Plugged In

"The day will come," says electronica poster boy DJ Spooky, "when every kid on the block will have two turntables and a mixer, just like every kid now has an electric guitar and an amp."

That day seems to be coming fast. According to local retailers, DJ systems and electronic music gear are flying out of their stores. At the same time, manufacturers are developing new products to push the art of DJing forward.

There are less expensive options, but the pro DJ turntable-of-choice remains the Technics 1200MK2 heavyweight. There is more variety in the world of mixers. Numark and Gemini are the most widely known brands, though companies like Pioneer and Technics are also getting into the act. Features vary widely. EQ controls can be three-way (bass/midrange/treble) or full-spectrum. Some mixers have built in samplers for making loops (usually with limited time capacity); some offer signal processing (reverb, echo, pitch-shift, etc.) and/or sound effects (police sirens, gunfire, various space noises).

But why, one might ask, do the overwhelming majority of DJs refuse to enter the age of the CD? "They just can't be manipulated the way vinyl records can," says Woody McBride. "There's that physical element to DJing--the spinning, mixing, tweaking, scratching. And the size of records is comfortable to manipulate by hand. CDs are too small."

That hasn't stopped manufacturers from trying to develop CD DJ systems. The state-of-the-art seems to be the Pioneer CDJ-500II system (above). The CD player features an oversized jog dial with precise beat search, as well as a built-in looping function. The companion mixer features a barrage of effects, including flanging, auto stereo panning, pitch-shifting, reverb, echo, and a gate for external effects. Sure, it's not of much use to hip hop scratch artists and old-school breakbeat mixers. But for new-wave drum'n'bassists and especially ambient/dub fiends, it opens up some interesting new vistas.

That's not to mention the baffling array of samplers and beat machines on the market. The biggest news in the past year was the introduction of the Roland "Groovebox" (above), which combines attributes of the defunct 303 bass synthesizer, the 808 and 909 drum machines, and other gear into a single unit. (Check the Grooveboxer site at www. xs4all.nl/~sabaan/ for info and links.) Some people miss the quirks and the sound of the old analog machines. But as with any gear that makes sound, the art is in how you use it.

And that's the final word on electronic music making. The crummiest pawnshop BSR turntables, Radio Shack mixer, and second-hand MS-1 sampler can rock the world in the hands of an imaginative musician. So borrow some cash, make sure your AC is grounded, and go drop some beats.

 
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