much maligned and misunderstood, the DJ occupies
the epicenter of a new art form whose ideas and methods
extend beyond the dance floor to affect other arts and the broader culture.
With two turntables
and a mixer the DJ creates his art - assembling new music from the fragments
of old. As DJ Spooky says: "Assembly
is the invisible language of our time, and DJ'ing is (its) forefront
new galaxy Intergalactic planetary." Beastie Boys.
New art forms are often perceived as being alien
or monstrous before gaining acceptance. The term Impressionism was originally
used as a pejorative to describe the strange new painting of artists
like Monet, Cezanne and Renoir. James Joyce's acclaimed novels were
originally deemed indecipherable and were burned by a public that found
the work obscene. In both cases, what were first considered the work
of fringe artists were eventually embraced as reflections of a changing
of confusion, that's what the world is today." The Temptations.
In today's technology-enabled
barrage of information, where new ways of thinking are needed to traverse
the increasingingly complicated cultural landscape - the DJ stands poised
to serve as our trail guide. By translating the language of the "cut"
and simultaneously managing multiple streams of information, the DJ
is a pioneer exploring new frontiers.
hit before your mother was born." The Beatles. The
DJ's roots trace back to 1870 and Edison's phonograph - a device for
"sound writing". Musicians
began recording on them in the 1890s and in 1892 the more familiar flat
record disc was introduced. For the first time, mechanical reproduction
of a specific musical performance was possible. With the advent of radio,
DJs came into being and eventually made their way into dance halls and
something happening here." Buffalo Springfield. In
the early 1970s, DJs began experimenting with making
music. DJ Kool Herc reproduced the "break" (a popular
beat within a song) repeatedly with the use of two identical records
and mixing equipment. This set the stage for further developments in
what came to be known as "Turntablism."
Then-teenaged disciple of Grand Master Flash, Grandwizzard Theodore
accidentally developed the now ubiquitous "Scratch." Flash
produced the first DJ-made record consisting of only other records and
scratches, which introduced a new realm of possibilities in the
medium. Afrika Bambaataa meanwhile, released "Planet Rock"
which featured music made entirely from sampled sounds. Both albums
revealed the potential of the DJ as a creator of
Is How We Do It" Montell Jordan.
Turntablists practice variations of the "Beat-Juggle", blending
two records together to produce "new combinations of beats or new
beats altogether."2 The
"scratch" is the sound produced by moving the record
back and forth by hand, and can be manipulated in countless variations
to create sounds no instrument or voice could have made. DJs use their
hands and various other body parts to stop, reverse, accelerate or switch
the records to shape the mix. Rather than a recording frozen
in time, the turntablist uses recorded sounds to put on a
I want to do is get through to you, we're picking up the pieces and
we're making something new." Stereo MCs.
As sampler or turntablist, the DJ creates
by incorporating and reviving past works and tools - cutting up and
pasting back together existing music and sounds. This parallels the
postmodern artists' practice of incorporating borrowed images in their
work. By sampling, the DJ both preserves past works and infuses them
with new life. DJ Spooky describes himself and other DJs as "memory
artists" and "custodians of aural history."3
Voices, sounds and words are woven together and new meaning is forged
from their intersection.
originals; everything's reproduced, even down to my juice." Stereo
MCs. DJs are often burdened with the same
accusations of theft and unoriginality that have been heaped upon other
postmodern artists by those who claim that true art involves the creation
of something new - a birth. But what is a birth
but the coming together of two to create a unique new being? Creation
always proceeds by combining existing elements to arrive at new forms.
to the slave trade, I'll dance with you tonight." Blue Nation.
Perhaps the main difference between the traditional
musician and the DJ is acknowledgment of the source material. The DJ
gives credit where it is due. Through sampling, claim DJ group Brand
Nubian, "Heroes are worshipped, ancestors honored." The
history of art is full of theft and reincorporation of past ages'
work. Often the theft occurs with not so much as a nod to the source
material. Who gave birth to rock and roll? Did it emerge out of the
out of the blues, combined with
country western music.
The lineage of referents is constantly expanding, thus providing artists
the means for an ever greater range of expression.
together." The Beatles. The
DJ brings together disparate pieces from the past to create the future.
In the mix and on the dance floor barriers are broken -
and people converge.
In their book, "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life", authors Brewster
and Broughton claim that a, "truly great DJ, just for a moment,
can make a whole room fall
translating the language of the cut, DJs present a new way to look at
our world and our identities. Beat-juggled
together from the seeds of our parents, we
are both a product of the past and something new.