Let me start of with stating that the idea of controlling pitch of the turntable by vertical motion is not new. In fact, JohnBeez introduced the Fretless Fader a couple of years back already. There are also other initiatives under the notion of Syntablism where timecode vinyl is used to control a synth or vst on a PC.
However, none of these ideas have been commercialized (yet?) so when Backtrack introduced the Midi Mod for the Vestax PDX 2000 about a year ago, I decided to create my own Midi Note Fader Mod.
Midi notes and pitch
Pitch control is one thing, another is to actually hit the right notes with the pitch. The good old SL1200s can hit 6 notes, 3 in 33rpm and 3 in 45 rpm, and obviously you could do this with the pitch-fader on the turntable itself. Now for one, the 8% pitch in the Technics is limiting the creativity in that. Second, hitting the exact pitches by hand (fretless) is quite difficult.
In order to overcome both of these issues there have been attempts of manufacturers to introduce turntables with wider pitch range (e.g. Vestax’s ultrapitch) and providing turntables with Midi control. This will allow you to, for example, play notes on a midi-keyboard and the turntable will change pitch accordingly to hit the right notes.
Provided you have the right turntable with midi-in and a keyboard, you can play some tunes if you have a tone on one of your records. One big issue with this is that you only have two hands which I’d rather have on my vinyl and on my x-fader. In my opinion Vestax had a good try to fix this by introducing the Controler One turntable which included all kinds of buttons ‘close-by’ your vinyl-hand. But honestly, they go for USD 3000 second hand and that’s a bit of a stretch for me.
Introducing the Midi Note Fader Mod
As I mentioned above it is now possible to mod the PDX2000 and PDX2000MKII Vestax turntables so that they will receive Midi-in for the Ultra pitch. As the PDX2000 turntables are used by a lot of turntablists, this can solve at least one problem for a lot of us, including me .
The Midi Note Fader mod also solves the second issue. It will enhance your setup with these capabilities:
- Vertical movement of the X-fader translates into Midi Notes
- Midi Notes are received by the turntable which will alter pitch in relative mode
- The range of the vertical fader movement can cover multiple octaves if needed, but the PDX Midi Mod cannot, it allows you to do C3 – G4. This is why the vertical fader movement is scaled to fit that range
- Pushing the X-fader down on the rail changes sample bank in Traktor which allows you to e.g. increase your Note range by using 2 samples which are one octave apart or to have 2 different sounds
How does it work?
More info on the turntable midi mod can be found here http://pdx2000midi.eu.pn/. The mixer modification and the software that sends out the midi notes and other midi messages (like switching sample banks, effects in Traktor, and even changing note-scales on the fly) have been custom built by me for this mod. I am currently still exploring if this is the best solution for the mod, and how I will share this with the public.
The Mod is still a beta version, and if you would like to attempt it be prepared that it will require some cutting of your equipment Feel free to reach out to me for any questions.
A couple of months ago I accidentally bumped into a project that some guys were running on capturing fader movement by using hacked x-faders. Although a very interesting initiative it still needs some extra hardware, and further development. At the same time, I also noticed the Turntable Surgeon tool. With some effort I was able to capture vinyl movement and x-fader position by merely using this software.
We need a Doctor
This tool has been around for a while, and development has been limited to say the least, but it gets the job done. It took me a while to get it running the way I wanted it to, but once you get some good recordings in there it is easy to see how this can be a helpful tool for any Turntablist out there. Basically the software draws a line (no, this is not a waveform) which illustrates the vinyl movement and direction. Very much like Turntablist Transcription Methodology (TTM) is made for. Except, this tool allows you to capture your own movements and analyze them. It enables this for the vinyl, as well as the x-fader.
Trying to get down that autobahn-scratch but it just doesn’t seem to sound right? Capture it, analyze it and learn where you need to tweak your style in order to make it crisper.
Once you captured some ‘data’ you can have the software play it back to you or, and this is the cool part, edit the routine or zoom in to see what is going on. If you are familiar with TTM it can be an eye-opener to see your own cuts drawn out in front of you.
How does it work?
Turntable Surgeon was created to work with Ms. Pinky timecode records. Although the creator notes that any timecode should work and the software can learn the ‘new code’ if you use the ‘fix vinyl speed’ option. I did that with my Final Scratch records and it worked like a charm.
The x-fader is a bit trickier. Turntable Surgeon will send a high-pitch tone through your mixer and it will calculate the volume of the sound that gets fed back into the software. An innovative way of tracking the x-fader position without really noticeable issues (unless you’re a dog and are receptive to very high pitch sounds…).
I needed to re-route some of my jacks in order to accomplish this as normally I only ‘cut’ the master sound, not the feeds going into my ASIO box. That will work as well, but timecode software will have a hard time picking up the track if it gets cut off constantly. In case you’re trying to get your setup working with Turntable Surgeon but bump into issues, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can help you out.
Like I mentioned above the x-fader capturing can be a bit tricky. Another issue of the software is that the waveform only gets drawn right if you select the correct part of the sample used (which currently is only the one that comes with the software) and the correct piece of your routine where it is in. If you’re not sure it is best to select both areas in total, you can then zoom in with the zoom function.
Currently it is not possible to load any other samples into the tool than the one that is in the tool itself (at least I didn’t manage to do this). However, as most turntablists who are practicing would use an Aaaaah sample anyway I don’t see this as a major hurdle at the moment.
I’ve never really embraced Beat-juggling as much as scratching to be honest. In the scheme of things I think it’s safe to say that the non-battle turntablist (as in the guys who do not go to DMC or something to compete) do not typically spend as much time on juggles than on freestyle cuts. For sure most club-tablists do some looping now and then, but you do not often see the types of juggles like e.g. Rob Swift does them.
In any case, I’ve picked it up again a bit in the last few days and did a quick vid. By no means a world class effort, ‘but Í can feel it’… enjoy.
Still one of the best documentaries in the field to date: Scratch, by Doug Pray. I once was lucky enough to see this on the movie-screen at a venue before Qbert did a gig. If you haven’t seen this, get your hands on a copy or view it on Youtube full length below.
What is it
‘Scratch is a documentary film, directed and edited by Doug Pray. The film explores the world of the hip-hop DJ. From the birth of hip-hop, when pioneering DJ’s began extending breaks on their party records (which helped inspire break dancing and rap), to the invention of scratching and beat-juggling vinyl, to its more recent explosion as a musical movement called turntablism, it’s a story of unknown underdogs and serious virtuosos who have radically changed the way we hear, play and create music.The documentary opens with Grand Wizard Theodore (New York) telling the story of how he first introduced scratching. Throughout the documentary, several artists explain how they were introduced to the field of hip-hop and scratch while providing stories and anecdotes of their personal experiences.’(Wikipedia)
Why keep your precious vinyl on your shelves when you can have it on display? The problem with his is typically that you want to play your gems every now and then and it’s a hassle to get them off the wall.. enter Play & Display Flip Frames.
Art vinyl has developed a system that allows you to display your vinyl (or just the covers if you want) on the wall, but still keep immediate access to them. Here’s a how they describe it:
‘The Play & Display design permits the owner to stylishly display one record cover and its contents on the wall. Due to this unique design, the owner can also change over the display within seconds without having to remove the frame from the wall. All it takes is a simple one-finger touch that flips the front of the frame open so that the record can be easily changed.’
Although some might say it’s a bit pricy, the possibilities are endless. You can change contents every day if you like, your wall will never look the same!
Below video is an animation of how the system works in practice. Easy as 1, 2, 3.
Scratch DJs often get asked if they ‘only’ play hiphop tunes. Over the last 10 odd years or so I’ve seen and heard many turntablists, and perhaps their roots lie with hiphop but their playing style is typically quite eclectic.
Here’s some of my picks of different tunes that I like, all quite laid back now that I think of it Some of them are fit to cut over, some not so much.
I read a post on another blog a while back with all t he DMC winners in Audio format. A very cool idea, but as personally I get more visually inspired I decided to extend this thought to, what else, Youtube
So I took some time to put together a Playlist of all the DMC Championship winners to date. I will write some short comments below as well, but in general I’ll let the vids do the talking.
Comments and list of winners so far
If you have any interesting facts on any of these, please comment. For now I just state the year, name (possible crew) and country of the winners.
1985 – Roger Johnson – UK
This one is missing from the video playlist as it has actually not been recorded as far as I can tell from various sources, including the DMC World site. It was the very first DMC championship, held in London.
1986 – DJ Cheese – USA
DJ Cheese was the frist to bring actual scratching into the battles. Supposedly one of the runners up, Orland Voorn, took the mic from Tony Prince and yelled, quote from DMC site, “What is this, a Mixing Competition or a Scratching Competition?”. Rumour has it that Tony kicked him off the stage right after.
1987 – Chad Jackson – UK
Yes, this is the same guy who later came with ‘Hear the drummer get wicked’.
1988 – DJ Cash Money – USA
Helped promote and invent the transformer scratch. Jazzy Jeff is known to be the first one transforming.
1989 – Cutmaster Swift – UK
1990 – DJ David – Germany
1991 – DJ David – Germany
Turned into a somewhat epic performance with the coke-cans and the dazzling b-boy move at the end
1992 – Rocksteady DJs -Mix Master Mike, DJ Q-Bert, and DJ Apollo – USA
Q-Bert and Mix Master Mike (MMM) step on the scene. First year that a crew could actually win the competition. In later years there will be separate team events.
1993/1994 – Dreamteam – Mix Master Mike and DJ Q-Bert – USA
There was only one event in these 2 years.
1995 – Roc Raida – X-Ecutioners – USA
Roc has passed away in 2009, R.I.P.
1996 – DJ Noize – Denmark
1997 – DJ A-Trak – Canada
The youngest ‘kid’ ever to become DMC world champion at 15. Hear how Tony Prince mispronounces his name afterwards as A-Train lol. A-Trak is now Kanye West’s tour DJ.
1998 – DJ Craze (USA)
1999 – DJ Craze (USA)
2000 – DJ Craze (USA)
2001 – Plus One – Scratch Perverts – UK
2002 – DJ Kentaro – Japan
2003 – Dopey – Canada
2004 – ie.Merg – USA
2005 – ie.Merg – USA
2006 – Netik – France
2007 – Rafik – Germany
Probably most famous for the Autobahn scratch haha.
If you can’t get your hands on some old English, grab some champagne and toast on your dead homies and for those of you who haven’t seen ‘don’t be a menace’, have a great 2010, full of new cuts and freestyles!
One thing I have always found a bit strange is that there hasn’t been that much buzz as I would have expected about the Clocktave. This is a very innovative concept by DJ Sjam where the ‘Clocktave record’ can be used to actually play melodies.
Personally I think it’s a brilliant idea, executing it, and the skills needed, is a different thing as always. In any case, Kypski (Producer of the Clocktave) has put numerous clips on youtube demonstrating the power of the Clocktave.
Ladies & Gentlemen…
Introducting the Clocktave, Kypski clocktaving the Beatles:
Above example is more of a lead instrument. Naturally it also works for hooks and basslines. This is how Kyspki demonstrates that with the Rappers Delight Theme:
The intro blurb from their label Supertracks:
“The Clocktave is a turntablist scratch tool, specifically designed for melodic scratching with the newest types of analog and digital turntables.
It’s a scratch tool based on a simple, but smart concept. In april 2004 Sjam told Kypski about his idea of pressing notes, ascending notescales to be exact, on a vinyl record. But not just that, the octaves of the scales had to be divided exactly between one rotation of a record. This way you’d remember the position of every note. You could play melodies while scratching, scratch while playing melodies… scratch melodies…well basically play melodies using your turntable. And all this while keeping the natural sound of the instruments in every single note, without having to move your scratching hand away from the platter to change pitch.
Kypski liked this idea so much that he decided to introduce this concept briefly on Mazturbation Tool, and after that create a whole scratch record entirely around this concept. They named the concept ‘Clocktave’ (Clock – Octave) because the note markers can be read as a clock: every note has its fixed position, regardless of wether it’s in a high or low octave. You could compare it to Q-Bert’s ‘Y Record’, but with musical notes instead of stabs & beats and with way, way more positionings.
And here it is. Superb musicians were hired to play scales and chords on acoustic and electric instruments like electric bass, upright bass, guitars, synth leads, rhodes, clavinet, horns and more…. All in the clocktave fashion. Skipless. In C-minor. Sounding FATASS.”
Tracklisting and where to get it
The record itself is available from Discogs. Here’s the tracklisting:
Tuning Tone “C”
Chords Section 1
Electric Guitar Section
Tuning Tone “C”
Horns & Woodwinds Section
Chords Section 2
FX Misc. Section
If you call yourself a turntablist, you have to try this thing out!
I think most turntablists will agree that DJ Qbert is amongst the great tablists of all time. With some guys, sometimes very technical cuts loose a bit of the ‘funkyness’ or the flow if you will. In my opinion Q does not have this most of the time because he is so versatile. I wanted to share this clip with you guys because it has a good bit of ‘talking’ through cuts. Note the part where Q uses the beep-tone to ’speak’.