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Scratching was developed by early hip hop DJs from New York such as Grand Wizard Theodore and DJ Grandmaster Flash, who describes scratching as, "nothing but the back-cueing that you hear in your ear before you push it [the recorded sound] out to the crowd." (Toop, 1991). Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc also influenced the early development of scratching. Kool Herc developed break-beat DJing, where the breaks of funk songs—being the most danceable part, often featuring percussion—were isolated and repeated for the purpose of all-night dance parties (AMG [1]).

Two of the earliest recorded scratching examples were released in 1983, both via prolific bassist and producer Bill Laswell: scratches by Grand Mixer DXT on Herbie Hancock's hit song "Rockit" (co-written and produced by Laswell), and, more obscurely, on a few songs the first Golden Palominos record, where Laswell or M.E. Miller scratched. Scratching (and sampling) also gained mainstream popularity in the UK and Europe from the 1987 hit "Pump Up The Volume" by M/A/R/R/S.

Christian Marclay was one of the earliest musicians to scratch outside of hip hop. In the mid-1970s, Marclay used gramophone records and turntables as musical instruments to create sound collages. He developed his turntable sounds independently of hip hop DJs. Although he is little-known to mainstream audiences, Marclay has been described as "the most influential [turntable] figure outside hip hop." [1] and the "unwitting inventor of turntablism."[2]

[edit] Basic techniques

[edit] Vinyl recordings

Most scratches are produced by moving a vinyl record back and forth with the hand while it is playing on a turntable. This creates a distinctive sound that has come to be one of the most recognizable features of hip hop music. Over time with excessive scratching the needle will cause what is referred to as record burn.

The basic equipment setup for scratching includes two turntables, and a DJ mixer, which is a mixer that has a crossfader and "cue" buttons to allow the DJ to "cue up" new music without the audience hearing. When scratching, this crossfader is utilized in conjunction with the "scratching hand" to cut in and out of the scratched record.

[edit] Non-vinyl scratching

  • CDJs, devices that allow a DJ to manipulate a CD as if it were a vinyl record, have become widely available.
  • Vinyl emulation software allows a DJ to manipulate the playback of digital music files on a computer using the turntables as an interface. This allows DJs to scratch, beatmatch, and perform other turntablist maneuvers that would be impossible with a conventional keyboard-and-mouse. Scratch software includes Final Scratch, Mixxx, Serato Scratch Live, Virtual DJ, M-Audio Torq, and Digital Scratch.
  • More rarely, DJs do scratching with magnetic tape by recording music onto magnetic stripes and disassembling a cassette tape recorder to play the magnetic stripes.[citation needed]

[edit] Sounds

Sounds that are frequently scratched include but are not limited to drum beats, horn stabs, spoken word samples, and lines from other songs. Any sound recorded to vinyl can be used, and CD players providing a turntable-like interface allow DJs to scratch not only material that was never released on vinyl, but also field recordings and samples from television and movies that have been burned to CD-R. Some DJs and anonymous collectors release 12-inch singles called battle records that include trademark, novel or hard-to-find scratch fodder.

There are lots of scratching techniques, which differ in how the movements of the record is combined with opening and closing the crossfader (or another fader or switch, where "open" means that the signal is audible, and "closed" means that the signal is inaudible). The terminology is not unique, we shall employ terminology consistent with the terminology used by DJ Q-Bert