Vinyl Movement & Fader Position Capturing

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.

Troubleshooting

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.

Beatjuggling - a lost art?

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.

Documentary: Scratch

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)

Play & Display your Vinyl

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.

Some of my picks

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.

All DMC Winners 1985 - 2009

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.

2008 – DJ Fly – France
2009 – DJ Shiftee – USA

Happy New Year!

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!

Bubbly and a cooler

Bubbly and a cooler

The Clocktave, underestimated?

Not just your everyday clock...

Not just your everyday clock...

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 Blurb

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:

A1 Tuning Tone “C”
A2 Bass Section
A3 Synthleads Section
A4 Chords Section 1
A5 Electric Guitar Section
B1 Tuning Tone “C”
B2 Strings Section
B3 Horns & Woodwinds Section
B4 Chords Section 2
B5 FX Misc. Section

If you call yourself a turntablist, you have to try this thing out!

Some very nice scratching by Qbert

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’.

Comment if you think this is awesome!

Hamster-style vs. Normal style

You might ask yourself wtf does a hamster have to do with turntablism?!? Well, hamster-style is a term that has gotten coined for using the X-fader in ‘reverse’.

A ‘normal’ setup has the x-fader working like this:

Normal X-fader curve

Normal X-fader curve

A Hamster-style set-up has it reversed, so the channels will act like this:

Hamster style X-fader curve

Hamster style X-fader curve

Evolution of the hamster

Mr. Hamster

You didn’t really think I would write some Darwinian story here did you ;) – Hamster-style has gotten famous by a scratch crew called the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters. They were amongst the first ones incorporating this mixer-technique.

Back then also the line faders were ‘hamstered’ as the way to achieve the reversing of the x-fader ghetto-style is to  connect the right turntable to the left phono input on your mixer and vice versa. Nowadays most battle mixers have a x-fader reverse switch (or even a hamster-switch!) that only affects the x-fader.

What’s the difference?

It’s not so much the direction the x-fader has to travel in that is an essential difference in Hamster-style, rather the position of your thumb and fingers. To clarify let me say first that there is no wrong or right in this. It’s mostly personal preference, or even force of habit.

One could say that the benefits of Hamster-style are that you can utilize your fingers in closing the x-fader rapidly, even using the fader-slot to let the fader bounce-back open again. This works very nice with e.g. flares. Personally I would argue here that normal style is possibly easier when doing e.g. transform like scratches.

More possibilities

The Hamster Pwned you!

The Hamster Pwned you!

Some interesting possibilities arise when you have your x-fader reversed though. For instance, as your fader-hand is closer to the record that you’re using, you can tap or rub the record during scratches with your fader hand.

Depending on your mixer and up-fader settings you can also drop some Euroscratch technique easier as you can reach the upfader and x-fader at the same time (again, you can do this ghetto style as well, or maybe your mixer even has a fader reverse switch like mine, but you get the idea).

Euroscratch example

The last bit of this video shows some Euroscratch techniques: