The Aesthetics of Consumption in the Age of Electrical Reproduction: The Turntablist Texts of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist

Title: The Aesthetics of Consumption in the Age of Electrical Reproduction: The Turntablist Texts of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist
Authors: Phillips, Michael
Date: 2012
Abstract: With new technology come new possibilities for the creation of artistic works. The invention of sound recording at end of the nineteenth century enabled musical performances to be “written” in the same manner as traditional, printed literature. The status of records as a form of writing and, moreover, as the material for further writing is demonstrated in the work of two hip hop artists, DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, who assemble new, heteroglossic texts out of a wide array of sampled records. Two concerts, Product Placement (2004) and The Hard Sell (2008) – both of which have been memorialized on DVD – serve as fruitful examples of the potential for artistic production enabled by technology. Indeed, the genre of turntablism, which involves the live manipulation of vinyl records, requires the usage of technology in ways not intended by its original developers – a recurrent theme throughout the history of sound recording. By transforming the turntable from a passive playback device into an active compositional tool, turntablism collapses the distance between consumption and production and so turns the listener into a performer. Furthermore, the exclusive usage of 45 rpm records as the source texts for the two sets dramatizes theories of intertextuality while simultaneously tracing the constraints placed on such artistic piracy by the copyright regime. These texts entail more than just their cited musical content; they also involve visual components. These include not only the video imagery that accompanies and comments on the records being played, but also the physical performance of the DJs themselves and the spectacle of the attending crowds whose response to the music constitutes part of the text itself. Following a theoretical and historical background that will situate these works within the history of hip hop and literature in general, this study will explicate these two multimedia texts and reveal how they demonstrate a concern not only with the history of sound recording, but also such issues as the influence of technology on cultural production, the complication of authorship through intertextuality, and the relationship between culture and commerce. Above all, however, both the form and content of these two performances also serve to highlight the value of physical media as historical artifacts in the face of increasing challenges from incorporeal digital media.
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