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Taku’s digital turntablism

What is Turntable Music ?

Taku gives an insteresting definitions of turntable music, narrowly he defines it as a practice that focuses on the use of a turntable and mixer as an instrument. More broadly Taku defines turntable music as anything that focuses on the instrumental use of media playback through a circular rotating interface. After an interesting look at the history of physical media recording and playback. Starting with the Phonoautograph in 1857 Taku takes us through the details and capabilities of turntable technology right up to the ubiquitous Technics direct drive turntables that arrived in 1970. The ubiquity of the mighty Technics deck is due to the high torque generated by its direct drive platter, this allowed DJs greater capability.Having dispensed with some of the technological aspects of turntablism Taku focuses on social history of recorded music playback and how from the early ‘Home phonograph concerts’ of the 1920s DJ culture emerged over 70 years.

The practice of turntable music and the look of the DJ is where Taku leads us next. The achievement of virtuosity and being able to master the speed of movement and fine control is key to the development of social status within the DJ community. Although this might sound elitist there exists an extremely social culture amongst practitioners with communities sharing information both through real world events and formus on the internet.Taku tells us about the development of the physical interfaces for record playback, Walter Kitundu’s guitar-cum-turntable instruments use the tone arm as a pickup fusing together a turntable with the body of a guitar. Taku then talks about some of the commericial developments from turntable companies. The Vestax QFO deck was designed by both QBert and the famous deck producers as a mixer and turntable in one. The red controller one was designed to give better tone control to allow DJs to use pitch more easily in their turntable music.

Taku has been building his own needles focusing on the use of the stylus as a piezo pickup. This is part of his own experimental turntable practice. Moving to how digital techniques have impacted the practice of media playback Taku describes Nic Collin’s hacked CD players. They are an example of something you can’t scratch, but the CD players stuttering is still quite interesting. Looking at the more conventional Pioneer CDJs, these sought to simulate the experience of vinyl and bridge the divide between digital and analogue media.Taku asserts that digital software and hardware is taking over the world of DJing. Having outlined the plethora of pitch tracking time code records that now exist to seduce analogue DJs to move to the world of computers Taku gives a demo of Native Instrument’s Traktor software. Looking at the hardware side of modern commercially available DJ equipment Taku shows us some of the battle mixers and midi interfaces that he uses. He predicts that in the future more combined audio/midi/control interfaces will be made with convergence and all-in-one being a key theme for manufacturers.

Club DJs according to Taku are interested more in the music playback for pleasure, focusing on the sound, selection and audience. Meanwhile hip hop turntablists are interested in the strict code of skill aquisition that is neccessary to achieve success. These turntablists are not  interested in the use of digital technology to make their art easier and he talks about a Vestax product that got a slating for making scratching too easy. Taku goes on to show us an interesting robot arm turntable video before taking our attention back to the Grandmaster Flash. As a pioneer he grew up with a little knowledge of audio engineering and was able to add cue listening to his mixer. This lead to the new ability for DJs to cut between tracks on the beat.

This is a key part of the artistic practice according to Taku, the act of artists interfering with their technology to add new functionality has been around for a while. Currently Tim Beamish’s force feedback turntable is an interesting example of this intervention in technology. Taku tells us he was inspired by DJ Radar’s video showing an foot  controller. Taku started making his own hardware foot controlled samplers and begin experimenting with Max MSP. When Taku came to STEIM he decided he had to find a new way to sample himself. He was intrested in addressing the neccessity of being able to change his output very quickly to react to other performers. Taku’s own software/hardware solution allows him to very quickly trigger the recording and playback of samples of his own turntable generated sounds.

Looking forward Taku asks the question what does turntable msuic bring to electronic/computer music ? What role does durability play in designing sturdy control surfaces, how does this impact on the cost ? Most interesting for me is Taku’s question about the use of the metaphor of rotating circles to represent music playback. Questions that arose from the crowd addressed the aspect of pre-selection of music material for playback. Taku draws from the DJ culture of using preprepared material and selections of material. However all his digital playback is of samples generated on the fly and unique to each performance. A question I had the opportunity to ask Taku was what he thought about the database aspect of tools like Native Instrument’s Traktor to speed up the access of music. Tagging and the future possibilities of automated tagging were interesting to Taku as of course they are to the wider community in digital media. Another question from the audience revolved around the question of articulation and expression of digital instrument. What dynamics and use of dynamics can DJs make to fit their compositions into the culture of music performance. Key to Taku is the aspect of having the ‘chops’ to be able to bring something to a music performance. Taku is interested in the role of risk in his solo practice, this informs his approach to digital system design regarding whether or not to design systems that make things safer for him during performances. A question came about regarding the history of turntable music with regards to the price of digital tools and the digital divide. Taku responds by outlining his interest in the appropriation of technology by non-technicial people. This for Taku is hip-hop.

Taku performs with his own technolgy tonight at the Smart Project Space.

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