probably an important musical development that will have a signifcant impact on the future of music.
posted by boltman at 10:20 AM on February 11, 2003


Formalizing turntablism is kinda new, but there's definitely theory to it. There are well known families of scratches, drumming, and juggling techniques. There are two different musical notation systems out there. There's a lot of fresh new theoretical ground in music that only turntablism can cover due to the unique ways that timing can be manipulated by a DJ and the utterly unlimited range of sounds.
posted by badstone at 10:29 AM on February 11, 2003


First of all it's just a single class.
And people not taking classes on the saxaphone or drums? Um. No.
Don't know what conservatories you go to.

Take a look at the New School's Jazz curriculum. It's called instrumental instruction.

I think the point is that in terms of practice, learning a skill, and yes, theory a turntable has enough behind it to warrant instruction like this.

Oh, DarkMessiah, have you ever seen someone like Dj Shadow play live? It's not boring and it's a lot more innovative and listenable than crap like Dinkin Park. (In my opinion, of course)
posted by jeremias at 10:41 AM on February 11, 2003


I'd like to cast my vote for turntablism (and the best hip hop, electronica, downtempo, et al. production) as "post-music". With or without turntables, at it's best it's a pastiche -- a synthesis of diverse bits, each of which may carry meaning by itself, into a whole whose meaning trancends the sum of its parts. And it's got a nice beat that you can dance to. I give it a 9.


posted by ubi at 10:46 AM on February 11, 2003


...transcends...
posted by ubi at 10:48 AM on February 11, 2003


In the year three thousand and thirty everybody wants to be an MC
In the year three thousand and thirty everybody want to be a DJ
In the year three thousand and thirty everybody want to be a producer
In the year three thousand and thirty everybody want to tell ya the meaning of the music

- Deltron 3030 "Madness"


Sorry, I guess that's pretty irrelevant...but maybe not. Two things I noticed...1.) it was good to see Mr. Stephen Webber sporting long hair and a black mock-turtleneck like any good Berklee-person should (j/k) and 2.) why is its just "hip-hop" turntablism? I'm under the impression that turntablism has advanced to such a degree that linking it, constantly, with hip-hop is limiting (ie: some James Lavelle stuff, some RJd2 stuff...Kid Loco...I dunno...all sorts of things).
posted by tpl1212 at 10:53 AM on February 11, 2003


tpl1212 -
it's a cultural thing. Rap got ouf of hand and became crap because MCs broke a way too far from the four elements and turned the DJ into a drum machine. Some DJs are worried that the same thing might happen to turntablism if it goes out too far on its own. On the other hand, if turntablists don't seek out new territory, turntablism becomes stale. If hip-hop can't handle incorporating that new territory, then that means hip-hop is already stale.
posted by badstone at 11:04 AM on February 11, 2003


It's called instrumental instruction.
Um, instrumental instruction is not a "class." It is basically private lessons. I should know--I had to take eight credits of it in college.

It's not that there's anything wrong with offering a class on turntables, I was just finding it hard to imagine any musicians that are not already turntablists being interested in it. Just like as a guitarist I wouldn't have any interest in taking a class on how to play the saxaphone. But I suppose to the extent turntablism represents a new style or theoretical approach to music rather than just an instrument, maybe it would do better than it seems.
posted by boltman at 11:14 AM on February 11, 2003


I was just finding it hard to imagine any musicians that are not already turntablists being interested in it.

Among others, that's exactly what Shortee and Radar did.
posted by badstone at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2003


Ninja Tune has some of the best turntablists out there, for anybody looking for examples of the art.
posted by Ty Webb at 11:20 AM on February 11, 2003


Badstone,

Dead on assessment of the situation. I agree. I'm SOOO tired of whiteboy blues. And where I live, I get inundated with the crap every time I go out. You go into a bar and there's some boomer wanker on the stage wailing on a guitar trying to show that he has "soul."

Feh.
posted by geekhorde at 11:26 AM on February 11, 2003


Badstone - definitely agree with you about the branching out of hip-hop being essential to the branching out of turntablism (and vice versa)...well said.

Ty Wbb - agree with you, too...one of the better shows i've seen recently was the Amon Tobin tour as it made its way through Boston...Structly Kev (from Dj Food) is an amazing turntablist. Ninja Tune rocks the party that rocks the body.
posted by tpl1212 at 11:49 AM on February 11, 2003


Ugh, that should be "Strictly Kev"
posted by tpl1212 at 11:52 AM on February 11, 2003


Oh, DarkMessiah, have you ever seen someone like Dj Shadow play live? It's not boring and it's a lot more innovative and listenable than crap like Dinkin Park. (In my opinion, of course)

I happen to like DJ Shadow. I'm just saying the majority of DJs who make CDs are on par with the excitement factor of a funeral. Not all of them, however.

As for "Dinkin Park" (why you didn't use "Linkin Logs" is beyond me, but I digress...), I'd rather see them than any DJ. I much prefer a true live musician, not someone who's as good as their archive of samples. Just a personal preference. I play guitar; I want to see a band, not a DJ.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:04 PM on February 11, 2003


I'm going to split this hair very finally cuz I'm sick of hearing it. By your argument Dark Messiah, a guitarist is even worse than a DJ because every sound that they use to make their songs is a replaying of a sound that has been played before. The number of sounds available to a guitarist (less than 100 ?) is extremely limited compared to the number of sounds available to a DJ. If a guitarist can only be that good, than a DJ can necessarily better by several orders of magnitude.
posted by badstone at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2003


I'll vouch for DJ Shadow as well and say that Endtroducing is one of the better albums I've heard.

As for the class, I for one happen to be a person who is not a turntablist that would want to take a class on it. I actually plan on buying decks soon (well, I've been planning for almost a year now, but they're expensive...) and start self teaching. If there were a course here at BU, I would take it. My DJ friend said that I should take a course on musical theory anyway and it would help a lot.

And I agree that it's not just hip hop turntablism... one could argue that the world of electronic turntablists is just as big (definitely so in Europe) if not bigger.

It is hard to define a turntable as an instrument, since it doesn't really create an original sound on its own like a traditional instrument does. But there's no question that it requires skill to manipulate turntables, and with more skill and creativity the music sounds better. As someone pointed out, we're not taking about auto-play record players, we're takling about Technics 1200 DJ turntables. To put it most simply, it is technically a record player, but it really is so much more. I'd sign up for Turntablism 101 in a heartbeat.

On preview - badstone is right. A DJ is only as good as their archive of samples if they aren't that great of a DJ. A good DJ takes his records and creates something new and interesting. I'd guess that DJ Shadow's Endtroducing has more total different samples than a guitar (or any "normal" instrument) has total different notes, not to mention the countless records Shadow probably has that aren't on his album.
posted by swank6 at 12:36 PM on February 11, 2003


badstone: you're trying to tell me a guitarist has less-than 100 sounds available to him? Oh dear god, where have you been living.

I'll disregard the fact that the availablility of sounds doesn't mean anything with regards to making good music. Anyone who's learned a single power chords knows the beauty of simplicity. And, besides that, a guitar can generate an absolutely phenomenal number of different sounds.

A guitar can be manipulated in any number of ways. Different amps have different sounds, the same goes for different guitars -- there, alone, is room for nearly endless variances. Then there's the gague of the strings (some players I know use .84 gague strings in their guitar, others like myself use .52 strings). Tunings also create entirely new sounds. (Drop-D may be a favoured tuning for new metal acts, but there are untold numbers of different tunings.)

Then there are distiortion pedals, pre-amps, tone-locks, etc. Any number of gadgets to manipulate the sound of a guitar. And then there's the whammy bar -- another sound manipulator.

See where I'm going here? I haven't even mentioned harmonics, or chord structures. There's an almost limitless amount of things you can do with a guitar. Just for future reference, just because something 6* strings doesn't mean it can't do very much.

I think you mean the DJ is "worse" (your words, not mine) than a guitarist, since they are playing EXACTLY the same sound that was played before.

* - there are 7 and 8 string guitars. But that's another argument waiting to happen.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:40 PM on February 11, 2003


than a guitar (or any "normal" instrument) has total different notes

in addition to what dark messiah just said, acoustic instruments of all kinds have a nearly infinite number of different "tones" that can be produced. Acoustic guitarists can vary the fretting or attack in a multitude of ways, wind and brass players, between keys and breath, have even more tools to vary timbre. It is often said that no two saxophone players sound the same because of differences in how they blow through the instrument. Electronic music, while having its own unique expressive capabilities, will never be able to reproduce the subtle beauty of an acoustic instrument played by a real live human.
posted by boltman at 12:54 PM on February 11, 2003


not someone who's as good as their archive of samples

the availablility of sounds doesn't mean anything with regards to making good music

I'm not getting what you mean, Dark Messiah. You don't have to defend the guitar's place as an instrument. None of us are denying that guitars create music in wide, wonderful, and diverse ways. badstone never said that DJs are better because they have more sounds available - he said that by your own argument, that would be the logic. You said you do like DJ Shadow... can you honestly say that the sounds on that album are being played EXACTLY as they were played before?
posted by swank6 at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2003


since they are playing EXACTLY the same sound that was played before.

OK, so that's exactly what I thought. You have zero clue what a DJing is. DJs have hundreds of ways to manipulate sounds. When you refer to DJs being limited to their available samples, it's like saying a guitarist is limited to their available notes. I can go right down your own list and describe DJ equivalents.

Different amps etc... = different mixers & amps

Different strings = different cartridges/needles and slipmats

Different tuning = pitch shifting (which DJs can do much more dynamicall)

Different effects processors = different effects processors

harmonics, chord structures, etc... = different scratches (baby, chirp, flare, crab, transform...)

infinite number of tones = infinite number of speeds of hand motions when scratching
posted by badstone at 1:03 PM on February 11, 2003


ack, pardon the mispellings. oh, and pardon the baiting, it was a dirty trick...
posted by badstone at 1:04 PM on February 11, 2003


also - PLEASE stop referencing Entroducing. It's an incredible mix tape, but it's not much of an example of turntablism.
posted by badstone at 1:06 PM on February 11, 2003


Perhaps the idea of comparing turntables to a traditional musical instrument is flawed. A closer analogy might be a recording engineer who works on the fly. Music conservatories certainly have classes on recording, and anyone who has spent even a little time in a recording studio (including the one in your parents basement) knows that manipulating recorded sound, or even accurately reproducing the sound the musicians hear, is a creative and decidedly non-trivial endeavour. Scotty Moore claimed that he had moved from guitar playing to production because, at the board "I can play an entire band."* Perhaps a great turntablist should, be compared to a great orchestra conductor. Certainly neither the conductor nor the DJ are an instrumentalist in the conventional sense of the word, but both are firmly in control of the music.

But what do I know, I own a banjo...

[*] Approximate quote from a 4-5 year old story in Guitar Player magazine.
posted by stet at 1:34 PM on February 11, 2003


badstone, I did not mean to use DJ Shadow as an example of turntablism, which it clearly is not, but I see how the way I posted mixed them together. What I was trying to say is that using sampled music (that being samples spliced together on a computer in the studio, or whole tracks mixed off records on turntables... whatever) does not limit the depth of the music.
posted by swank6 at 1:36 PM on February 11, 2003


er, I meant Endtroducing as an example of turntablism.
posted by swank6 at 1:37 PM on February 11, 2003


badstone: none of your examples stack up. Sorry.

Different amps etc... = different mixers & amps

How could one be better than the other? (Although, I've never seen a DJ with a Marshall stack.)

Different strings = different cartridges/needles and slipmats

The needle would be more like the guitar pick. So you're wrong there too.

Different tuning = pitch shifting (which DJs can do much more dynamicall)

You're not even comparing like terms. Aside from that, string bending can achieve the same effect as your precious pitch shifter.

Different effects processors = different effects processors

Again, how do you know what's better? Hell, it's probably the same equipment.

harmonics, chord structures, etc... = different scratches (baby, chirp, flare, crab, transform...)

You obviously don't know how to do a guitar harmonic or else you wouldn't be dismissing them so lightly. In the interest of polite debate, I'd say it's a tie.

infinite number of tones = infinite number of speeds of hand motions when scratching

Then what about strum patterns, picking technique, picking speed? Yeah, at best those are even...

In the end here, we're comparing apples and oranges. Frankly, I enjoy both styles of music, I just have a lot more reverence for the musical ability of a guitarist (or anyone who plays a more traditional instrument).

Sampling has always been cool IMO, it's just got an underlying lack of originality to it. I'm not saying there's no skill, but when the backbone of your music is a SAMPLE, that's what reinforces my conception of the art-form.

That said, I still enjoy it.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:38 PM on February 11, 2003


I could take a metal tube, and place a very sensitive pressure-actuated switch at the end, and hook that switch up to a machine that would play a recording of Miles Davis. I could then blow into that tube and the sound of Miles Davis would fill the air. I could even get fancy and make it so that when I blew harder, it played faster, and slower when I blew softly.

This would not make me Miles Davis, nor a trumpeter, nor a musician.

It would make me a guy blowing on a tube.

Musicians make music. DJs play music. One is a creator, one is a presenter.

The kicker? The musician can both create and present.

Carpenters make houses. Realtors show houses. No matter how artfully or skilled the realtor is in their presentation, they still did not make the house.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:48 PM on February 11, 2003


Perhaps a great turntablist should, be compared to a great orchestra conductor.

I was thinking that they might be more like an improvisatory version of the musique concrete composers and their successors.
posted by boltman at 1:49 PM on February 11, 2003


I listen to everything from The Beatles and Hank Jr. to Cattle Decapitation and Linkin Park.

Elwood Blues: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire: Oh, we got both kinds. We got country and western.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 1:53 PM on February 11, 2003


Dark Messiah - I never said any of them are better, just showing there are easily as many ways for a turntablist to manipulate sounds as there are for a guitarist. Sorry for the imprecise mappings, just trying to make a quick point.

Although, I'll fix one mapping, instead of:
Different strings = different cartridges/needles and slipmats
I should have said:
Different strings = different records

People that think that turntablists just replay existing sounds have not heard turntablism before, they've heard mix tapes and dance music. The sample is the starting point, the seed of the sound. In fact, I'll make one more analogy:

vibrating guitar string = sample

better?
posted by badstone at 1:56 PM on February 11, 2003


Anybody else find an interesting irony in the fact that this conversation is happening on Metafilter - a site where people "present" links to sites that other people "create"?

I say that the combination of these links (like the combination of samples or record tracks) has meaning above and beyond the sum of the meaning of the original parts (sites). Same with turntables and mixing. (See my post above)

You can approach this with a guitar or trumpet - alluding to or appropriating melodies or themes (see: Jazz), but you can't use the actual original piece like you can with a turntable or a sample. So, in a way, the DJ can really do more than the musician.
posted by ubi at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2003


It'll do. ;)

I think Ynoxas made a good point, though. Basically, he summed-up what I, in my lack of proper prose, was trying to say initially.

Thing is... The first guitar player just needed someone to invent the guitar. The first turntablist needed someone to invent the turntable, and someone else to play some music for him to mess with. :)

Sorry, I'm just trying to make myself feel like a big man -- feel free to ignore that last paragraph.

Ubi: any true musician wouldn't want to precisely re-produce another band's original piece. An alternate take, yes, but never reproduction. I don't think a DJ would want to do that either. My stereo does a fine enough job.
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:06 PM on February 11, 2003


Addendum: if you're refering to cover songs, those are murky water; they're usually a tribute to the original band, and the band covering the song will always throw their own musical elements into a song (otherwise, why bother playing it yourselves?). If a band really wanted to, they could come pretty close to reproducing another band EXACTLY.
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:08 PM on February 11, 2003


You obviously don't know how to do a guitar harmonic or else you wouldn't be dismissing them so lightly. In the interest of polite debate, I'd say it's a tie.
I could say as much about crabs and transforms.

Then what about strum patterns, picking technique, picking speed?
Well, I actually didn't even mention beat juggling, and drumming. I also didn't mention that besides pitch shifting, DJs can control record speed by hand either by slowing the record or with taps.

Also, the point should be made that turtablism is not like electronic music, it's tactile, analog manipulation of sounds by a human. Instead of a vibrating reed or string, you have a vibrating needle. Newer break records and battle records don't even have songs or recognizable samples, just raw sounds to manipulate. Check out Qbert's "Y" record or DJ Swamp's unskippable guitar record where each track is a different sustained guitar riff.
posted by badstone at 2:16 PM on February 11, 2003


any true musician wouldn't want to precisely re-produce another band's original piece.

DM, of course not. But (at the risk of hijacking the thread) isn't all music (visual art, film, literature) a conversation with those who have come before? Jazz musicians consciously allude to standards, other's phrasing, etc. as homage, challenge, joke, etc. DJs have always done this too, sampling, scratching on or otherwise reusing older recordings. By reusing this music in a different context, the DJ makes both a new piece of art and a commentary on the works that he uses within that piece. That's kind of what I'm trying to get at. Badly, maybe.

This doesn't address any of Badstone's points, which I think are good ones, but I guess I may be talking about what he/she calls "mix tapes"...
posted by ubi at 2:20 PM on February 11, 2003


I'd say that badstone has it about right. What makes you a musician is taking your basic sound emitter - be it a vocal chord, metal pan, guitar, turntable or armpit - and creating something musical with it.

Turntablism at the moment is somewhat mired in a quest for technical wizardry and perfection that needs to be gotten out of the system before great music is made. As a result there are few truly great turntablist albums available. X-Pressions by the X-Cutioners, and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome by Kid Koala stand out as exceptions to the rule. Parts of Anti-Theft Device by Mixmaster Mike and Wave Twisters by QBert are in the same sort of league but other parts of these albums fall into the "technical masturbation" category. If you want to see turntablism at its best then track down a live performance by QBert. I have yet to see another DJ so effortlessly able to create something new and aurally pleasing out of the few grooves underneath his needle.
posted by MUD at 2:22 PM on February 11, 2003


if you're refering to cover songs, those are murky water; they're usually a tribute to the original band, and the band covering the song will always throw their own musical elements into a song (otherwise, why bother playing it yourselves?).

Right, exactly, that's what I'm talking about. If I love Miles' version of that track, I'm using Miles' version. It doesn't make sense to try to emulate it myself, it's been done. But if I use it in a new piece, that's new -- and good bad or otherwise -- legitimate artistic expression.
posted by ubi at 2:28 PM on February 11, 2003


Well, I actually didn't even mention beat juggling, and drumming.

That's good, because then I'd offer that you argue with a drummer not a guitar player. Sampled drums don't compare to live drums; not even close. I've heard studio players who sound like drum machines, but I've never heard a drum machine that sounded like a studio-level player. If you like a nice fake, synth'ed sound to your drums then, yes, by all means, juggle those beats. A real drum kit can produce way, way more sound that any beat samples could ever hope to. The whole live ambiance is lost in the sampling process.

And I can program a drum machine too, for the record. (*rimshot!*)
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:35 PM on February 11, 2003


i agree with badstone.

consider this for a second: a keyboardist (pianist) strikes keys with their hands. the keyboardist can play a note and vary its (tone | volume | timbre | etc) by how they move its (pedals | keys | etc). One would be crazy to consider the keyboardist a lesser musician.

a turntablist is a keyboardist with an infinite number of keys. (s)he, at any particular time can play a note and vary its (tone | volume | timbre | etc ) by how they move the (knobs | record | recordplayer | etc). One would be crazy to consider the turntablist a lesser musician.
posted by escher at 2:54 PM on February 11, 2003


So if I mess around with the EQ on my stereo, I'm a musician?
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:58 PM on February 11, 2003


Drumming -
Oops, by this I meant drumming with turntables, not with a drum machine. Usually it involves taking a part of a record that has a bass drum hit with a snare before and after, and scratching and cutting those sounds. In this case, the sounds stay "as-is", but the rythmns are put together by hand, not programming, so it's somewhere between using a drum machine and being a drummer. Actually, that right there is worth stressing about turtables - you can switch back and forth pretty quickly between percussion and scratch sentences, and be equally effective at both. Guitar and piano can be used as rythmn instruments, but not with the depth that turntables can.

Also, I'd toss Flare & D-Styles' "Pharaohs of Funk" on to MUD's pile of turntablist records that aren't pure masturbation that you should really listen to.
posted by badstone at 3:04 PM on February 11, 2003


Badtone: in case this ends up getting ugly, I'd like to say that I do appreciate your answers. (And I am learning some things -- which is always cool.)

Back to the subject at hand: a bass guitar makes a more-than passable percussion instrument. I'd refer you to "Assfault" by Dry Kill Logic as a good example, with the bass guitar sounding like a particularly drumkit worthy bass drum. Also, Coal Chamber's entire catalogue features a very percussive guitar sound. Those are two quick examples I gleaned from a glance at my CD-rack.

Believe it not, guitar sound can be given a very percussive quality. Albeit, nothing close to an actual drummer. A lot of newer metal music uses the guitar and bass as a kind of percussion, driving a song where the drums would normally have done so.

*in best smarmy asshole voice* Until a DJ can scratch out a black-metal styled double-kick-bass frenzy, or a blast beat, I shall remain skeptical. :)
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:12 PM on February 11, 2003


Also to be remembered is that the use of turntable is still in it's infancy. You could trace it back to the 70's if you look for it, although more realistically it's only been around for a little over 20 years.

Heck, seeing DJ Shadow live a few months ago, he made an extra effort to point out to the crowd that all his samples, etc. were actually in tune; apparently a rarity in the field.

For anyone interested in digging deeper into the subject check out the recent documentary Scratch also not to be missed is the earlier doc Battlesounds .
posted by jeremias at 3:16 PM on February 11, 2003


Heck, seeing DJ Shadow live a few months ago, he made an extra effort to point out to the crowd that all his samples, etc. were actually in tune; apparently a rarity in the field.

Which really doesn't help the DJ = musician debate, IMO.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:19 PM on February 11, 2003


Much as I don't really want to wade into this urinating contest, it seems like the argument comes down to how much technology is placed between the player and the sound. A musician working a turntable may be slightly more removed from the actual sound he/she makes than is a violinist or sitarist, but that doesn't change the fact that a turntablist is manipulating rhythm, melody, and harmony, just as any musician does.

As for the whole DJ=musician? debate, it's settled as far as I'm concerned, and the answer is yes. Some people are just late. That debate, though, is beside the point, because the point is: is it good?
posted by Ty Webb at 3:24 PM on February 11, 2003


More specifically: does it swing?
posted by Ty Webb at 3:26 PM on February 11, 2003


...a quest for technical wizardry and perfection that needs to be gotten out of the system before great music is made.

Actually it doesn't necessarily need to come first. Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satrianni are all post-Hendrix.

...

Also to be remembered is that the use of turntable is still in it's infancy.

Technically speaking, turntablism is almost as old as the electric guitar. John Cage was using multiple vari-speed tables in 1939, whereas the first guitar with an electric pick-up dates back to ~1924.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:30 PM on February 11, 2003


One of my friends offered up this analogy: "Playing basketball on Xbox doesn't make me a basketball player. Scratching on somebody else's record doesn't make me a musician."

And you can't argue with a guy who has done a punk rock version of Pink's "Let's Get This Party Started"! :)
posted by Dark Messiah at 4:10 PM on February 11, 2003


Please tell your friend that that's a very bad analogy.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:17 PM on February 11, 2003


Please tell your friend that that's a very bad analogy.

I did. He asked for reasons.
posted by Dark Messiah at 4:21 PM on February 11, 2003


You could just let him read this thread, that should set him straight.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2003


Scratching on somebody else's record doesn't make me a musician

Why not? Because the bit of vinyl that you're manipulating already has 'music' on it? This doesn't affect the fact that you can create your own music out of it. Say, for example, there's a drawn out note on the record and as you move the turntable back and forth on that one note you adjust the speed that you move your hand, shift the pitch and adjust the EQs. The result is that, to the listener, that one note turns into numerous different notes that you can string together as you please. Effectively, you create a melody. Is this still just playing someone else's music or ar you actually a musician?
posted by MUD at 5:04 PM on February 11, 2003


Eeeish, some people have a pretty narrow definition of music, or what makes someone musician.

Everyone can be a musician, regardless of talent. You don't need to be able to sight read or sing in 3 part harmony to be a musician. Nor do you need a piece of paper from Berklee. Music is just art expressed as sound.

Of course turntablisim is music, and turntablists are musicians. It takes a lot of fucking hard work to become good with a turntable (I've tried and failed). Who the hell are any of us to say what someone creates is, or isn't music?

And you can't argue with a guy who has done a punk rock version of Pink's "Let's Get This Party Started"! :)

By your friend's (or your) definition the Sex Pistols weren't musicians. They didn't play in tune, and Sid Vicious didn't even know how to play bass.

*in best smarmy asshole voice* Until a DJ can scratch out a black-metal styled double-kick-bass frenzy, or a blast beat, I shall remain skeptical. :)

I saw Cut Chemist re-create the opening chords of Black Sabbath's Iron Man using a signal sample and pitch shifting. It was fucking badass.
posted by SweetJesus at 5:11 PM on February 11, 2003


Technically speaking, turntablism is almost as old as the electric guitar.

Ok, I could have phrased that better. Geez this place gives you no slack.

Next you're going to tell me a guitarist invented multitrack recording.
posted by jeremias at 5:12 PM on February 11, 2003


My counter argument to those who say DJs have no musical skill and that electronic music is not really music?

THAT'S WHAT YOUR GRANDPARENTS SAID ABOUT ROCK AND ROLL.

Fools.
posted by afx114 at 5:18 PM on February 11, 2003


Next you're going to tell me a guitarist invented multitrack recording.

Les Paul kicks ass!

IMHO, there's two sorts of guitarist, there are those that get that they're sculpting sound, and then there are those that put one foot on the monitor, and scream "WATCH ME PLAY WITH MY IMAGINARY PENIS!"
posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:43 PM on February 11, 2003


I saw Cut Chemist re-create the opening chords of Black Sabbath's Iron Man using a signal sample and pitch shifting. It was fucking badass.

No offence, but I played that the first day I figured out string-bending on my Fender Strat. Still cool, but he just mimmicked the same guitar technique. I can do it with just my E string.

Playing the Spanish theme song in power chords, now THAT is bad-ass. 0,0, ring out, 1,1,3,1,0. Booyah!
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:52 PM on February 11, 2003


By your friend's (or your) definition the Sex Pistols weren't musicians. They didn't play in tune, and Sid Vicious didn't even know how to play bass.

My friend also realizes that punk music was about attitude. (I've seen him tear enough people new assholes about punk music, it's not pretty.) He, however, knows how to play.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:56 PM on February 11, 2003


I played that the first day I figured out string-bending on my Fender Strat

That's because playing a guitar is easy, playing a turntable takes real skill.

;p
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:13 PM on February 11, 2003


look, anyone can say that turntablists / djs don't make real music

but carl cox took the weak sauce house track "music sounds better with you" and mixed it up with two other tracks on three turntables, and that shit was live.

LIVE.

not to mention what Capital J did with "bittersweet symphony".

damn.

check this out

www.lajunglist.com
posted by badzen at 6:23 PM on February 11, 2003


No offence, but I played that the first day I figured out string-bending on my Fender Strat. Still cool, but he just mimmicked the same guitar technique. I can do it with just my E string.

That's fantastic, but it wasn't done on a guitar. It was done with a turntable. 2 different instruments (I'd like to see you beat juggle with a guitar).

My friend also realizes that punk music was about attitude. (I've seen him tear enough people new assholes about punk music, it's not pretty.) He, however, knows how to play.

Also fantastic, but what's your point? If your friend didn't know how to play properly (like the Sex Pistols) would that him not a musician?

Open your mind, man. There's tons of great music out there. If you simply stick your fingers in your ears for whatever doesn't fit your narrow definition of music, or musician for that matter, you'll miss out on a ton.

I would think your friend, the punk, would have more of an open mind than most people. Punk is all about the DIY ethic. So is turntablisim.
posted by SweetJesus at 8:09 PM on February 11, 2003


if one who manipulates prerecorded music is not a musician, and one who plays piano is a musician, what are we to think of a mellotron player?

Obviously, as Ty Webb says, scratching is music and turntablists are musicians. You're manipulating sound to create something new. The only interesting question is whether it's something that can/should be taught in conservatories. And I guess to answer that, one must ask whether this is something that is around for good or whether it is just a passing fad that will die out in a few years.
posted by boltman at 8:30 PM on February 11, 2003


Music=Sound over Time

That's it. That's all it is. The source doesn't matter. The method doesn't matter. The technique doesn't matter. It's all just sound with a time duration.

And anyone who doesn't see that can stay in the 19th century for all I care. I'll stay in the 21st century, thank you very much.

Obviously, some music is good music, and some is bad music. That's relative to the listener and totally a value judgement, and hence, without objective validity or significance. Even my earlier bitching about white boy blues is subjective, as much as it pains me to say it. Obviously someone likes it.
posted by geekhorde at 10:43 PM on February 11, 2003


I like the OED's definition better, geekhorde:

1. That one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the expression of emotion; also, the science of the laws or principles (of melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.) by which this art is regulated.
posted by boltman at 11:07 PM on February 11, 2003


I find it odd that someone who doesn't want to see a DJ play brings up Linkin Park, since they have a DJ in their band... and during one awards show performance played with the X-cutioners, an entire team of DJs. Maybe Linkin Park should stop working with so many non-musicians.

These comparisons should stop, because a turntable isn't a guitar or a bass or a drumkit. It's a turntable, and it can be an instrument as long as there are people to think of it as one. Thinking otherwise is limiting yourself to possibilities.
posted by hanqduong at 11:15 PM on February 11, 2003


This is one of those rolling conversations that never stops, isn't it. Like I/P or American Imperialism or Dubya is Dumb.

I always find them quite curious to watch: on the one hand I'm struck by the passion that denigrators of DJness in all its forms have, on the other I'm curious about the passion of its defenders.

Sure, DJ as musician? Why not? The thing is, this woman is a musician, too. I would guess that she's probably a pretty fine one, although I'm going on instinct and the macaroni cheese photo rather than any evidence she supplies. No matter, it's a difficult instrument to play (a lot more difficult than the guitar. It may even be as complicated as playing a record), and audiences who come to dance are very demanding.

People in pop culture tend to get carried away - very few of the "guitar virtuosos" of the 70s have a technique equal to that of the second violinist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (hell, the flute players probably have the edge, chops-wise). That situation changed with the Guitar Institute of Technology (guitarists can now take their place as equals of the second violinist of the Cincinatti Symphony Orchestra), but with an important difference: the orchestra gets to play Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich and all the other astonishing peaks of achievement of Western Musical Culture and the G.I.T. graduate gets to play variations on the widdly-widdly guitar solo.

It's not a question of whether someone is a musician, or whether they are a musician with an impressive technique, but is what they are doing interesting or fun?

I've been listening to people reappropriating sounds for their own nefarious purposes for a very long time - if you include Delia Derbyshire's majestic musique concrĂȘte realisation of the Dr Who theme tune, since the mid-sixties when I was very small - and I have to say this stuff about taking-music-and-making-new-music-with-it isn't really new or even a justification for itself. If that recontextualisation is just putting the source next to a break beat (and the tyranny of the break beat is the source of my disenchantment with the whole thing, sort of like a galley slave master trying to get a party going among the rowers), then, well, so what?

The first stuff I heard like that - I suppose it would have been Holger Czukay's Movies and Byrne/Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts - was dizzyingly disconcerting, Czukay making a horn section out of brass band oompah music he'd stolen from shortwave radio, Byrne and Eno turning an exorcist into a terrifying lead vocalist. Both of them appropriating Imams for their own nefarious purposes. But that was nearly twenty-five years ago.

Then there are the Plunderphonics people, and people like Philip Jeck, and I can see where they're coming from (although my favourite plunderphonics piece is Grey Folded, an epic meditation on a quarter of a century of the Grateful Dead's Dark Star).

But the sort of thing that the article is referring to smacks of ossification - in the unironic and rather macho fetishisation of the self-consciously anachronistic technology, in the constant reference to a set of accepted meanings and behaviours and styles to be adhered to (sort of like the people who turn up to see the Cincinatti Symphony and think it's all about the tuxedos and the bow ties that the orchestra are wearing). There's too much bravado and self-aggrandisement for my kidney, largely as ballast to bolster something that actually has far less substance than its proponents would like us to think.

Sure, vinyl enthusiasts at Berklee, why not? Why not Juilliard, while we're at it? But once there, they would need to face a set of critical and intellectual challenges about what they're doing, why they're doing it and why the hell anyone would want to listen to it (although if they hang around the electro-acousticians they might be spared the latter) that they would find deflating.

Like I said, I used to listen to stuff like this all the time, but frankly it just sounds dull now. I think the polka band would be a lot more fun. Does Berklee have a polka department?
posted by Grangousier at 1:13 AM on February 12, 2003


Open your mind, man. There's tons of great music out there. If you simply stick your fingers in your ears for whatever doesn't fit your narrow definition of music, or musician for that matter, you'll miss out on a ton.

You have no clue what I listen to. I have a wide variety of electronic music; Ulver, Front Line Assembly, Nine Inch Nails, Drown, numerous remix albums, and so on.

As for my liking of Linkin Park, I don't think I ever once said "a turntable is a useless device". That's because I do enjoy the use of a turntable, as a compliment to a band. The same as I don't have a particular fondness for solo guitar acts.

Alone, turntables bore me -- their nature is betrayed easily through the sound, and I don't care for the 'feel' that tables gives a lot of music. Hence why I like it in the background, where guitars and drums can take over when the scratching gets stagnant.

I'm just offering up my own opinion. I'm not here to change anyone's mind, or impress anyone with what I can do with a guitar. Frankly, I enjoyed arguing just to learn more about scratching (thanks Badstone).

PS - the reference to playing the opening to "Iron Man" on guitar was meant to state how simplistic the intro is. And, ultimately, that's where a lot of my musical philosophy lies; simplest often equals best. And organic always beats digital manipulation in my world. Not that I can't enjoy both. I'm just partial to one, and semi-militant about it. It's my problem, I'm dealing with it...
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:06 AM on February 12, 2003


You have no clue what I listen to. I have a wide variety of electronic music; Ulver, Front Line Assembly, Nine Inch Nails, Drown, numerous remix albums, and so on.

You missed my point entirely. My point was that if you simply write off every DJ as not a musician, and whatever they make as "not music", then your doing yourself a disservice. Plus it would seem pretty ignorant.

As for my liking of Linkin Park, I don't think I ever once said "a turntable is a useless device". That's because I do enjoy the use of a turntable, as a compliment to a band. The same as I don't have a particular fondness for solo guitar acts.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but this discussion wasn't about wether or not you like instrumental hip hop. I fucking hate Linkin Park (Although the re-mix CD was pretty good), but they are still musicians. You can hate instrumental hip hop, but don't deny that it's still music.

the reference to playing the opening to "Iron Man" on guitar was meant to state how simplistic the intro is. And, ultimately, that's where a lot of my musical philosophy lies; simplest often equals best. And organic always beats digital manipulation in my world.

It may be simple to do on a guitar, but go try and do it with an LP.
posted by SweetJesus at 8:16 AM on February 12, 2003


I have a wide variety of electronic music; Ulver, Front Line Assembly, Nine Inch Nails...

Must... resist... fish... in... barrell...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:08 AM on February 12, 2003


Must... resist... fish... in... barrell...

That was off the top of my head. And I'd be shocked if you even knew who the hell Ulver are.

Here's some more: CJ Bolland, Armin Van Beuren, Executioners (not all of their stuff; their scratch-centric stuff isn't my thing, stuff like "It's Going Down" and their remixes I do like), Pain, Clint Mansell, Mindless Self Indulgence, and many many more.
posted by Dark Messiah at 4:34 PM on February 12, 2003


And I'd be shocked if you even knew who the hell Ulver are.


posted by yerfatma at 6:24 PM on February 12, 2003


And I'd be shocked if you even knew who the hell Ulver are.

I see a colour, no, it's almost the complete lack of colour...

...it's black, with a splash of dark, dark, dark, red.

;p

I should apologise, I used to like pretty much the same sort of thing, and I probably have many of the same records, and thus when I laugh, I am laughing at my younger (more angsty) self.

These days I'm more likely to mix Surgeon into Donna Summer into Coil into Herbert into Adonis into Traktor into Underground Resistance into Si Begg into Steve Reich into The Mover, but I do still have the extensive Skinny Puppy collection lying around somewhere.

To be honest, I should also know better, because if there's one thing I've learnt about music, it's that there's always someone with a broader perspective / record collection than you. His name is John Peel...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:51 PM on February 12, 2003


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