an interview with the inventor of the scratch…
For me, someone who lives for scratch music, visiting legendary DJ Grand Wizard Theodore—the creator of the scratch—at his Bronx, NY home could only be compared to an Elvis Presley fan making a pilgrimage to Graceland to visit the King of rock’n’roll in his day. I had met Grand Wizard Theodore (GWT) once before a few years earlier when he had been flown out to San Francisco to receive an ITF award. Our meeting was brief so I really had no idea what kind of person he really was. And after years of interviewing hip hop and other music stars I had admired, I was used to discovering that some of the greatest artists were the biggest assholes in person. But such was far from the case with GWT. When my disoriented white face emerged from the “D” subway station deep in the Boogie Down Bronx among a sea of black and brown faces, GWT was there to pick me up in his sturdy but old American car. You can’t have a fancy new car in the Bronx, he explained in his soft-spoken but firm voice as we drove the fifteen blocks back to his modest Bronx apartment. Like many of the great pioneers of hip hop that created the genre here on these Bronx streets three decades earlier, GWT was not rich from a culture that he helped shape and form. But unlike many of his contemporaries from hip hop’s seminal years, who are embittered by the fact that they live in comparative poverty/obscurity while so-called “hip hoppers” like mogul Puff Daddy are making millions off something they created, GWT is not at all bitter. In fact he is a warm and humble man who is gracious to be a part of a cultural movement that he never thought would spread from these Bronx, NY streets to every other corner of the world.
BILLY JAM: How did you first create the scratch 26 years ago in 1975?
GRAND WIZARD THEODORE: I used to come home from school and go in my room and practice a lot and this particular day I came home and played my music too loud and my mom was banging on the door and when she opened the door I turned the music down but the music was still playing in my headphones and she was screaming ‘If you don’t turn the music down you better turn it off’ and I had turned down the speakers but I was still holding the record and moving it back and forth listening in my headphones and I thought ‘This really sounded something….interjecting another record with another record.’ And as time went by I experimented with it trying other records and soon it became scratching.
BJ: At that time Kool Herc was around here doing his thing but he wasn’t doing anything like scratching, was he?
GWT: Well Herc is like an old school DJ. Basically he would put a record on and let the record play. He might have both on at once but the cross-fader was on one side only. I think many people were on the verge of discovering it back then but I happened to be the first.
BJ: After you discovered the scratch who did you show first?
GWT: Well actually I didn’t show anyone. I just did it. I was always the type of DJ who wanted to be different from everyone else coz everyone else was playing the same records the same way. So after a time people started to notice that I played different records and was scratching the records and interjecting different records and needle dropping coz I also invented the ‘needle drop’ and basically I would just display my talents when it was time to do a party. At first I would only scratch maybe one or two records during a party but as time went by I would scratch more and more and soon I would scratch on every track I played.
BJ: So what kind of parties would these be and how did people initially react?
GWT: These would be house parties and big parties here in the Bronx and people loved it when they first heard it. It was raw and they appreciated it!
BJ: What was it like in the very early days of hip hop?
GWT: I had an older brother named Mean Jean and he was down with Grand Master Flash. They were partners and I was like the record boy for them and I would carry their records for them or go downtown to Downstairs Records and pick up 45’s for them. But Flash and my brother had different ideas about music so they split up and Flash formed the Furious Emcees and my brother and me and my other brother Corleo we formed The L Brothers since our last name is Livingston and everybody was like ‘The Livingston Brothers’and for a while they called us the ‘The Love Brothers.’ And we took on two emcees… and later on my brother quit DJ’ing and I went on and formed my own group… and back in those days it was not just Blacks but Latinos as well who helped form the culture of hip hop: like a lot of the graffiti artists and break dancers were Latino. We were all down together
BJ: Does the fact that hip hop is so popular all over the world today amaze you?
GWT: It does and it doesn’t but really I just did it for the love. The money was good but I did it all coz I love music. My mother and my uncles and my family growing up would always gather around and play good music and eat good food so I was always surrounded by music so I had the love for it and when I would DJ parties I would always try to make it a good time for people to forget about their problems.
BJ: How important is the DJ in hip hop?
GWT: The DJ sets the tone for the party. He has the records, the speakers, the amps—he has everything. The b-boy couldn’t come out and break until the DJ was playing the music. And the rapper: all he has to do is show up and pick up the mic and just start rapping, but not until after the DJ had set everything up. Back in the day with someone like Kool Herc, he was the DJ and he had rappers with him but he was the one out front and they just backed him up. But as time went by the rappers started phasing out the DJ as they became more and more popular and moved to the front. So I think it is great that the DJ is now making a comeback coz the DJ played a major, major part in this hip hop culture.
BJ: What do you think of all the new techniques being developed by today’s ‘turntablists’ and how companies are streamlining DJ equipment for scratch DJs.
GWT: With all of these new developments, like say the new needles made just for turntablists, it means that the art form of DJ’ing is going to keep evolving and I think it has a little further to go until it is fully evolved.
BJ: What are you working on nowadays?
GWT: I am working on a new CD called The Nights of the Round Table coz the turntable is round and when you think of a DJ he does his work at night… And I do a lot of traveling to other places like Europe. I just want people to know that I am still out there and I want to educate people on the culture coz a lot of people do not know about the culture.
BJ: Which brings us to Heineken beer’s recent TV ad campaign in which they got their facts all wrong and misinformed people saying that scratching began in 1982, seven years after you created it.
GWT: I don’t know if they knew what they was doing and just decided to make a spoof out of it or whatever but they have to realize that this is a culture and that this culture affects a lot of peoples’ lives and we want people to understand the truth of a culture so it won’t be misinterpreted. Like back in the days we never called women ‘bitches’ or ‘hoes’ but nowadays you’ve got guys calling women these things and rapping about ‘my big car this and that’ and ‘selling drugs this and that.’ But back in the day hip hop wasn’t about that. It was only about ‘clap your hands’ and ‘stomp your feet, you know?’ People have to learn the culture.
BJ: Do you think that the new documentary Scratch that you are featured in is a fair portrayal of the scratch DJ?
GWT: Yes I do.
BJ: And where do you see the scratch DJ in the future?
GWT: I see scratch DJs getting more and more recognition and winning awards like Grammies just like rappers and any other type of musician. And nowadays you have a lot of bands with DJs in them so I see the DJ evolving and getting the type of recognition that they have always deserved.
project team — fitzsimmons architects / michelle martin-coyne / studio f construction / obelisk engineering…
“It’s worth the battle, it’s worth the stress, it’s worth waiting for, and it really does do what art’s supposed to do. It makes you remember that we can go for it, and then life isn’t just normal and average.” – Wayne Coyne
This appropriately quirky residence and music studio is as free thinking and boundary pushing as the art and music of its owners, Michelle Martin-Coyne, a photographer and artist, and her husband Wayne, front man of the Flaming Lips. Located in an eclectic neighborhood of Oklahoma City, the addition/renovation of their home is the first phase and central piece of a larger master plan developed for six adjoining properties. These properties, referred to as “the compound” for those familiar with it, is being transformed in phases.
Phase one consisted of the partial refinishing of the main house, and the renovation of an existing garage and storage space into a large family room, and a new master suite including the master bath “dragon egg”. The existing low roof structure of the storage space was removed, making room for a new “fractured plain” roof that floats above a ribbon of clerestory windows. This angular roof cantilevers away from the house off a thin exoskeleton of steel, shading the patio below while still allowing indirect daylight to flood the living space. This connection to the outdoors is further emphasized by a wall of sliding glass doors that open to the outdoor patio and expansive yard.
The master suite was converted from a former attached apartment and includes the bedroom, water closet, powder room, large dressing room, and a hall to the “dragon egg” a concrete walled, egg shaped pod that contains the shower and Japanese-inspired soaking tub.
The Coynes have been actively engaged in the renovation of their house from design phase through construction. The creativity they share and bring to the design table has been as asset to the Project. Michelle’s artistic talent, excitement, and willingness to take an active role in the projects finer construction details and finishes has led the architects to creating rooms and structures as “blank canvases” to receive the final finishes guided by her vision for the house.
Perhaps the most important attribute of the Project and the Compound is its expression of commitment by the musician and his wife to stay and live in a long troubled neighborhood where he grew up. through their commitment and the architects work on other projects adjoining the neighborhood, signs of renewed revitalization efforts are beginning.
cinema’s most unflinching zoom…
To call Canadian artist Michael Snow a filmmaker somehow seems woefully inadequate. For while Snow undeniably makes films, he may be more aptly described as a film sculptor, or perhaps a cine-alchemist. For five decades now, this founding father of avant-garde cinema has been tearing apart and reassembling the DNA of film language in a series of dazzling experiments — and lest that sound austere or forbidding, I should add that Snow possesses a healthy reserve of impish good humor.
Born in Toronto in 1929, Snow graduated from the Ontario School of Art and, by 1956, had already made his first short, a four-minute animation titled A to Z. But at that time Snow was preoccupied with his painting, photography and jazz musicianship — interests he continues to pursue today — and so movies were put on the back burner until the 1960s, when he moved to New York. There he found himself at the epicenter of a heady experimental-film scene whose guiding lights included Hollis Frampton, Jonas Mekas and Ken Jacobs.
Wavelength (1967) remains Snow’s best-known work, and it is some kind of historic achievement, a movie in which time, space and movement are the stars, with human characters tossed cavalierly to the sidelines. Famous for having the longest zoom shot (45 minutes) in cinema, and as an influence on filmmakers from Stanley Kubrick to Chantal Akerman, Wavelength offers an uninterrupted traversal of a New York loft space from one end to the other, accompanied by a sound track of waves (both sonic and oceanic) and the Beatles singing “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Yet it’s hardly as single-minded as it sounds. Without cutting, Snow employs tricks of exposure and filtration to take us from day to night to day again, from the dingy-gray environs of a Lower Manhattan walk-up to a shock-white mod nightmare. Wavelength catches us up so profoundly in the raw possibilities of movies’ structural (as opposed to narrative) properties that when its own “murder” occurs, most viewers don’t immediately realize anything has happened.
screening friday 11.18 @ Cinefamily 611 N Fairfax, L.A…
the artful ranking of pro sumo wrestlers…
(translated by Julien Griffon, proofread by John Gunning, many thanks to Thierry Perran for his valuable help on numerous translations from Japanese)
The banzuke (or banzuke-hyo) is a calligraphied document drawn up after each tournament, giving the positions of the fighters, depending on the results of each participant. But it also contains the full list of gyoji (referees) and oyakata (masters). By extension, banzuke is also the name used for the ranking itself. It is set by an assembly (banzuke hensei iinkai), composed of the 23 members of the shimpan-bu: the 20 shimpan (judges) and the 3 kanji (supervisors). They gather especially for that purpose a few days after the tournament. Their task is to give no less than the 800 fighters belonging to the 6 divisions of sumo new positions. No rule indicates precisely the place a rikishi will occupy the next session; the only basic rule governing the banzuke is the following one: “a kashi-koshi (more victories than defeats during the former tournament) means a promotion, whereas a make-koshi (the opposite) forces the rikishi down the ranking. The wider the gap between wins and losses, the greater rise or fall in position”. Of course, like any other rule, there are exceptions to this one… but this is out of the focus of this article!
During the assembly, led by a gyoji, the discussion goes from the top of the previous ranking down to the apprentices in the jonokuchi division. The gyoji writes on a paper roll (maki) the new rank of each rikishi. After the meeting, once each position is assigned, they place the precious roll into a safe for it to be kept secret until it is revealed to the public, several weeks later, on the Monday, 13 days before the beginning of the next tournament. Actually, the safe gets opened one week before for the gyoji to draw up the final version of the ranking. He spends one entire day tracing the characters composing the names of the fighters, with a particular style called negishi-ryu. He uses black ink and a traditional Japanese sheet of paper (washi), 108cm large by 78cm wide. Many tenths of thousand smaller copies (58cm x 44cm) are then printed and provided to the different schools, where they are folded and sent to the sponsors and “friends” of the establishment. A number of them is also provided to the shops on the site where the basho takes place, where one can buy them only during the tournament. Some people consider the banzuke-hyo to be art pieces. Still, a sumo lover who does not have any knowledge in Japanese language will not be able to read them. For lack of a full “translation”, here is a few elements that will help getting familiarised with the layout of these rankings.Reading is from right to left and from the top to the bottom.
Hollis Frampton’s Hapax Legomena I…
“In (nostalgia), Frampton is clearly working with the experience of cinematic temporality. The major structural strategy is a disjunction between sound and image. We see a series of still photographs, most of them taken by Frampton, slowly burning one at a time on a hotplate. On the soundtrack, we hear Frampton’s comments and reminiscences about the photographs. As we watch each photograph burn, we hear the reminiscence pertaining to the following photograph. The sound and image are on two different time schedules. At any moment, we are listening to a commentary about a photograph that we shall be seeing in the future and looking at a photograph that we have just heard about. We are pulled between anticipation and memory. The nature of the commentary reinforces the complexity; it arouses our sense of anticipation by referring to the future; it also reminisces about the past, about the time and conditions under which the photographs were made. The double time sense results in a complex, rich experience.” – Bill Simon
“In (nostalgia) the time it takes for a photograph to burn (and thus confirm its two-dimensionality) becomes the clock within the film, while Frampton plays the critic, asynchronously glossing, explicating, narrating, mythologizing his earlier art, and his earlier life, as he commits them both to the fire of a labyrinthine structure; for Borges too was one of his earlier masters, and he grins behind the facades of logic, mathematics, and physical demonstration which are the formal metaphors for most of Frampton’s films.” – P. Adams Sitney
“(nostalgia) is mostly about words and the kind of relationship words can have to images. I began probably as a kind of non-poet, as a kid, and my first interest in images probably had something to do with what clouds of words could rise out of them… I think there is kind of a shift between what is now memory and what was once conjecture and prophecy and so forth.” – Hollis Frampton
“(nostalgia) is a film to look at and think about, not a film that seizes your mind and forces its sensations on you. It liberates the imagination rather than entrapping it. It raises questions about the nature of film, the tension between fact and illusion, between now and then. It advances our understanding of film magic, and for this I am grateful.” – Standish Lawder
“(nostalgia), beginning as an ironic look upon a personal past, creates its own filmic time, a past and future generated by the expectations elicited by its basic disjunctive strategy.” – Annette Michelson
chaos by starling…
As the Shropshire sky gradually deepens from yellow to orange and finally angry red, so the noise levels build above the reed beds. A swirling, chattering,flock of starlings swirls above the wetlands of Whixall Moss on the Welsh Border, shimmering dark then light as it drifts like a plume of smoke from some monstrous pyre. Back and forth it twists like an out-of-place tornado before suddenly, when it is almost too dark to see, the flock streams to earth and is gone.
“Numbers build up slowly near the roost over the afternoon as small groups of birds return from foraging in the area,” explains Paul Stancliffe of the British Trust for Ornithology. “By late afternoon there is a huge swirling cloud. It’s all about safety in numbers – none wants to be on the outside, none wants to be first to land.”
A “murmuration” of starlings, as this phenomenon is known, must be one of the most magical, yet underrated, wildlife spectacles on display in winter. Impenetrable as the flock’s movements might seem to the human eye, the underlying maths is comparatively straightforward. Each bird strives to fly as close to its neighbours as possible, instantly copying any changes in speed or direction. As a result, tiny deviations by one bird are magnified and distorted by those surrounding it, creating rippling, swirling patterns. In other words, this is a classic case of mathematical chaos (larger shapes composed of infinitely varied smaller patterns). Whatever the science, however, it is difficult for the observer to think of it as anything other than some vast living entity.
Until recently such sights were common over London. Indeed, in 1949 so many roosted on the hands of Big Ben that they stopped the clock. Sadly, such invasions are a thing of the past, but Rome is currently subject to a vast influx of several million birds each winter. This produces spectacular swarms, but the problems associated with the roosts are not so wondrous. Starling droppings are extremely acidic and the authorities are worried about the damage to ancient ruins, while car owners have to pay out millions of euros for resprays.
The logic behind this spectacular behaviour is simple: survival. Starlings are tasty morsels for peregrines, merlins and sparrowhawks. The answer is to seek safety in numbers, gathering in flocks and with every bird trying to avoid the edge where adept predators can sometimes snatch a victim.
Flock sizes vary around the year. During the breeding season, groups are rarely more than a few birds gathering at a good food source, but in late summer juveniles begin to congregate and are soon joined by adults. These flocks are in turn swollen by continental birds fleeing the harsher winters. During the Seventies a particularly large murmuration of one and a half million birds regularly gathered near Goole in East Yorkshire, but the current flock of around 5,000 at Slimbridge is more typical.
During the day, big flocks disperse into smaller foraging groups. The search for calories is now critical and grouping allows each to put more effort into finding food, safer for scores of watchful eyes. These tend to scour rough pasture for insects, but they punctuate these bouts by preening and chattering in tree tops or on telephone wires where there is good all-round visibility. In late afternoon, however, the smaller groups move back to the main roost, flying up to 20 miles to coalesce in ever-growing numbers. By dusk this murmurating cloud can number thousands or even millions of birds.
Sadly, starlings have recently declined sharply; the breeding population is down by some 73 per cent since 1970. It is not clear what lies behind this fall, but it is probably due to the loss of suitable nest cavities and a decline in the rough pasture where they find most of the insects which form the backbone of their diet.
To put this drop in context, however, a shortage of literary references to the birds before the 18th century suggests they were comparatively uncommon even two centuries ago. Certainly their Welsh name adern y eira (“snow bird”) suggests they were regarded as winter migrants. It seems that they expanded rapidly after the Industrial Revolution, probably aided by milder weather and better food thanks to agricultural improvements.
There is another glimmer of hope. In 1890, an American eccentric, Eugene Schieffelin, decided to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare to his native land. He released 60 starlings in Central Park and the birds have thrived, spreading as far as the Pacific. There are now 200 million and thus, in years to come, it seems we are as likely to see murmurations over New York as a Shropshire peat bog.
WHERE TO SEE THEM
Flocks are unpredictable and move around, but huge gatherings are usually on show at the following: Brighton and Eastbourne piers; Westhay Moor, Somerset; Slimbridge, Gloucestershire; Aberystwyth; Whixall Moss, Oswestry; Leighton Moss, Lancashire; Gretna Green.