- Dale E. Chapman
The practice of using gramophone turntables as musical instruments. Turntables have long been used as performative elements in aspects of the Western experimental tradition, in contexts ranging from the indeterminacy of John Cage to Pierre Schaeffer’s musique concrète. However, references to “turntablism” are most frequently associated with the use of turntables and mixers to produce one of the key sonic elements of early Hip hop music. Turntablism is also commonly understood as a subset of DJ culture that privileges active and extensive sound manipulation, distinct from other practices (as in the post-disco lineage of house, techno, and trance) where the DJ often favors the more straightforward playback of sound recordings.
The development of turntablism in hip-hop culture is usually attributed to such figures as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and GrandWizzard Theodore, whose sound systems were fixtures at block parties and community centers in the South Bronx during the mid-1970s. Drawing upon vinyl LP recordings, these early DJs developed a range of techniques for isolating and manipulating musical fragments, using a setup consisting of two turntables and a two-channel audio mixer. For example, backspin technique would allow a DJ to alternate between two copies of the same recording, cueing up the start of a passage on one deck while letting it play through on the other one. This technique would enable the DJ to convert a short rhythmic gesture, or ...