Art of Record Production Conference
May 17-19, 2019
Berklee College of Music, 921 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215
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Friday, May 17 • 17:00 - 17:30
Controller Cultures: Technologies of Play in Hip-Hop and Electronic Dance Music

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Throughout the history of hip-hop, the vinyl record has remained a foundational symbol and compositional tool in beat production and DJing. The practice of “digging in the crates” has provided a useful starting point for musicians seeking new material, and understanding the basics of turntablism is often seen as a necessary prerequisite for the novice DJ and producer. However, the 2000s marked a shift in the technical practices of hip-hop, as musicians increasingly moved away from the record as a practical tool, instead embracing grid-based “controllers” of various sorts. In this context, musicians increasingly talk about the ways in which they have been influenced by the video games they grew up with, rather than their parents’ record collections.
How have structures of play and kinesthetic embodiment in video games influenced composition and performance in hip-hop and electronic dance music?

Through case studies of the technical design and use of controllers such as Ableton’s Push and the “Monome” grid, this paper outlines shifts in hip-hop and electronic dance music composition and performance that have resulted in the twilight of the vinyl record. Combining play theory and studies in human-computer interaction with ethnographic research on producers and instrument designers from the Los Angeles hip-hop and dance music scene, I detail the ways in which the ludic structures of video game controllers have encouraged alternative forms of instrumentality. While scholars have provided useful frameworks for understanding turntablism in hip-hop culture, a connection has yet to be made between the music and the broader multimedia formats with which it is increasingly intertwined.

avatar for Mike D'Errico

Mike D'Errico

Assistant Professor of Music, Albright College
Dr. Mike D’Errico initiated the Electronic Digital Instrument program at Albright College, allowing students to take applied music lessons in DJing, beatmaking, synthesis, and other forms of digital music production. As a DJ and producer of hip-hop and electronic dance music, Dr... Read More →