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Twenty-First Century DJ



 Two Pentiums and a Microphone

by Louise Knapp


When British DJ Richard Eden showed up late at work last week, he didn't have a lot of heavy lifting to do.

As one of the first all-digital DJs, Eden carried his entire collection of dance, trance, dub, and jungle in one hand, on his Dell Inspiron 3200 laptop.

"I can select tracks very quickly," Eden wrote in an email. "With vinyl, CD, and MiniDisc, you have to search for the particular item [and] place it into/onto the player. With MP3s you click and the track is immediately available," said Eden.

Most of his audience at Wolverhampton's Mezzanine was none the wiser.

The few who knew they were listening to the bleeding edge of mixing were "just in awe of what was going on," said Paul Underhill, Eden's co-worker. "They couldn't believe it."

To encourage a more interactive relationship with his audience, Eden points a 21-inch TV, screening the interface of Virtual Turntables, his player, toward the dance floor. Clubsters watch his every movement as he mixes his music on virtual discs.

Vinyl purists may balk, but Eden said that laptop DJs enjoy a number of advantages.

"They can choose and find tracks quickly, overlap tracks quickly, link into a drum machine on the computer," he said. "It really just opens up what a DJ can do without having to prepare as much, which can only benefit the sound the DJ produces and, in turn, the audience's enjoyment."

Eden said his setup allows him more freedom to mix music.

"You can 'phase' the tracks very easily -- this makes it sound like the music is in a swirling tunnel -- tracks can also be mixed much quicker and the general mixing is smoother," said Eden.

MP3 jocks aren't restricted to the amount of vinyl that can fit in the trunk of a car. Eden is limited only by his hard drive, and can easily switch between a vast selection of heavy dub, house, or disco.

A laptop spin doctor might also map the keyboard to mix sound bytes -- a siren, a bird call, or part of a Martin Luther King speech, for example -- into a track. Underhill said the potential was "epic."

Because MP3 files are free of the glitches that can surface on vinyl, Underhill argues that the sound is cleaner and sharper. Hand-mixing a record is subject to human error, while a computer offers the accuracy of a finely tuned machine.

Still, there are drawbacks.

"The system crashed initially when we set it up at 10:30," Underhill said.

The pair keep a CD on standby for such eventualities. Things went smoothly after that, though. Even so, the application is still quite buggy, Eden said. "You do have to be careful."

Eden envisions nightclub music eventually integrating huge screens that allow nightclubbers to view the laptop interface. He imagines a future nightclub where spinners in different locations might swap files with each other in one well-networked club.

Eden compiled his premiere all-digital set last week by downloading almost half the music from sites such as MP3.com and Crunch. The remainder of his set consisted of promotional CDs ripped with Music Jukebox or a basic MP3 encoder.



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