The inevitable result of rapidly advancing technology and digitalisation is a graveyard of old, worn out and unwanted devices that have been replaced by a much smaller, faster, cheaper and more efficient tool. How quickly we went from prancing around with headphones on listening to our Walkman or mini disc players to laughing at the poor guy who has the guts to actually be seen out in public rocking one, while we jog passed him with our ten thousand song capacity iPod the size of a matchbox strapped to our arm. Society is notorious for always wanting to improve and discarding old technology as soon as its use has expired.
As Mcluhan suggests, the medium frames how we view and use the message. Unless there is a use for a medium, it will unfortunately meet an untimely demise and cease to be of any benefit, unless for nostalgic purposes. We see this in the defunct floppy disc. I remember transferring no more than a megabyte and a half worth of word documents in high school onto one of those bad boys and writing my name on the sticker. The compact disc quickly made a joke out of the floppy disc the same way the USB stick has now done to the CD, in terms of storage space. It is a rarity, but occasionally an old medium, at risk of becoming completely outdated and useless, can be mutated and reemerge as a completely new form of medium altogether. We see this in what is recognised as the instrument of Hip-Hop: The turntable.
A ‘turntablist’, as described by John Oswald, is “an artist who plays a record like an electronic washboard with a phonographic needle as a plectrum, producing sounds which are unique and not reproduced – the record becomes a musical instrument”.
The way in which the turntable was radically altered and turned into a musical instrument, giving birth to a revolutionary new genre of music, is astounding. Certainly Emile Berliner, the creator of the gramophone that eventually became the turntable/record player, never intended on anyone making music out scratching records and making strange sounds to a break beat.
So it is a user-generated mutation of an old medium that can give a new use to an old medium, completely changing the way the medium is viewed and framed. While scratching vinyl is a method perhaps used much less today than it was in the late 80s-early 90s, it is forever cemented in hip-hop history as a foundation of the genres creation.
Ultimately, the way hip-hop culture mutated the already-established medium of the turntable represents the culture itself. Hip-hop is based on altering and individualising something that exists, making it almost unrecognisable and giving birth to something fresh and innovative.
[Joke time…..They’re making a new website for DJs and scratchers that has information on turntablism. It’s called wiki.wiki.wikiwikipedia ]
Also, recently there has been a DJ version of the extremely popular ‘Guitar Hero’, called ‘Scratch: The Ultimate DJ’.