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Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance

Mark J. Butler (Associate Professor of Music Theory and Cognition, Associate Professor of Music Theory and Cognition, Northwestern University)



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Oxford University Press Inc
15 August 2014
Contemporary dance; Electronic music
Popular styles of electronic dance music are pervasively mediated by technology, not only within production but also in performance. The most familiar performance format in this style, the DJ set, is created with turntables, headphones, twelve-inch vinyl records, and a mixing board. Going beyond simply playing other people's records, DJs select, combine, and manipulate different parts of records to form new compositions that differ substantially from their source materials. In recent years, the laptop set has become equally common; in this type of performance, musicians use computers and specialized software to transform and reconfigure their own precomposed sounds.

Both types of performance are largely improvised, evolving in response to the demands of a particular situation through interaction with a dancing audience. Within performance, musicians make numerous spontaneous decisions about variables such as which sounds they will play, when they will play them, and how they will be combined with other sounds. Yet the elements that constitute these improvisations are also fixed in certain fundamental ways: performances are fashioned from patterns or tracks recorded beforehand, and in the case of DJ sets, these elements are also physical objects (vinyl records).

In Playing with Something that Runs, author Mark J. Butler explores these improvised performances, revealing the ways in which musicians utilize seemingly invariable prerecorded elements to create dynamic, real-time improvisations. Based on extensive interviews with musicians in their studios, as well as in-depth studies of particular mediums of performance, including both DJ and laptop sets, Butler explores the ways in which technologies, both material and musical, are used in performance and improvisation in order to make these transformations possible. An illuminating look at the world of popular electronic-music performance, Playing with Something that Runs is an indispensable resource for electronic dance musicians and fans as well as scholars and students of popular music.

Readership: Scholars and students of popular music interested in contemporary electronic music, fans of electronic dance music (EDM), and EDM DJs and musicians.
By:   Mark J. Butler (Associate Professor of Music Theory and Cognition Associate Professor of Music Theory and Cognition Northwestern University)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 244mm,  Width: 159mm,  Spine: 20mm
Weight:   528g
ISBN:   9780195393613
ISBN 10:   0195393619
Pages:   280
Publication Date:   15 August 2014
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Mark J. Butler is Associate Professor of Music Theory and Cognition at Northwestern University and is the author of Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music (Indiana University, 2006).

Reviews for Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance

Playing with Something That Runs is an immaculate piece of popular musicology, with the potential to become one the cornerstone texts in our discipline. Its interdisciplinary approach provides an incredibly compelling insight into the performance and consumption of live EDM, and the companion website offers a great tool in bringing the discussions of recordings and performances to life through carefully curated audio and video examples. -- Toby Young , This comprehensive, authoritative, and thoroughly up-to-date volume is without equal. I wish I had such a resource when I was learning Gothic (and teaching it). -- Wayne Harbert, Cornell University Not since the grammar of von der Gabelentz and Loebe of the first half of the 19th century has there beenAsuch a comprehensive account of the Gothic language. Of particular value are the emphasis on word-formation and syntax, and the generous bibliography. -- Patrick Stiles, University College London These reflections do not fail to pose many difficulties to the musical theory: where does the identity of the work lie? Is there a hierarchy between different versions of the same composition ? Why are some compositions not intended to be listened to publicly but only to provide the raw material of improvisation?...What is the relationship between human and technology? In asking these questions, Mark Butler invites us to go beyond many of the common places of musicology that have been settled since the nineteenth century as the objections between product and process, work and performance, composition and improvisation - and many othersaIt shows us that popular electronic music is the current place for an intense widening of the spectrum of possible on the future of musical creation, both in the field of avant-garde and mainstream music. -- Emmanuel Parent, L'Universite Rennes 2, Volume! Winner of the 2015 PMIG Outstanding Publication Award from the Society of Music Theory

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