Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ooh! Me want! Moldover's new custom controller, the Mojo now for sale

Electronic music performer Moldover has long been a pioneer in unusual ways to DJ and perform music.  His modus operandi has been to hack apart off-the-shelf MIDI USB controllers (like those from M-Audio and Novation), add his own bits, remove the ones in the way, and hook up the Frankensteinian result to a laptop running music software such as Ableton Live and Reaktor. 

Moldover calls this increasingly common practice of making and using new DJ interfaces "controllerism."  Like many DIY and Open Source creators, he has been very open about his techniques, offering many youtube demonstration videos and giving regular talks at music technology user groups.

Well now Moldover has a new toy to play with, and you can play it too!  (For a mere $1800)  This one he had custom-built with rugged, ergonomically-aligned arcade buttons, and an industrial-grade metal and wood case. 

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posted by Brian at 2:55 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, August 22, 2008

Random Life Updates

A few things I haven't had time to write about:
  • Had a fun time with my team at the London Shopzilla UK office.
  • Recovered from a week long bought with bronchitis right after my return. Ugh.
  • Saw legendary salsa jazz fusion band Azymuth and Brazilian-inspired DJs perform at the echoplex.
  • Got Serato Scratch Live finally. DJing using my laptop now possible!
  • Been in JAVA training all week at work.
  • My old friend, PENN roommate, and successful business financier Raj Das was in town for a business trip. Last night we had dinner at Crustacean and drinks at the Hollywood Hills house of the creator of a new music site called BoomBacker (which might just reinvigorate the ailing music industry) and his wife, who runs an upscale wedding planning company, Eventful Designing.

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posted by Brian at 9:32 AM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Touchscreen DJ rig

Final Product // ATTIGO TT from Scott Hobbs on Vimeo.

Doh! Why didn't we think of that? This is the thesis project of Scott Hobbs, but I can see something like this touchscreen DJ rig being offered by Numark, Vestax, or Stanton someday.

Of course, you can already do this with Mixmeister Scratch and an iPhone:

Inspired by Geekologie.

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posted by Brian at 10:45 AM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Beatboxing with Scratching?!

This dude seems to have swallowed a Technics 1200 and a Roland TR808 drum machine. Send help immediately! *ambulence siren sound*

More beatboxing examples here.

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posted by Brian at 9:15 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bootie LA with surprise cameo from B-52's lead singer

I went to my second Bootie LA event last night. Last time around, the venue had a packed upstairs for dancing and a somewhat chill downstairs. Both played mash-ups, though the downstairs ones were particularly bold combinations (Tom Jones "It's not unusual to be loved by anyone" over Blondie's "The Tide is High", The Muppets Mahna Mahna over several different tunes, etc.) while the upstairs stuck to more straightforward, though still novel arrangements including one with Salt N Pepa's "Push It" on top of Grease's "Tell me More". The crowds at these things seem to be diverse, not your typical "L.A." crowd. At the last one, I saw people dressed as Vikings and pirates, something you'd expect at a Comic Con party, not an L.A. club.

Last night's was at a larger venue, the Echoplex. The dancing area was still a dense sea of people, but there were more places to sit or even dance further away from the main area. Unfortunately though, I wasn't quite as impressed with the musical selection this time. (I think that's most of the fun at these Bootie L.A events -- the "Oh wow" of recognition when you hear two songs you know being thrown together and having it work.) Still, there were some highlights:
  • Yaz's Situation vs. Foreigner's Urgent
  • Nirvana's Come As You Are vs. a 70s funk groove
  • Toni Basil's Mickey vs. Material Girl vs. Quiet Riot's Cum On Feel the Noise
  • DJ Dangermouse's 99 Problems vs. Nena's 99 Luftballoons
  • Diana Ross's Upside Down vs. Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Right Round
  • Fergie's Fergilicious vs Salt N' Pepa's Supersonic vs Push It
Sometime later, the DJ got up and introduced a special guest: Fred Schneider of the B-52s! So I swam through the sea of people to shake his hand.

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posted by Brian at 5:03 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tablet Mac Now Available!

Are you an illustrator, photographer, animator, or DJ? This might be the Macbook for you. No, it's not sold by Apple, but it's licensed by them and is essentially a Macbook Pro made of stronger magnesium vs. aluminum, merged with a very strong 13" glass screen covering a Wacom® tablet. Unlike the Macbook Air, it has your choice of CDROM or Superdrive, and unlike the Wacom® Cintiq line of portable tablet screens, you don't need a Macbook or Mac Mini standing by with a cable.

Of course you writers and accountants can hook up keyboards to its USB port if you really want.

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posted by Brian at 11:30 PM 1 comments links to this post

Friday, January 25, 2008

My DJ Education Continues

Last year I took a DJ 101 class at the Scratch Academy after work to avoid the horrendous traffic between Santa Monica and Hollywood. Tried the next level class but found that they were trying to teach two many skills at the same time: beatmatching, vinyl hunting, and song selection. It was just too much for me and I dropped out about half way. It would be way cool if they taught beatmatching class where they provided you with the song list, and everybody focused on just getting them to flow into one another. That alone takes a lot of practice! Trying to do that when you're hunting for records, not knowing exactly what tempos they will be, getting them home, then finding the tempos are two far apart... starting over... and then going to class being expected to have your chain of songs with one added song each week, practiced and sounding good. Aaaaah! Too much.

But now I'm at it again. Familiar faces from 101 class are in my DJ 202 Scratching class taught by the acclaimed DJ Shortee, the most famous female DJ and scratch master (featured in the Hip Hop documentary movie Scratch). So far, it's great! Much easier for me to learn with specific drills that we do together and then sequentially.

Of course, to practice reliably I need a turntable and a good quality, scratch-worthy needle, like the Shure M477 or M44G. So this week I've been looking for a used Technics turntable and a mixer. Missed a few good deals on Craigslist last week, but finally a single, black Technics 1200 Mk2 in excellent condition showed up for a very good price. Even better, it included a good (albeit older model) Stanton Battle-mixer. Tonight, it's mine! Whohoo!

Now the tricky part... how to set it up properly.

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posted by Brian at 8:46 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Serato LIVE is the Atari 2600 of Digital Turntable Systems

As I start up my DJ class again (this time focusing on scratch techniques), I am pondering which of the numerous software/hardware systems -- designed to allow old-school DJ turntablists to work with digital music files on a laptop instead of crates full of vinyl -- to get.

It occurs to me that Serato LIVE is the Atari 2600, Native Instruments Traktor Scratch is the Mattel Intellivision, and M-Audio Torq is the ColecoVision of digital turntable systems. Why? The Atari 2600 was not especially pretty but it worked well, had all the great games, and EVERYBODY had one. Intellivision was technologically much more advanced but it had a quirky interface and never got as popular, while the Colecovision was even more advanced but ... well that's where my analogy may not be perfect. I don't know enough about the Torq :P

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posted by Brian at 6:36 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Cousin Opened for The Beastie Boys!

Shout out to my cousin Abby, the DJ. Recently, she opened for The Beastie Boys in New York and Brooklyn; they liked her so much, they asked her to come the second night!

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posted by Brian at 2:36 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, April 26, 2007

DJ 101 Graduation Photos

The public gets a free scratching lesson from DJ Hapa

The graduating 101 classes (the ones who showed up)

My DJ debut, doing a Q & A impromptu scratch performance

The 9 year-old girl who took the Beatmaking 101 class. She remixed Jimi Hendrix and Red Hot Chili Peppers together!

Photos by DJ Noble and yours truly

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posted by Brian at 3:12 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, April 06, 2007

DJ 101 Finished. DJ 151 next?

Just had my last DJ class. Since our class of about 15 was slightly ahead of schedule, DJ Hapa gave us some material covered in the next class which focuses completely on mixing and beatmatching. This turns out to be the primary task of a DJ -- not taking song requests, not chatting with ladies. Nope. The DJ has to manually tweak the turntable such that the beat of the next song coming up is synchronized to the one playing. He or she does this by keeping the headphones on one ear, cueing up the song and adjusting the tempo bar on the turntable to speed it up or slow it down, doing this over and over again until it sounds right and time to bring it on.

And damn it's hard. I got it working during a practice round, but during a contest with Hapa playing an unfamiliar song (and a hip-hop tune where the chorus and verses were almost identical), I faired poorly. There was one nerdy guy in the room who mastered it quickly, getting every mix point correct. (Gimp!) We all got parts of it right though, which Hapa and his TA Matchity told us was unusual.

After that, a few alumni came in and told us how now they're doing tours, playing in groups, and having a great time making a living at this stuff. Next weekend is our graduation day, filled with lots of music and scratching and food. We all get diplomas (with our DJ names) and a card that gives us access to the Scratch academy equipment whenever we want (sweet!). Should be fun.

Incidentally, two guys in my class complimented me on my class DJ name, "Lord Banjo". They asked how I came up with it, having checked google to see if it was a reference to something. (Nope. It's a chat room handle I made up 10 years ago.) Said it would look good on a marquee. When I asked what they did (besides DJing), they said they worked on the TV show, X-Files. I checked today on IMDB. They didn't just work on it -- one is the Creator! Whoa! Only in LA.

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posted by Brian at 3:38 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, March 23, 2007

Crisis: Worldwide Shortage of Available Decent DJ Names

Ack. While I am content with my current class DJ moniker, LordBanjo, my brain has forked a 24/7 background process to find a suitable, perhaps more conventional, DJ name alternative. The aggravating part is THEY'RE ALL TAKEN!!

Let's see:

DJ Baltazar?,
DJ Beatmiser (you know, like Heat Miser, from those Rankin/Bass specials),
DJ Baze (What??),
DJ Dalek,
DJ Smurf
DJ Yoda
Mahna Mahna
DJ Umlaut
DJ Cephalopod
Nerfherder (It's the band that plays the Buffy The Vampire Slayer theme)
DJ Syphilus (Not that I'd want this one, but WTF?)
DJ Snooba (I had this as an Avatar name on Active Worlds long ago)
DJ Qbert
DJ Queso
DJ Freezetag
DJ Dot Dot Dot
DJ Übergroove (Hey! Not taken yet! Best with downtempo music)
DJ Koozebane (Also not taken. Best for sci-fi electronica)

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posted by Brian at 6:03 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rainy Tuesday & Thoughts of Turntables Spinning In My Head

One of the hazards of any new hobby you may start is "Gear Lust." For me, right now, that lustworthy object is the Turntable, the modern term for a phonograph or record player.

Before my DJ class, these were delicate, antique devices irrelevant in today's world except for those with shelves full of old 12" LP records, or props used in hip music videos. Now I understand clearly -- turntables are the "stick-shift" of controlling the playback of music. Sure, you can do "automatic" with your laptop or even those tiny performance CD turntables. But what you really want is the raw power, the torque and feel of a pair of over-built spinning wheels of sound.

Everyone says Technics is the best. It's in 90+% of the clubs out there, apparently. Though according to some reviews, the other brands like Numark, Vestax and Stanton have caught up with equal or surpassing turntables.

I'm a newbie though. I could get by with a discount kit meant for "bedroom DJing". (This is an actual term! Why do DJs practice in their bedrooms?? Not the kitchen, dining room, parlor, basement or garage, hence the term "garage band"? If one gets "turntable" as a weapon in the game CLUE, you can be sure it's a DJ in the bedroom?)

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posted by Brian at 5:38 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, March 16, 2007

Puppets and DJ Scratching

In honor of my recent DJ class and continued interest in all things puppet, I bring you this oldy-but-goody, from the Netherlands.

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posted by Brian at 6:01 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, March 08, 2007

DJ Lessons

I had my second DJ 101 class at the Scratch Academy. Definitely a lot fewer people this time around. Class one contained a surprisingly diverse group of aspiring spinners -- a grey-haired man in his late 40s, several caucasian "geek" types (myself included, for lack of a better category), a pack of asians who were drawn in by one asian woman, perhaps three black men and women, a large hispanic guy, a high school kid (who listens to Drum n' Bass non-stop in his head), and other women I would expect to come across only at clubs. But by class two, this had dropped by about half. The diversity had also dropped. It felt a bit like an unaired episode of Beauty & the Geek, except that the "Beauties" here were a smarter.

Class One:
After a preview of the movie Scratch (now in my Netflix queue), the teacher (DJ Hapa) and his side-kick gave a spiel about how the Academy was formed by the late Run DMC DJ, Jam Master J, so that the collective knowledge of hip-hop turntabling -- started by DJ Herc (scratching discovered by Grand Wizard Theodore) back in the early 70s and perfected by so many others -- would continue to the next generation. They stressed (despite us being in a Hip-Hop store called "Rehab Records") that no matter what kind of music we liked (within limits I suppose), we could learn something useful in this class. Apparently one graduate spins country music. And they pointed out that this can not only be a great hobby, but a potentially lucrative habit as some DJs make well over 6 figures. (A tiny percentage, I assume? Playing basketball can be lucrative too... )

They had us all introduce ourselves, insisting that we each come up with a DJ name. Hmm. Most people picked rather dull ones. Never liking to join the crowd, I picked LordBanjo (my old e-mail handle) which people laughed approvingly of and again when the teacher asked if I actually played banjo. "No!! That's the irony of it all." Of course that hasn't stopped me and my friends from coming up with other names. In the running are:

DJ Stojo (a mashing of my last and middle names)
DJ Dot Dot Dot
DJ Baze (after my college nickname)

After watching some demonstrations, we all manned (womened?) our turntables. Far more fancy-looking than the old RCA, or even the Mirantz my parents had. Not one but two start/stop buttons. Putting my childhood years of proper record hand-holding to work I picked up the Scratch Training LP record daintily, fingertips along the side. "No, grab it like this!" In horror, I watched as the teacher clasped half the record's radius with his hand, presumably offending the Vinyl Gods. I expected us to be smoted within minutes! But no, apparently this is how a DJ holds records -- perhaps having made some pact with the Vinyl Gods around the time Compact Discs took over.

We proceeded to learn baby scratch techniques, basic rhythm theory, and began the DJ equivalent of an aerobics or typing class, scratching away in semi-unison to Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way." "Quarter notes! Forward! Back! Forward! Back!" It was trickier than it looked. You get the appropriate scratch sound only if your black circle is properly rotated such that the "Aaaah" sound hits the needle at the right time and correct speed. I could imagine some imaginary dance crowd staring up in aghast at my sloppy, rhythmically boring sound effects and my awkward, over-thinking body. Fortunately, the second class felt a bit better, my brain having absorbed the proper motion technique somewhat.

Class Two:

I got there early and reacquainted myself with the turntable. Smaller class -- we could each have our own turntable pair this time! Different teacher -- ours was off spinning somewhere. We learned a bit about song structure and how to drop a song on the all important "One." We did this by pulling out some terrible rap records (ones they couldn't sell) and cueing them up. (One "lucky" guy ended up with some very 80's break-dancing music on his LP. I was jealous!) We learned how to do a release scratch, where your hand rides around a bit, then pulls the record back to where you started.

Have to say I'm really enjoying the class a lot so far. If you happen to be in Miami, New York, or L.A., give it a try sometime.

Stay tuned!

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posted by Brian at 8:25 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, February 12, 2007

DJ Super-genius? DJ Stokesta?

Am I crazy or what? Just signed up for a 6 week course on How to be a DJ.

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posted by Brian at 10:17 AM 0 comments links to this post