Loop 2016: Day 3

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The Loop 2016 series of blog posts chronicles Mmmmaven’s Ableton intern and former student, Katharine Fountain, on her journey to Berlin to attend Ableton’s Loop Summit. Loop is three days of discussions, performances, presentations, studios sessions and interactive workshops aimed at exchanging ideas at the cutting edge of music, creativity, and technology. Click here to learn more about Loop, or connect with Katharine via Instagram or on Soundcloud .

The Art of Sampling

The final day of Loop kicked off with a presentation by notable producers Kirk Knight, Kyoka and Deantoni Parks, all of whom use samples extensively across a variety of musical genres.

As the number of tools for capturing and manipulating samples has grown and become more flexible, so too has the variety of techniques and usage of sampling proliferated. What are the different ways that music makers today work with samples?

Sampling is an essential part of any electronic producers workflow, be it processed field recordings or pitched and chopped vocals. It was interesting to observe the different approaches that each producer took to sampling as they created fresh beats live on stage while discussing their techniques with moderator, Tony Nwachukwu.

From Studio To Stage: Developing Your Performance Setup

The Art of Sampling was followed with a discussion pertaining to a question that many producers regularly ask themselves, that is – how am I going to perform this live? Moderator Mark Zadel was joined by producer/performers Daedelus, Kimbra and Quantic to discuss the ways in which they developed their live performances, and the challenges that they encountered along the way.

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For me, a key takeaway was that although it can be tempting to try and do everything live in order to prove yourself (in a world that unfortunately, still tends to question the validity of live electronic concerts), it is important to play to your strengths and ultimately cultivate a set that is comfortable and fun for you to perform.

Other pearls of wisdom included:

  • Think about how much time you need to practice – double it
  • If you’re considering hiring a crew, hire a great live sound engineer first
  • Always bring a backup set to the show
  • Start small and gradually build your set
  • If you can’t find the right piece of equipment to use in your set, don’t be afraid to reach out to the makers of instruments and musical equipment and share your needs. You are helping them to create better gear for everybody

Young Producers Roundtable w/ Kučka, Kirk Knight, and Guest Facilitator DJ Jazzy Jeff.

Out of all of the wonderful discussions and performances that occurred throughout the weekend, the Young Producer’s Roundtable was probably the most important and influential event for me.Joined by a handful of emerging artists from across the world, I sat in a circle with producers Kučka, Kirk Knight and the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff, and discussed the challenges and opportunities that young artists face in the modern music industry.

An issue that seemed to be shared collectively by my peers and I was the question of wondering if, and when your music is good enough to be shared with the public. At one point in the discussion, DJ Jazzy Jeff (who has worked with The Roots, Talib Kweli and Eminem, mind you) said simply, “you’re always going to be insecure about your music”. There was something about hearing those words come from somebody with nearly 30 years in the business that was oddly comforting to me. It’s easy to believe that everyone else is so much more confident and capable than you are, but in reality as artists, we all share similar doubts regarding our work, and it’s okay to feel that way.

We also got the chance to discuss some of the unique obstacles that female producers are confronted with. Apart from myself and Kučka, there were only 2 other women at the table – the land of music production is still a very male dominated field. I think that this is slowly changing, but for now we are still a minority when it comes to producing.

I found Kirk Knight’s drive and enthusiasm to be infectious – his passion and energy for creating music was very apparent, and I appreciated how humble and down to earth he was despite achieving great success at such a young age. I got the chance to speak with him one on one later on, and he encouraged me to just put out as much music as I can, and like Jazzy Jeff said, not to worry about whether or not it’s good enough. It’s important to develop a body of work, and allow your listeners to grow with you as you progress.

Lee Scratch Perry & Subatomic Sound System in Concert

Loop 2016 concluded with a discussion and performance from Lee “Scratch” Perry and Subatomic Sound System. Jamaican born Lee Perry is a central figure in the evolution and history of reggae and dub music, and at 80 years old had more energy and stage presence than anybody that I’ve seen perform in quite some time!

Perry was the first producer to ever appear as an artist on an album cover, proving the creative capabilities of the studio as an art form itself. Producing music from his simple home studio, the Black Ark, and distributing most of it on his own independent Upsetter label, Perry inspired producers across all genres of music.

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In addition to his own music, Perry has produced hits for the likes of Bob Marley & The Wailers, Junior Byles, Max Romeo, the Heptones, Gregory Isaacs, Junior Murvin, and The Clash. His lively and bassdriven performance was the perfect way to top off an excellent weekend!

<<< Day 2  |  Intro >>>

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From John Cage to Kool Herc: A Brief History of Turntablism

History of Turntablism- Grandmaster Flash
Critics of modern Dance music and DJ culture often throw around the charge that DJs simply “press buttons,” insinuating that there is no skill or artistry in the craft. Every so often, controversy will break out when a major DJ act is accused of having their headphones unplugged, or their gear powered down during a set, showing that the question of whether DJs are “real artists” is a contentious debate to many. What may be unknown to the critics is that the turntable and its predecessors have been used, not just as playback devices, but as full-blown instruments of their own since their inception over a century ago.

Coined by DJ Babu of the Beat Junkies crew, the term ‘turntablism’ emerged in 1995 to reflect the artistic practices of the hip hop DJ and, specifically, to denote the difference between playing back records and using turntables to manipulate sound. What’s described as turntablism today however, extends beyond hip hop, and its history starts much earlier.

Even before turntablist pioneers such as DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash started to popularize techniques like beat-juggling, others like John Cage and Pierre Shaeffer were fiddling with the use of turntables and vinyl records in a variety of experimental platforms. To help educate people on the history of turntablism, The Vinyl Factory has written up a brief history of the different ways people have used vinyl and other physical recording mediums to manipulate sound. Head to their site for the full story, and take a look below for an (even briefer) look at some key moments in turntablist history.

Pierre Shaeffer Musique Concrete
Pierre Shaeffer, pioneer of musique concrète

Precursors to Turntables

Seventy years before hip hop turntablists, traveling showmen would, as the grand finale to an evening’s entertainment, instantly record a cornettist and then perform sped-up takes of the recording by turning the phonograph handle faster and faster.

Even before true turntables had been invented, performers were beginning to experiment with the manipulation of pre-recorded material in a live setting. Early inventions like Thomas Edison’s phonograph allowed not only for playback, but for recording of live sound, sound which could be played back normally, as well as be sped up, slowed down, or played backwards, and this capability helped to pioneer techniques that are still used by modern DJs.

20th Century Experimental Composers

During the 20th Century, as turntable and record technology developed further, experimental composers like John Cage and Pierre Shaeffer started to develop musical styles that revolved around creative uses of turntables. Pierre Shaeffer pioneered the genre of musique concrète by using psuedo-sampling techniques, playing records forwards/backwards, at different speeds, and breaking the grooves to create loops.

Musique concrète (French pronunciation: ​[myzik kɔ̃.kʁɛt], meaning “concrete music”) is a genre of electroacoustic music that is made in part from acousmatic sound, or sound without an apparent originating cause.

John Cage, a composer known for his piece 4’33”, composed pieces for performance with records and turntables, such as his Imaginary Landscape No.1 and Credo in Us, both of which involved performers playing records at different times and speeds.

Reggae, Club, Hip Hop, and Radio DJs

In the 2nd half of the 20th century, modern DJ techniques began to be developed in a number of places. During the 50’s and 60’s, Jamaican reggae DJs began to develop techniques like beat-juggling and cutting back and forth between records, which allowed them to create original compositions on the fly from old records.

Jamaicans like DJ Kool Herc brought these techniques to the US, helping to pioneer what would be come hip-hop. Early hip hop DJs were extremely important, often taking on the role of producer and performer, manipulating records to create instrumental tracks that MCs could rap over.

At the same time, club and radio DJs began to pioneer the art of beat matching and mixing two records together, with DJ Francis Grasso being credited as the first to really perfect the art of beat matching records. During the 1970’s and 80’s, club DJs began using two or more turntables to mix records into one another, as opposed to only one turntable, marking the dawn of modern DJing.

Contemporary Practice

In the 21st century, the turntable is understood to be a powerful tool of sonic manipulation, and many continue to push the musical development of the platform. This piece, by Gabriel Prokofiev, features a DJ soloist with an orchestra accompaniment, a bizarre pairing that blends together with surprising ease.

Outside the realm of modern classical music, the annual DMC DJ competition pits the best DJs in the world against each other, serving as a showcase of the world’s best talent, and gives aspiring DJs something to set their sights on. Below is a video of Canadian DJ VEKKED’s winning set at the 2015 DMC competition. The DMC competition has traditionally been sponsored by Technics, however in recent years the rise of digital DJing technology has led them to allow the use of vinyl emulation controllers. The arrival of digital DJ technology has been met with a lot of scrutiny, however some digital platforms offer a degree of control that is unavailable with an analog set-up.

As you can see, turntablism has quite a history as an art form, and involves a bit more than “pressing play”.

If you’re interested in learning more about DJing, make sure to look at our courses. Our instructors DJ Rugged One and DJ Esq are particularly good at it. In fact, here’s Pete (ESQ) being shouted-out by Kid Koala, one of the more artistic turntablists in the world:

A video posted by Mmmmaven (@mmmmaven) on

Contact me about setting up a free introductory lesson and tour of the studio. Our students really love it. But don’t take my word for it, read what they’ve said about us on Google Places.

Childrens Book Made to Teach “SoundSystem” Culture

Thanks to Ras Mykha, an author and illustrator, a book has published to teach young kids about the “Sound System”. A “sound system” is a collective of DJs, producers, and MCs that come together to play music. Ras Mykha is also known for being a singer and MC in the sound system, Lion Roots. The book titled The Sonar System was made in collaboration with a United Kingdom national tour that documents the history of Sound Systems.

The Sonar System is a kids’ picture book set on Tesfa, a faraway planet that revolves around a gigantic speaker instead of a sun.

Below you can view other pictures of the book. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, you can do so by clicking here.

We’d like to thank our friends at Fact Magazine for showing us this via their own blog.

Have a little one interested in soundsystems? We still have room in our Summer Camp “Beat Academy” this August! Bring them by and we’ll give them a tour of our school and promise they will freak outContact us today and give your son or daughter the gift of music.

Soul Clap Record Fair [FRI 10/10]

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The Soul Clap record fair we hosted during the Together Boston this past May had such a good turnout we decided it was only appropriate to do another one! Come dig for vinyl straight from the collections of some of Boston’s most renowned selectors. There will be a large array of different styles from some serious collectors here, from $1 bin jams to hard-to-find classics.

If you’re looking for some new listening material, to spice up your next DJ set or a dusty gem to sample on your next track, here’s your chance.

Here is a list of the confirmed sellers:

Pete Dev/Null (90s breakbeat hardcore, jungle, dnb)
Pat Fontes 6-8pm (techno, tech house, speed garage)
Caseroc (house, techno, dnb)
Studebaker Hawk (disco, house, hip hop, funk, jazz, basically everything)
Safi Omar Andujar (reggae, african & colombian)
Will Mayo (from Deep Thoughts JP)
Nick Minieri (house, dnb, Zakim records on sale)

The fair is happening this Friday October 10th from 4-8pm at the Mmmmaven studios (614 Mass ave Cambridge). Check out the Facebook page for updates.

H/T to Nick Minieri for organizing this. He’s been an integral part of Together Boston for years. His Zakim 005 celebrated the local scene, including a track from Mmmmaven Ableton instructor Moduloktopus: