Topless DJs Going Mainstream

topless dj niki belucciWhen we first found Portia Surreal, the topless DJ, we thought that she was an anomaly. Surreal’s background is in the underground fetish and goth scenes, and she bills herself as an erotic fetish dj extraordinaire.

When DJ Diva came to our attention, it was clear that Surreal wasn’t spinning topless alone. Diva may have topped Surreal, though, by jumping topless out of a plane as her entrance to a DJ gig.

DJ Niki Belucci, right, is the latest topless DJ on the scene. Belucci is a 23-year old DJ from Budapest, Hungary. She’s got an ugly MySpace page, but somehow, it’s more striking than Tiesto’s.

Belucci specializes in house music. Topless djing may not be mainstream yet, but based on this video of Niki Belucci in action, it may not be far off.

Warning: Not worksafe.

The video below contains graphic images of topless DJ Niki Belucci in action.

It also contains old-school house music some may find offensive.

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Rhythm Science, By Paul Miller, AKA DJ Spooky

Rhythm Science, by Paul D. Miller, AKA DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, is a fascinating and challenging book. It explores Miller’s ideas about Rhythm Science – the creation of art from the flow of patterns in culture.

The book focuses on the role of the DJ as a metaphor for the artists in today’s culture. DJ’s are sampling, collaging and creating new works from elements of pop culture, and Miller has been on the leading edge of this. DJing and sampling offer new artistic tools, but also bring them cutting-edge controversy.

Ultimately, it’s about the tension between slavery and freedom, in life, in culture and in art, tieing together African-American heritage with the ideas underlying the art of DJing.

The book is an intellectual tour-de-force. Miller’s writing style adopts the free-form collage and sudden shifts of DJ music. This can at times make it a challenge to digest. He switches from theory to autobiography to history, throwing in reference to Nietzsche and the Wu-Tang Clan as he goes along. As a result, the writing is often dense, disjunct and the threads that connect sentences may not be readily apparent.

Miller puts it this way: “DJ-ing is writing, writing is DJ-ing. Writing is music, I cannot explain this any other way. Take Nietzsche, for instance, whose brilliant texts are almost musical. Obviously, you feel the rhythm inside a great poet’s stanzas, but it’s there within the great philosophers’ paragraphs as well. So many media and cultural techniques of interpretation coexist – reading watching, listening, surfing, dancing – that this textual/sonic synasthesia demands a great deal from us.”

Rhythm Science does demand a great deal from the reader. Miller’s range of references is massive, and he throws things together without trying to connect the dots for the reader. Nevertheless, the book is a compelling read for anyone interested in DJ culture and the ideas and issues that surround art in the digital age.

DJ Spooky Rhythm Science

Rhythm Science is also a work of art. Designed by COMA, the book alternates spreads of glossy pages and matte pages. The main text runs through the matte spreads. The glossy spreads feature illustrations and quotes that comment or highlight on elements within the main text.

The book is bound with a CD by Miller that showcases his DJ style. It’s an aural exploration of the ideas in the book. The book is designed with a hole drilled through it that highlights the CD spindle bound into the back of the book. The CD isn’t a DJ mix in the popular sense, but more of a rhythmic sound collage. Miller takes DJing to the edge; both of what’s legal and of what’s accessible to a general audience. Just as Miller’s text is dense and freeform, the CD is all over the place.

The music has an old-school feel in the way that Miller uses samples. Most modern sample-based music tends to take a recognizable quote from a popular piece and loop that to create a groove for rapping or jamming over. Miller’s music imagines an alternate world where ideas and art are unfettered by copyright concerns.

Of course, we live in a world where artists have to deal with legal issues surrounding what can be created, shared and sold. Rhythm Science confronts us with these issues. While it doesn’t provide an answer to the questions that digital culture raises, it explores them in a compelling way.

Preview Rhythm science via Hypnotext.

Turntablism to be Taught at Berklee College of Music

Wikki-wikki-wikki! Students at Berklee College of Music are throwing their hands in the air. The school has announced that it will be offering the first college classes in turntablism, the art of scratching!

Boston’s Berklee College of Music, one of the leading institutions for the study of contemporary music, is breaking new ground in music education by becoming the first music college in the world to incorporate the study of turntablism into its curriculum. This spring semester, Turntable Technique will teach students the art of playing the turntable.

Turntable Technique will be taught by Professor Stephen Webber, a veteran of classical, jazz and electronic music who is considered a leading authority on turntable education, as the author of the first instructional method book to teach the turntable, Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ (Berklee Press, 2000).

Berklee’s decision to adopt the turntable as a musical entity worthy of academic study continues the institution’s historical tradition of defying the music conservatory establishment by adopting new and often controversial music forms. In the 1940s, Berklee became the first music college to offer jazz in its curriculum, and later in the 1960s was the first college to adopt the electric guitar as a principal instrument.

Berklee Press was the first publisher to introduce a line of books and records to offer instruction in the art and techniques of the DJ. Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ culminates the music education that Berklee College has made famous for over 50 years and offers a formalized method of musical notation so DJs can better communicate with and learn from each other. Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ is now a best-selling title available as a book and vinyl set, and in DVD and VHS formats.

“Turntablists are musicians,” says Webber. “Many of them, like DJ QBert, are virtuoso musicians, who practice hours a day and constantly strive to push their art further. I recently saw QBert perform, and he transported the entire audience; made us forget where we were and who we were, with nothing but a turntable and a piece of vinyl.”

“People take it for granted today that jazz is serious music worthy of the same disciplined study as classical music,” said Webber. “But when Berklee began teaching jazz improvisation in the 1940s and rock guitar in the 1960s, most other music schools perceived those musical forms as a threat to ‘serious’ music. It’s the same situation with Hiphop and turntablism today.”

As with jazz and guitar, the decision to create a curriculum for Turntablism was not made lightly, according to Gary Burton, executive vice president of Berklee College of Music and a legendary jazz musician. For the past year, Burton has chaired a study group of faculty members that has debated and dissected turntable music to evaluate how it would hold up to academic analysis.

Burton commented, “We knew that there was serious interest in turntablism from many of our students, but we had concerns about how this emerging mode of music making could fit into a college music curriculum. So, we studied the work of some of the established names in the field and debated the musical issues, such as the lack, to date, of an agreed upon method for notating turntable performances, and how we could teach our students these skills within our educational approach. Issue by issue, we sorted out how we could do this at Berklee and respond to our students’ interest.”

Part of what makes it possible to offer the study of the turntable at the college level is the representation of scratching in music notation. Webber’s method first appeared in his book Turntable Technique: The Art of the DJ, and consists of a “scratch staff” in which the movements of the record and the mixer’s controls are expressed in standard musical notation. This is the first time that anyone has adapted standard musical notation to teach the turntable.

Noted electronic musician, DJ, creator of the soundtrack to the film Monster, and Berklee alumnus BT commented, “I’m extraordinarily excited that turntablism is finally being recognized as an instrument unto itself. The skill of rhythmically and melodically manipulating vinyl is a more than 25-year-old tradition and it’ll be great to see people check off turntable as their primary instrument.”

“That will be a while,” says Webber. “At this point, we only have one class, as well as a vibrant club and an unofficial turntable ensemble. We want to let this grow organically.” The course has already received a tremendous student response and has a waiting list of over 50 names.

History of Turntablism

Webber notes that the architects of Hiphop were young DJs from the Bronx in the 1970s. DJs Kool Herc, Grand Master Flash and Afrika Bambaataa changed what it meant to be a DJ by aggressively pushing the limits of mixing, interacting with the virtuoso dancers known as B-Boys and B-Girls, and assembling crews of MCs who spawned the practice of rapping. Grand Wizard Theodore, a protégé of Flash, was the first to start scratching, manipulating the record back and forth under the needle for musical effect. Grand Mixer DXT was tapped by Bill Laswell to scratch on the Herbie Hancock hit “Rockit,” inspiring thousands of kids to head for their parents’ turntables.

DJ competitions helped push the art form forward in the 80s and 90s, much like the legendary “cutting sessions” that took place in the early days of jazz. DJs who rose to prominence after success in battles include Jazzy Jeff (who teamed with Fresh Prince Will Smith), DJ Swamp, Roc Raida and Rob Swift of the X-ecutioners, and Mix Master Mike and QBert, formerly of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz.

Webber points out that more recently, DJs have been appearing in Nu Metal bands, and with pop stars ranging from Moby to Sugar Ray. Progressive scratch DJs like DJ Logic have been playing with jazz acts from Medeski Martin and Wood, to John Scofield. Arizona’s DJ Radar has even written, with partner Raúl Yáñez, a turntable concerto for turntablist and symphony orchestra. The term “turntablism” was coined by DJ Babu to refer to the practice of playing the turntable as a musical instrument.

Webber adds, Hiphop is more than a style of music; it’s a culture. As with any culture, there are various artistic expressions of Hiphop, the four principal expressions being:

  • Visual art (graffiti)
  • Dance (breaking, rocking, locking and popping, commonly known as break dancing)
  • Literature (rap lyrics and slam poetry)
  • Music (DJing and turntablism).

Equipment

Generous support from select vendors allow the Berklee classroom for this prototype class to be equipped with professional state-of-the-art instruments and gear. Numark contributed their TTX hybrid analog/digital turntables, cartridges, analog and digital DJ mixers, and innovative CD turntables. Vestax supplied turntables, DJ workstations, and DJ mixers that link together so that multiple turntablists may perform together.

Calzone Case Company provided protective cases for all DJ components and created custom rollaway cases that enable the mixers and turntables to be easily rolled into the classroom from an adjacent storeroom for class and practice times. Alesis supplied “air FX” units, which use infrared light to allow DJs to control effects in “real time.” Korg supplied KAOSS Pads, which allow users to intuitively incorporate sampling and effects controlling into their performance with the touch of a finger; and the KAOSS Pad entrancer, which does the same with video effects as well.

American Mavericks

American Mavericks is a 13-part series produced by Minnesota Public Radio that looks at innovation in music in the 20th century. It’s hosted by Suzanne Vega, and San Francisco Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas provides insight on the ideas behind the music.

The website provides web radio streams of minimilism, ambient, electroacoustic and other modern music. The site provides hours of listening. In addition to the streaming radio, you can listen to all 13 programs in their entirety. Many classic works of modern music are available in their entirety as Real Audio streams.

The most important section, though, has to be the large collection of interviews with giants of the modern music world. These are source interviews for the series, so you can listen to extended discussions of these composers and performers talking about their music. The interviews include Milton Babbit, Harold Budd, Wendy Carlos, Aaron Copland, David del Tredici, Lou Harrison, Joan LaBarbera, Steve Reich, Peter Schickele, Morton Subotnick, La Monte Young.