The Disc Jockey as Composer, or How I Became a Composing DJ

Fikentscher, Kai

Only recently and somewhat reluctantly have DJs been accorded some degree of recognition in two musical worlds that rarely impinge upon each other: the music industry and the music academy. In both, DJs tend to be thought of as people who entertain audiences using mediated music, usually vinyl records or CDs, or who work as remixers or record producers by extending the commercial life of a pop song, thereby providing fellow DJs and dancers with music to liven up an evening of clubbing. Some DJs (DJ Spooky or Christian Marclay, for example) have been critically acclaimed as cultural heroes of the postmodern age, cutting up and mixing various sources into collages of sounds that reflect our time-in which virtually any sound can be heard anywhere, divorced forever from the limitations of time and space. Other DJs (such as Rob Swift and Kid Koala) have abandoned the term "DJ" in favor of "turntablist," presenting the command of a set of turntables and a mixer as comparable to the mastery exhibited by virtuosos of conventional musical instruments. As professionals, some DJs now travel the world and enjoy an audience-appeal comparable to that of earlier or contemporary colleagues who were (or are) pianists, violinists, or guitarists. In the context of hip-hop and house music, deejaying is thought of mainly in terms of performance, which is understandable in view of the many other strands of largely orally transmitted, performance-based, African-American musical forms (such as work songs, hollers, blues,jazz, or gospel).



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Columbia University
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April 14, 2015