PLAY/SKIP (2017)

A live performance for two (2) turntables and five (5) play heads.

Platforms: Ableton Live, Max for Live, Leapmotion

PLAY/SKIP is a experimental turntablist performance that I composed during my undergraduate studies at Université de Montréal, under the supervision of Patrick Saint-Denis. It premiered on April 27th 2017 at the Salle Claude-Champagne (Université de Montréal) as part of the Ultrasons concert series.

The spark behind PLAY/SKIP was the desire to fuse my passion for creative coding with turntablism, which I have practiced as a hobby for many years. I make heavy use of various turntablist techniques during the performance, drawing inspiration from scratch DJs such as DJ Shadow as well as more experimental artists such as Martin Tétreault.

Full setup for PLAY/SKIP. Individual tonearms are visible around the left turntable. (Photo: Francis Lecavalier, 2017)

What sets this work apart the use of a custom augmented turntable with 4 separate play heads. To achieve this, I ripped out the tonearms from 3 turntables and meticulously re-soldered each of their internal wiring to a quarter-inch jack connector. Each tonearm was then mounted on separate custom stands made from Actobotics parts. By placing each individual tonearm on each side of a regular Technics SL1200 turntable, I was able to simultaneously play back 4 different sections of a vinyl at the same time.

For the performance, I also added a second turntable to complement the first one, as well as a small 8-channels audio mixer and a 2-channels DJ mixer to manipulate the levels and EQs of each individual tonearms. The audio coming from those mixer was then fed into my computer were it was processed.

Setup used for the Ultrasons representation (Photo: Pierre Lecavalier, 2017)

On the software side, I used Ableton Live to manipulate the live sound, using both stock audio effects and some Max for Live patches of my own design. Control over the effects units’ paremeters was done through both a Launchcontrol XL MIDI controller and a Leapmotion controller. The Leapmotion was especially useful to me since it allowed me to have precise and expressive control on many effects racks during the performance simply by waving my right hand and fingers in the air.

No audio was pre-recorded for this performance: every sound was generated live by the two turntables and five tonearms for the entirety of the 11-minutes performance, using only five vinyl records.

This project was an important stepping stone for me, as it marked both my first real contact with Max for Live and the end of my stay at Université de Montréal. It was the last of my undergraduates projects focused on live performance using technology, which started with MiXture and ended with PLAY/SKIP, with Mesa and The Crosses along the way.

One of the vinyl used for PLAY/SKIP (Photo: Francis Lecavalier, 2017)