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Turntablism is the art of manipulating sound and creating music using phonograph turntables and an audio mixer. Beat mixing, scratching, and beat juggling are some of the elements in a Tablist's arsenal.

Turntablism is a subgenre of hip hop, emphasising manipulation of a vinyl record. One who engages in turntablism is a turntablist: A term created in 1994 by DJ Supreme, to describe the difference between a DJ who just lets records play, and one who actually manipulates the sounds of a record. This term was later popularized by DJ Babu (of the Beat Junkies and Dilated Peoples) who inscribed his mixtapes as "mixed by Babu the Turntablist."

Turntablists DJ's use turntable techniques like scratching or beat juggling in the composition of original musical works. Turntablism is generally focused more on turntable technique and less on mixing. Some turntablists seek to have themselves recognized as a legitimate musician capable of interacting and improvising with other performers.



Turntables were first used as musical instruments in the 1940's and 1950's by musique concrète and other experimental composers, such as John Cage and Pierre Schaeffer, who used them in a manner similar to digital sampling. (Even earlier, Edgard Varese experimented with turntables in 1930, though he never produced any works using them.) Modern experimental turntablists include Christian Marclay, Otomo Yoshihide, Philip Jeck and Janek Schaefer.

Hip hop DJ's developed independently of the earlier techniques, and the sounds produced by these experimental composers are quite different from later hip hop turntablism.

Old school

Hip hop turntablism can be traced to the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash laid some of the groundwork, but it was DJ Grand Wizard Theodore who accidentally isolated the single most important technique in turntablism: he put his hand on a record one day, to silence the music while his mother was calling out to him. He thus accidentally discovered the sound of scratching-moving the record back and forth under the stylus.

DJ Grand Mixer DXT is credited with inventing turntablism, the rhythmic scratching of a record on one or more (usually two) turntables, then using different velocities to alter the pitch of the note or sound on the recording, making the turntable a fully performable and improvisational instrument (Alberts 2002). DXT appeared ( as DST ) on Herbie Hancock's hit song "Rockit", perhaps the first non-rap use of scratching.

More sophisticated methods of scratching were developed later, which involve moving the fader on the mixer in a rhythmic manner while scratching, giving a wide variety of different sounding scratch effects. Others still have used effect pedals to alter or manipulate the sound.

One of the earliest academic studies of the turntable (White 1996) argued for its designation as a legitimate electronic musical instrument -- a manual analog sampler -- and described turntable techniques such as backspinning, cutting, scratching and blending as basic to the repertoire of the virtuoso hip hop DJ. White demonstrated that the proficient hip hop DJ must possess many of the same skills required by trained musicians, including a keen sense of timing, sharply-developed hand-eye coordination, technical competence and creativity with his material.

New DJs/turntablists/crews like DJ Craze, Roc Raida,Dj Focus, DJ Q-bert, Gunkhole, A-Trak, Noisy Stylus, D-Styles, Birdy Nam Nam and Kid Koala owe a distinct debt to Old School DJs like DJ Kool Herc, Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and DJs of the golden age of hip hop, who originally developed many of the concepts and techniques that evolved into modern turntablism.

New school

Within the realm of hip hop, notable modern turntablists are the cinematic DJ Shadow, who influenced Diplo and RJD2, among others, and the experimental DJ Spooky, whose Optometry albums showed that the turntablist can perfectly fit within the classic jazz setting.

Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark, members of old school hip hop collective Jurassic 5, and Mix Master Mike, who collaborated with the Beastie Boys on 1998's Hello Nasty, are also known as virtuosi of the turntables.

Turntable contests

Like many other musical instrumentalists, turntablists compete to see who can develop the fastest, most innovative and most creative approaches to their instrument. The selection of a champion comes from the culmination of battles between turntablists.

Battling involves each turntablist performing a routine (A combination of various technical scratches, beat juggles, and other elements, including body tricks) within a limited time period, after which the routine is judged by a panel of experts. The winner is selected based upon score. These organized competitions evolved from actual old school "battles" where DJs challenged each other at parties, and the "judge" was usually the audience, who would indicate their collective will by cheering louder for the DJ they thought performed better. Often, the winner kept the loser's equipment and/or records.

See also


  • Eshun, Kodwo More Brilliant than the Sun. Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet Books 1998. ISBN 0-7043-8025-0
  • Poschardt, Ulf: DJ Culture. London: Quartet Books 1998. ISBN 0-704-38098-6
  • Scratch - A documentary about the History and Culture of Turntablism


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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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