Some of the seemingly more erudite and forward-thinking musicologists and critics who fancy themselves as outside "experts" on hip-hop have identified the turntable in the hands of the DJ as an instrument, with the singular scratching and backspinning techniques akin to soloing on a saxophone in the jazz idiom. An informative analog, to be sure, but in essence it falls short of the quantum conceptual leap that urban brujos like Grandmaster Flash, Grandmixer D.ST (known today as DXT to protect the innocent) and other illuminati made long ago: the turntable is more like a drum than anything else. Aside from the obvious phsical resemblance of the circular platter to the typical drum head, the turntable/mixer system is in effect "played" with the hands , the black wax rhythmically manipulated by the fingers, just as the tightly wound skin of a conga or West African tribal drum is coaxed into sonic nuances with open-handed slaps, cupped mutes, and pitch-bends (such as those created by sliding the fingertip from the outer edge of a vibrating skin toward its center -- a motion that is particularly striking in its absorption into DJ legerdemain.) Turntables were first used in DJ fashion to isolate "break beats" -- the crucial beatwise hook buried in a rare groove that, to quote Rakim, "moves the crowd," heightening the urgency of the music and inspiring dancers to their most individualized and innovative steps. In the same way, the Ghanian master drummer uses specific rhythms or "calls" to elicit a response from the drummers and dancers, completely changing the mood of a particular song and often elevating the tempo to feverishly hypnotic peaks. Finally DJs and drummers alike undergo a very real physical transformation -- a DNA flux -- owing to the practice of their art, with the hands and fingers of the DJ often morphing into gracefully thin, wiry, almost elastic appendages, and the palms and metacarpals of the drummer rendered thick and soft with constant playing.
Just as the turntable hearkens back to the original pulic telephone, with the advent of the next
millenium it also encapsulates and foreshadows new explorations in necessarily clandestine modes
of communication and information dispersal. The reasons for secrecy are simple...even now the
effects of media control and censorship of, for example, the so-called information superhighway
are being felt: ideas not in keeping with the (fully imaginary and uptopian) American mainstream
are rejected or openly persecuted by that enitity's elected custodians and their constituents; thus,
access to the "highway" is often limited due to what is presented as reanimiation of Big Brother
designed to monitor and homogenize that flow. Hip-hop, supported until now only by the wheels of
steel and the ingenuity of its proponents, has become a forum for transmittal and discussion of such
allegedly controversial topics, and with any luck the music will continue to evolve even further into
an innately understood Esperanto or language, instantly download-able to our young descendants through
genetic code or an apparatus such as -- dare we imagine it -- William Gibson's wet-wired implants...
from the stylus directly to the brain. However the transition is realized, it will undoubtedly be
revolutionary...to the tune of approximately 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.
Of course this idea of hip-hop or for that matter any African-based music -- which comprises virtually all the music identified as "American" in this part of the world -- as a valuable source of information to its initiates is not a new one. Nor is the observation that it must conceal itself in some way to thwart the destructive intentions of its enemies. Poets and authors from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) have identified the need to "wear the mask," while latter-day voices like Chuck D describe hip-hop as the "Black CNN" -- an oft-cited, even nearly cliched, but still indelibly valid assessment. Still others on the fringe see hip-hop as a constantly adapting changeling, using "...'virtual absence' -- being everywhere and nowhere -- as a stepping stone, and by incorporating all the elements of a virus into its culture, [thriving] in a place where everything that had been possibly put in its way to kill it has failed..."(cf. DJ Spooky, Tha' Subliminal Kid, in his notes to Valis I: The Destruction of Syntax[Subharmonic]). Axiom's Altered Beats ascribes in theory to all these modern viewpoints, with a significant twist: not only does the mutability of hip-hop language -- whose satellite dish is the turntable -- protect the user's identity, inform his or her perspective on the world, and incite fear and misunderstanding in all detractors, but ultimately it should aspire to render possible a deeper, almost bone-chilling exploration of the real, primordial and ungettered self... and this exploration, under ideal conditions, would be aided and abetted by a free, unfettered, completely experimental and even, in the Taoist sense, nearly incomprehensible music -- thus suggesting endless interpretations, endless solutions to endless mysteries...and from many, the One would emerge.
When you stop from the last number of infinity, where is it? Zero repeating to positive, zero repeating to negaitve -- just because you've gotten higher, just because you went lower. Hyperbola to parabola to death. It's five on a dime -- can you spin it? -- rise to nine. I'm a gargoyle in argyle socks. Yes...I love syntax because it's natural, it flows, it's like a mountain turning into a molehill: it has to rain for thousands and thousands of years. What is old is old; what is new is very rare. --RammellzeeStudies in hermeneutics reveal that any new movement in art rises up in direct opposition to what has become accepted as the norm -- this conflict is in fact what makes "art" possible. Fauvism, cubism, surrealism... all were regarded initially as threats to an establishment that was clinging desparately to Resnnaissance modes of thinking; today these revolutionary forms have themselves been for the most part de-fanged in their acceptance into museum culture. Quite on the other hand, another (and perhaps the most important) inherent beauty of hip- hop lies in its ability -- as guided by expert DJs with access to the infinite library of Bable on vinyl -- to avoid stale categorization by constantly destroying and re-crafting its meta-language. All manner of "terror tactics" like these serve to keep the art form both vital and volatile:
The proliferation of futurist manifestos and other proclomation of aesthetic priniciple is a way of asserting the power of fantasy and desire over reality and the status quo...art is seen as a concrete action, a disruptive force exerted to influence and change the evolution of the real world; in other words, the future -- as a malleable enitity, a perceptual creation -- is the only authentic dimension of reality...the past does not exist! --Hakim BeyHip-hop would seem to fulfill even as it contradicts Bey's assertion -- the music is as firmly rooted in the future as it is reverent of the past -- but then, contradictions (and for that matter confusion, chaos, and other enigmatic forces) are an integral part of the hip-hop "aesthetic." Sacred texts are randomly cut-up, or cut and scratched, in Burroughs-Gysin fashion to create collages of rhythm, sound, spoken tongues, noise -- whatever is available. In the real DJ underground, radical influences that slice through the cult of the past are felt, but virtually no regard is given to those forms of composition that have been reduced to a range of commercially consumable products; all the elements of the music are assembled according to an absence of formula. Such a "mad science" possesses the power to open completely unique windows on the world, where the realm of possibilities for new directions in music stretches as far as the mind can conceive...and perhaps even further. In the end all we can really know with any immediacy is that the quest begins when needle is touched to groove; from there, the DJ defines the journey.
Notes by Bill Murphy
with ionic input by Rammellzee
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