Categories often run into trouble because they have to encapsulate the essence of a large population swath. Further damning is categorizing a body prematurely, before it has fully formed. Babu may have meant well by coining the term “turntablism” to legitimize the turntable as an instrument for musical performance, but in so doing he opened up a lazy way to draw parallels between a Beat Junkie routine and a Kid Koala composition. The “T” word became not a signal of success but a brass badge, a Best New Artist Grammy, a signature of masturbatory exercise that made an art seem more novel than innovative. With a word, it shoved the turntable back into pop’s closet alongside the keytar and the saw.
Thankfully, deejays such as Ricci Rucker (part of the Ned Hoddings and Gunkhole collectives) don’t believe the hype and continue to move to their own beat. He has moved well beyond using the turntable as an instrument of sound and rhythm; he now also explores its history to arrange and produce. On Fuga, more than twenty musicians (on bass to brass, kalimba to tabla) assist him in playing within and improvising around a preset outline of samples, all of which were recorded, pressed to vinyl and rearranged, processed and scratched. The result is a “fifty-minute-long song” that emphasizes texture and rhythm.
Although the press release calls this a “jazz album,” it is only in a superficial I-think-this-is-what-that-Albert-Ayler-guy-sounds-like manner. Instead, Fuga is an innovative experiment in the music-making process. It relies on spontaneity and meditation, both in terms of human performance (arrangement versus improvisation) and studio post-work (random recordings versus production). In many ways, it acknowledges the turntable’s close relationship with hip-hop and with studio-heavy music, all while pushing the instrument into the fore of musical performance.
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