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02.27.06 04:13 PM

researcher awarded nsf grant to study turntablism

Rayvon Fouché, associate professor of science and technology studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to examine the phonograph’s cultural and technological transformation into a vehicle for musical expression within hip-hop culture.

The transformation of the phonograph — designed and long used solely for the reproduction of sound — into an instrument used to transform bits of pre-existing recorded sounds to produce a rhythmic effect began in African American communities in New York City in the late 1970s, according to Fouché.

“African Americans reappropriated and redefined the phonograph’s existing technology according to their own distinctive cultural aesthetics,” says Fouché. “In a very sophisticated way, that community made a technological choice that runs counter to the perception that new technology is better than old.”

Presently, with the introduction of digital turntables Fouché has noticed that many turntablists remain resistant to new technology, particularly that in the digital world. He says this technological resistance demonstrates the crucial role that cultural and aesthetic values play in determining the equipment turntablists’ use and in shaping the way in which they use them.

Through in-depth ethnographic research and interviews with turntablists and designers, engineers, and programmers responsible for developing turntables, Fouché seeks to gain insight about the way black aesthetics influence technological change, as well as the effects that the larger transition from analog to digital technologies have on our society.

Over an 18-month period, Fouché intends to follow the historical dissemination of turntablism from east to west, starting in New York City, traveling to San Francisco, and ending in Tokyo. At each location Fouché will study the various ways that DJs engage their equipment, and consider the ways turntable designers and engineers integrate cultural knowledge and experience with technical requirements and design protocols. Research also will seek to shed light on the severity and the cause of resistance toward the use of new digital technology in DJ communities.

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