Sunday, April 1, 2007

Eshun essay and "Scratch"

In his essay “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism,” Kowdo Eshun says that the afrofuturist movement looks to the past, in hopes of emphasizing the positive history of black culture, while also looking forward to create a future role for black culture. Since so much of history is based in white culture and philosophy, he says that; “It has been necessary to assemble countermemories that contest the colonial archive.”

Turntabilism and DJ culture are steeped in this idea, because at the most basic level a DJ is creating something new from pieces of the old. Digging for old or unusual albums is very important. The music used for sampling is often music from another era of black culture. For example, a DJ may choose to use something from the jazz era in his work, and in this way he is highlighting black musical history. In his essay, Eshun also points out that many musical artists, including George Clinton, Bob Marley, and Sun Ra, look back to ancient African myths and beliefs, including ideas about religion and cosmology, for inspiration. This again puts an emphasis on African cultural history.

But musicians, including DJs, are not simply dwelling in the past. They use the inspiration that they get from their cultural heritage to try to create a new forms of expression. The turntablist music is new, creative, and even futuristic. It is based in technology- the ability to manipulate music by speeding or slowing the tracks or by scratching. Scratching, originally a “mistake” sound, becomes a powerful rhythmic tool- and it is created by a technology that is not considered a normal instrument. Another tool used heavily in early hip hop music were electronic sounds- again, created by computerized, technologically advanced tools that are not traditional instruments.

The DJs in “Scratch” also seem to have a fascination with the future, with science fiction, and even with aliens. Mix Master Mike claimed in the film that his music had attracted intelligent life from another world, and while this was one of the more outrageous claims, many of the other DJs seemed to have pictures of aliens- Qbert had an alien mask sitting next to him during his interviews. Why are all of these DJs so fascinated with aliens and with science fiction? It may be that because they become interested in the technology they use to create their music they also become interested in more theoretical technologies. I also think that it may have something to do with the age and interests of the people who are attracted to this music. Many of the DJs started learning as young teenagers- and many of them were also male. It seems like young teenage boys are the main group with an interest in science fiction movies, books, and even comic books. Qbert related his music to “the force” from Star Wars for example.

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