New tech lets you play DJ on a paper turntable

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DJ Qbert’s latest record jacket is interactive. And freaky-looking. Photograph by Ben Goldstein, Illustration by Brown Bird Design; album cover art by Morning Breath
Date:19 September 2014 Tags:, , , , , ,

Come on, own up: you have dreamed of being a DJ. Not a radio jock or a sweaty guy in a waistcoast who spins vinyl at barmitzvahs, but a turntablist, wearing giant headphones and spinning records as a throng of beautiful people dance. A scratcher who puts the needle on the record and flicks it with his fingertips to make that cool wickawicka sound. Well, now you can be, kind of. (Turntablist is a word, by the way.)

In the ’80s and ’90s the great DJs took two turntables connected by a mixing board and played them like a musical instrument, creating an aural montage of beats, guitar hooks, vocals, and other recorded samples, and added layers of scratching. A new invention called sonic paper removes the need for the hardware. It was created by electronics genius Kate Stone of Novalia in Cambridge, England.

Stone found a way to affix a programmable, Bluetooth-enabled chip to heavy paper stock. Using ink that conducts electricity, Stone and her fellow artist-technologists print circuits on the paper and program the chip so that each circuit creates a different sound. After the unit connects wirelessly to your iPhone or iPad, you touch the paper and sounds pour out of your device.

DJ Qbert, a renowned San Francisco DJ and onetime member of the influential Rock Steady Crew and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, worked with Stone and Novalia to create an interactive unit – essentially a paper turntable – for his new album, Extraterrestria/GalaXXXian, out soon. You touch the paper and it makes all the cool, scratchy DJ sounds you want, so you can scratch over Qbert’s music like a real DJ – just by your finger coming into contact with the paper. It is astonishing.

“The paper is a controller,” Qbert says. “You can actually do a party with that piece of paper.” A strobe light, however, is not included.

Watch a demo of the paper turntable…

Learn the terms – every DJ needs to know them
* Scratching: A technique in which a vinyl record is pulled back and pushed forward on a turntable (wickawicka).
* Fader: A volume-control slider on a mixing board.
* One-click flare: Close a fader (click) and cut a note in half.
* Orbit: Click off the fader twice in succession, creating three notes.
* Chirp: Scratch while at the same time opening and closing the fader; makes a bird-chirping sound.
* Crab: Use four fingers to tap the fader and your thumb to close it after each tap.
* Scribble: Shake your arm as if it were vibrating; place a finger on the record.

– By Joe Bargmann