It’s the 21st century and computers are taking over almost everything, as
they can make decisions and do things much faster than people. Of course,
music industry is not the exception, as people have been using technology
to express their musical ideas, tell stories and transmit emotions in
meaningful ways for decades. Many of today’s popular artists use
computers to record, produce and create compositions. Because of this, we
have all had an encounter with electronic music at some point, we’ve
enjoyed it at a party and some of us even listen to it on a regular basis,
whether it is to help us concentrate or be more energetic.
The beginnings of Electronic Music
Computer music and electronic music are not as young as we may think,
although the concept of it brings an idea of high and sophisticated
technology to mind.
The genre holds a deep and rich history through time, having its roots at the
middle of the 18th century, with electro-acoustic instrumentation, more
precisely the Denis d’or, which was a one-off keyboard instrument
developed in 1753 that had the ability to imitate the sounds of wind and
string instruments, and the Clavecin électrique, an instrument built in 1759
that used electricity to create musical sound aided by a static electrical
charge to vibrate metal bells. These instruments were constructed almost a
century before the phonautograph, the earliest known device for sound
recording, that, at the same time, was invented 20 years before Thomas
Edison invented the phonograph. The phonautograph recorded sound and
made sound waves visible on paper. Before that, sound had been invisible and temporary since the beginning of time.
Shortly afterward the phonograph, the idea of the phonautograph was adapted into a disc music player and the gramophone was born in 1887, along with vinyl records, which were a huge uproar in the early 19th century. The record was a disk, about twice the size of what we know today as a CD, and it would be placed on top of the gramophone. Then, a needle would be placed on top of it and move across the disk, creating sound vibrations that were amplified through a speaker.
Later, in 1930, the turntable was developed.
Turntables through time
The turntable has taken music into a whole new journey full of ups and
downs for over the last 60 years; it has been used as a musical instrument
since the 1940s and 1950s, when experimental composers began sampling
and creating music entirely produced by this device, allowing a new genre of
sound, artistic skill and culture emerge in the music history.
Nevertheless, its success was not that evident at the beginning, but it made
a huge progress in the 1970s. The emergence of a new music genre, hip hop,
allowed the use of turntables to become a modern art. People called ‘Disk
Jockeys’, also referred to as ‘DJs’ or turntablists, were performers and
musical artists who used the turntables to play multiple songs at parties and
concerts, manipulating the sound and creating original compositions.
For many hip hop connoisseurs, DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and
Afrika Bambaataa are the predecessors of turntablism. Through practice
they acquired an astounding ability to find precise points in a song by
dropping the needle on a record and developed extremely high levels of
hand eye coordination.
Kool Herc is widely recognised for developing the ‘break-beat’, a technique
that extends the song’s climax indefinitely. Inspired by Herc, Bambaataa
expanded awareness of break-beat deejaying through his famous street
parties. Then, it was the Grand Wizard Theodore, an apprentice of
Grandmaster Flash, who created ‘scratching’, the sound made when the
record is rubbed back and forth.
Early DJs used scratches and break bats to go along rap and hip hop lyrics.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the term ‘turntablism’ became a
concept, an event that marked a significant evolution in the role of the disk
jockey (DJ), which had been evolving for two decades.
During the 1990s, DJs began to manifest what they could really create as
artists and a range of new scratches were born, inventing more
sophisticated turntable techniques. DJs Spinbad, Cash Money and Jazzy Jeff
transformed turntablism by inventing the ‘Transformer scratch’. After that
came the Beat Juggling, which is perhaps the most important development
of the decade in terms of turntablism and electronic music, as it effectively
evolved manipulating and reinventing existing tracks to composing music.
The Art of Turntablism
Turntablism is described today as the art of manipulating and modifying an
original reproduced audio source, in order to create new music, sound
effects, mixes and other sounds and beats, using as the main musical
instrument the dish or turntable. This instrument is completed mainly with
the use of vinyl records and crossfader equipped DJ mixers, computers,
control interfaces, effect units, and other similar implements.
In terms of DJ culture, turntablism is said to express and represent
creativity at its maximum splendor, since turntablists manage to not only
keep record samples in endless loops, but also to move the records with
their hand to cue the stylus to exact points on them, and touch or move the
platter to stop, slow down, speed up, spin backwards, or move back and
forth (also known as the “scratching” effect, a key part of hip hop music),
all while mixing, shifting and manipulating the sounds to suit the mood and
obtain the reaction they are looking for.
Still today, turntables and vinyl records are the basic equipment of DJs in
clubs and music festivals. It owes its popularity and probably salvation
mainly to hip hop culture, being one of the longest lasting technologies still
popular nowadays. No matter how many technologies attempt to replace it,
like the cassette tape, then the CD, then the MP3, DJs are still playing with
their vinyl tracks on their turntables, as records bring a particular type of
atmosphere which people find pleasing.
A large number of turntablists around the world keep innovating to
establish their own signature styles, with artists rediscovering themselves
to be the fastest, most creative players of their instrument.
Turntablism continues to evolve, and electronic music is still considered
one of the achievements of the twentieth century in music history, as using
electronic media contributed tremendously to develop the possibilities of
making new, creative music and affected musical evolution in many