It's been one of those weeks where nothing comes easily.

I decided that I'd like to make a little piece of music based on scratching. Turntablism. Vinyl abuse. Dragging a record backwards and forwards under a needle with the speakers switched on.

To scratch a record you need:
(1) A turntable - or deck as they're known to people who actually use them. It should have

* a slipmat instead of the rubber plate you find on domestic record players

* a continuous-run motor so the record won't spend a few painful seconds gathering speed when you release it

* top quality needles (probably made by by the Shure company) mounted on a heavy "head", and

* a rock solid build. A second-hand deck mounted on your kitchen table won't make anything except a squeaky table.

(2) A high quality vinyl pressing, probably with the "fresh" sample that absolutely all turntablists seem to love. I think it's from a Grandmaster Flash B-side, but don't quote me on that.

(3) About five years of constant practice.

(4) Lots of time for the practice.

(5) Lots of money for everything else.

(6) A birthdate sometime in the last fifteen years.

(7) A posse with similar birthdates.

You can get equipment which works just like a scratching deck, but which connects to your computer, instructing it to manipulate a sound file as though you were scratching it. For this you don't need the first two above.

The common alternative to having a deck on your to scratch with your mouse, and there's lots of cheap (and free) software to do this.

I've tried DyScratcher, MouseScratcher, Turntablist Pro, Sxratch, Vinyl Boy, and Fruity Scratcher. And I can confidently reveal they're all about as crap as each other. Mice are just not good scratching tools.

If your laptop has a touchpad, they're a bit easier. In the sense that it's easier to prepare a banquet with one hand tied behind your back than two.

So, what about software that lets you program scratches off-line, then play them in real time?

There's Scratcher, which works pretty well but is limited to four bar sequences and is IMO rather unintuitive. The same programmer is working on Turntable Surgeon, which should be astounding...when it's finished.

There's also Fruity WaveTraveller, which impressed me so much I've just spent three days figuring out why it won't quite do what I want.

The thing is, I know exactly what I want. I want a piano-roll sequencer that lets me arrange scratches by note pitch and duration, with controls for crossfader, skipback, transform, and the other tools in the scratcher's box.

Such a beast does not exist.

So what do you do when something you need doesn't exist? You invent it!

Invent it how, exactly?

I could program a VST in C++. But my programming skills are buried under fifteen years of rust, and I was never much good at C++.

There's SynthMaker, which creates VSTs from graphical modules...and can't make sequencers. There's SynthEdit, with less flourishes and more support...which can't do sequencers eithers.

MAX is a language while lets you design practically anything musical from the ground up...if you have a degree in algebra and a year to spare.

Tassman can probably do it, but last time I tried to use it, there was a distinct feeling of building a modest house one brick at a time...firing each brick individually.

Reaktor can definitely do it, and may not even need the algebra degree. Though it probably needs the year. And it's godsmackingly expensive.

There's is one other possibility which occurs to my awkward mind. Find a sample, feed it into Stomper, let it mangle the sound in the dozen most common ways used by scratchers, and assign each scratch to one note on a midi keyboard.

It should only take about three hours before I can start using it. The earliest synthesisers could take even longer to set up.

So, welcome to the world of digital music, where you can make sound any way you want, and innovate in any way your imagination desires - provided you want to recreate an old way on a computer.

1 comment:

  1. Umm ... yes, well. If you want, why not? ;) It's no wonder you've been 'missing' for a while.