Sunday, August 24, 2008

DJ “Lesson”!!

I actually touched a record while it was spinning on a turntable! It feels silly to exclaim that, I'm such a nerd. It was really cool though. When I was in high school, no it was when I was in college, I was home for Christmas or something, in NW Indiana. And I was hanging out with my brother and some of his friends. This was when my brother, DJ Gregory Dalphond, now from Chicago, was starting out with DJing. We were at a friend's house and Gregory and I sat down in front of the friend's tables and mixer, which was set up on crates or something low to the ground. He showed me how to blend two records together. Then he left me to try and figure it out myself. I sat there for what seemed like hours (probably only half an hour!) trying to figure out how to separate the two tracks that were pouring into the headphones and then trying to match the beats. I couldn't do it that night, and I never had another opportunity again until last Thursday.

I came over to WhoDat's house and was kind of nervous. She took me downstairs to her studio and started to show me all the parts of a DJ setup. The TV was on and was kind of distracting, but it quickly fell to the background as my focus sharpened on what Terri was showing me.

She walked me through her setup – described her turntables to me, her mixer, then showed me two other mixers. Doesn't really use crossfader – it's a cheat, she explained. She was taught to use other adjustments first to control the output from each record. On her mixer now, crossfader does not work properly. She showed me her mixer with needles and a gauge to monitor sound. Then we went back over to her turntables and she played around with a few tracks, showed me different ways to control the sound output, mixing with both tracks coming through in the headphones, with one record coming in through monitor and other through one ear of headphones. She showed me how she counts and how to catch the record and then drop it in rhythm with the other track. She showed me how to control the speed of the turntable and how to adjust it when blending two tracks. Then she gave me the headphones and told me that I could touch her record and play around. I tried first with two tracks playing, to make the beats match up. It sounded like chaos in my head. I could not figure out what was coming where, first I automatically associated what was coming through the right ear of the headphones with what was coming from the turntable on the right – but that's not what was happening and I kept confusing myself, because it can switch depending on what you are bringing in and from where. Then she played around a bit more showing me again how to blend the two records. Then she put on a track by Marcellus Pittman – it was beautiful. I could have just stood there and listened to that record over and over and over. Then she put on a Kerri Chandler record. She told me that she picked those two in the hopes that they would have fewer complex sounds and rhythms in order to help me get a grip on things. Eventually, I just tried with a single record, getting used to counting the phrases, catching the record and then releasing it imagining that I would be doing that with another record. It was great! I got a bit more comfortable actually touching the record. The way the needle moves through the grooves going backwards was really smooth – I knew that already just from watching DJs, you can tell that its really soft and easy to reverse a record, but doing it with my own hands was completely different. It was neat to learn about the equipment and how the turntable arm is balanced with weights and needs to be leveled every once in a while. Dust really bothers the equipment. Some types of needles can damage the grooves over time. Some needles are good quality in terms of sound production, but wear out quickly and then skip easily on the record. WhoDat showed me the grooves and pointed out a break in the record. It was really clear once I knew what the difference in texture meant.

I am so excited about doing this every week. It is going to impact my research in major ways! And she's doing it for donuts!

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