Turntable Music Night is back!

TMN returns with a rare Amsterdam appearance by composer / turntablist Raz Mesinai playing his piece “String Quartet For Four Turntables”, Italian electro-acoustic / field recording DJ JD Zazie and dj sniff battling it out with one of the most exciting young drummers from Tokyo, Tatsuhisa Yamamoto. Read on for some background.

Turntable Music Night 7

Turntable Music Night started back in 2007, as a concert series that focuses on experimental and alternative approaches to the turntable as a musical instrument. My basic curating model has been: “one well known artist, one unknown artist, and myself.”  I have been fortunate enough to feature avant-turntable giants like Otomo, Tetreault and Van Bebber, as well as introducing new talent like Maria Chavez, Arnaud Rivera, DJ Lenar and Fedde ten Bergen/Luc van Weelden duo.

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Today, the practice of DJing has almost completely shifted to digital (with some exceptions like in dubstep), and more people are getting excited about new possibilities through new tools. Check out this recent video of former DJ battle champion embracing the digital.

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Contrary to above, the avant-turntable scene has been slow on utilizing digital tools. I think one of the reasons has to do with the idea of intimacy and extension. For any instrumentalist, the intimacy with one’s instrument comes from knowing it’s properties and it’s boundaries through years of practice. Experimental music or improvised music is often about addressing these boundaries and finding what is beyond. In this music, the relationship between the artist, the sound and the process becomes the focal point of the performance . It seems that this relationship is much harder to establish with computer based tools partially because they are more complex and partially because they are just so generic.

The task of the DJ is a bit more clearer, so even moving into the digital domain the boundaries and format are easier to set, opening up space for the performer to experiment and explore new possibilities. For it’s experimental counterpart, the challenge seems to be exactly about setting these boundaries. If one doesn’t want to be restricted to conventions or limitations that common tools impose (which is often why people choose to play experimental music) then one must first determine what one wants out of a vastly complex but “anything is possible” system. It seems that for every electronic musician today, “defining your instrument” becomes an important process towards musical expression. Intimacy is achieved through both understanding and designing the instrument as well as learning how to play it. On top of that, you want to go beyond the boundaries (which you have set), remember? Digital tools don’t give you back all these cool and unpredictable artifacts by simply creating a feedback loop like in analog days. Technology has definitely made our lives more convenient but in terms of music playing, it doesn’t always seem like that. It’s a long path to take when you want something really unique and different. However, I do feel a new generation of artists feeling at home with whole process, and younger turntablists that embrace both DJ culture and experimental music. Like these guys:

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Another interesting development I see is the re-contextualization of the turntable and vinyl into contemporary composition. Raz Mesinai composes work for classical musicians that are only played through his turntable performance. The rise of the DJ is a reflection of an age where music is predominately made for distribution through media, thus the obvious performance of the music being the “play-back” and not to see live musicians reenacting a moment. Mesinai kills the question of “DJ or musician?” by being the composer, DJ and performer all at once. Take a listen to his piece.

String Quartet for Four Turntables by Raz Mesina

Another example would be Matt Wright who writes compositions that are driven by the interaction between the turntable and ensemble members. His work openly refers to influences from hip-hop and underground dance culture as well as contemporary new music.

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Every instrument comes with it’s own cultural baggage and connotations and as musicians we cannot escape these stereotypes. Keith Rowe is as much of a guitarist as Eddy Van Halen, well, fundamentally speaking.

To me, the difference between the act of playing (like an instrument) and play-back (like hitting the play button) has always been vague . There are playings that only recite the past and there are play-backs that are expressive. The turntable is the first musical instrument that addresses this, which is now a relevant discussion for all sample based music. I hope that TMN is exactly about this vagueness that this device from the 20th century brought to us, and how it still continues to inspires us.

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