A Brief History of the Gramophone

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Artistic Statement:

The gramophone record is an analog storage medium consisting of a modulated spiral groove on a flat disc.  Vinyl, more casually, was the dominant form of commercial reproduction of music from the 1920’s until the late 1980’s.  At a point in our digital era where there are new formats for music storage seemingly all the time, we have to appreciate this one medium's ability to dominate the market for so long.

A Brief Biography of the Gramophone is a mini documentary honoring the distinguished but diminished career of wax.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, when cassettes and CD’s quickly seized the market share, vinyl was able to stay relevant primarily through DJ’s.  The term DJ is not a monolithic one, but rather represents a community of artists with differentiated skills and infinite different styles.  Scratch, one of the documentaries cited in A Brief Bio, is careful to distinguish the leaders of different DJ “schools.”  Radio, club, digger, turn tablist, mixtape, house, tour; the best DJ’s are the ones whose minds are musically flexible enough to approach any crowd successfully.

Widely regarded as the most creative and technically proficient in the field, battle DJ’s who win national and international competitions are often treated as legends.  This year, however, marks an interesting and surely controversial moment in the DJ battle world.  DMC, which is essentially the world DJ championship, is going to allow DJ’s to use DVS software in their sets.  Until this year, DJ’s were only allowed to use wax, and it was understood that that was the “true” form of battling.  DVS software, such as Serato Scratch Live, allows DJ’s to digitally imprint any song on their iTunes instantly onto a blank control record.  This news comes only months after Panasonic-owned Technics announced they would no longer be producing their classic 1200’s series.  DJ’s might have been able to keep vinyl relevant for a bit longer, but with increasing numbers using move-able platters, CDJ’s, and midi-controllers, even blank vinyl is going to become obsolete.

I think people who consider the evolution of music, whether in the realm of production of DJ’ing,  might give technology too much credit for pushing things forwardl.  The first DJ’s used technology that was available as far back as 1920’s, but through accidental genius invented a way that changed the way live music was played across all genres, while inventing a completely new one along the way.  Despite feeling this way, I still hope A Brief Bio connects both the pioneers of recorded sound and DJ’s today in a distant but meaningful way.


My original concept was actually the centerpiece of the final product, which is when the retro gramophone plays Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' on my Mind" into Mix Master Mike's version.  Exploring for more footage to pad the piece, I came across and old documentary are the first gramophones ever made.  All of the voice overs are from this one short documentary, but the found video is from all over the place.  Having the whole piece in black and white, and adding effects filters, makes it hard to distinguish what might be from the documentary and what might be other found footage (except for a few obvious scenes).  In this way, I hope A Brief Bio also plays on the idea of found footage in documentaries versus experimental films.

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