Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hip-Hop for Dummies (Part 1)

Every day more and more of my ignorance is revealed.

In Chapter Six "The Turntable as Weapon: Understanding the DJ Battle" of Katz's book Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, he talks about hip-hop culture of which I am fundamentally ignorant about. (Ok, not that uninformed, but what I know comes from watching a little bit of MTV, gleaning somethings from NPR (even Terry Gross's Fresh Air), and from some of my black friends.

He talks about various phenomena such as turntablism, DJing, MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti writing. "This is art?!," would have been a reaction I might have had ten years ago. Well, strictly speaking it's examples of culture; just like back in the 19th century when folks went to the opera (which was more like going to the movies then), read the trashiest literature (which later became part of the literary canon), and enjoyed the arts & crafts (think flea market). It's what the "experts" think of as "great art" (and often what sells really well) that endures and is exploited for commercial gain over and over.

Sorry to make this sound so academic, but I am one of the whitest dudes around. My experience has been studying Western classical music, enjoying folk music and show tunes, and pondering the similarities between musical traditions. So my interest right now is sociomusical. At least I'm not dismissing it out of hand as I once did. Perhaps it's being in my fourth decade. Back when I worked at a classical music station, I was talking to a folk music DJ on my last day at the station. Now, I hadn't always liked folk music (or any world music), but my experience in listening and going to concerts and dances had changed my attitudes. I still saw the musical world through the eyes of a classical musician, but I knew that not everyone perceived music that way anymore. She appreciated the fact that I was so open-minded and willing to ask questions when I didn't know something. I think I said something like: "You know, I might not always get something about your world, but at least I'm trying to get there."

More on the subject of hip-hop later, with some definitions for these terms. An intriguing and fast read. Other chapters I've read so far include:

1) Capturing Jazz (about how jazz music and musicians relied on technology for distribution and education)
2) Aesthetics out of Exigency: Viiolin Vibrato and the Phonograph (how that quivering sound called vibrato you hear wasn't always there, as much)
3) The Rise and Fall of Grammophonmusik (about how grammophones were used as instruments in musical compositions, and later electronic music developments)

Stay tuned!


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