From mixing, scratching and beat-juggling to remixing and producing original works, DJs have long been pushing the limits of how music is made. In the past decade, the explosive popularity of DJ culture has reached global proportions, prompting numerous technological advancements in the development of mixers, turntables, CD players, software and almost everything DJ-related. Although significant strides have been made to improve the DJ game altogether, every now and again, something comes along that changes everything. Stanton's Final Scratch will change our perceptions of what it means to be a DJ as it opens new doors to formerly inconceivable applications.
A few years ago, the concept of manipulating digital music via turntables was pretty much a fantasy. Final Scratch immortalizes wax by fusing analog record technology and digital timecoding, making it possible to scratch, juggle, needle-drop, pitch and manipulate digital files (MP3, WAV, AIFF) using any standard turntable-and-mixer setup. The Final Scratch system consists of easy-to-install Linux-based software, the Scratch Amp (serving as the analog/digital interface), USB and RCA cables and three time-encoded vinyl records. You must provide the laptop or desktop computer of your choice. (See the system requirements at www.finalscratch.com.)
FROM THE BOX TO THE DECKS
Adding the Final Scratch hardware to your existing DJ rig is a painless setup that takes about two minutes. First, plug the RCA outputs of your decks into the Scratch Amp inputs. Second, run the stereo RCA cables from the Scratch Amp into the phono inputs of the mixer — that allows the DJ to play normal records if he or she desires. Next, connect the RCA outputs of the Scratch Amp to the relevant line inputs on the mixer (your “Final Scratch” inputs). Finally, connect the Scratch Amp to your computer via USB.
The technology behind Final Scratch is relatively simple. The needle reads the timecode that is pressed into the special Final Scratch vinyl records. The timecode is simply a roadmap of where you are on the record. Think of it as a watch that keeps track of your exact song position, using elapsed time as its guide. As the needle rides the grooves, it sends timecode to the Scratch Amp, which controls the playback of the file you have selected on your computer inside the Final Scratch application.
The software has two parts, Record Boxing and the Live application. The Record Boxing application allows you to convert WAV or AIFF files into MP3s. There, you can name your tracks, and you're given the opportunity to include related information (bpm, genre, producer, year and so on). You can organize files into folders called Record Boxes, which you can also name. Record Boxing is simply an organizational tool to help you keep track of your songs. Once everything is categorized, you can search by any one of a number of means — genre, for instance — making it much easier to find that song that you want to add to your set last-minute.
The second part of the software is the Live application, where you select songs from the Record Boxes and map them to the turntable of your choice. The software interface is simple to operate and doesn't require a lot of time to learn. Beyond the tracks on your computer, if you insert an audio CD into your CD-ROM and push F12 (activating the CD-ROM through the Final Scratch Live application), you will note that this same real-time manipulation is possible straight off the CD!
LUGGING A GIGABYTE OF VINYL
All of the song files are stored on your computer's hard drive. So while your average DJ might bring a bag of 50 to 100 records, with Final Scratch, your record bag is as big as the amount of hard-drive space your computer has, allowing you to bring thousands of tracks or an entire collection with you to a show. Aside from the fact that you'll never run out of records again, a song can be mapped to one or both turntables. DJs who need doubles of those hard-to-find records can rock duplicates of anything audible. No heavy record bags, and you have a lot more power and control of the direction of your sets.
Pressing up vinyl is expensive but vital to DJs who want to perform live with records. The Final Scratch time-encoded vinyl discs look and feel like actual wax because they are real wax. Being able to “play” MP3s gives artists the power to play, perform and test original works of music and remixes without having to burn CDs or press up costly acetates. Final Scratch is also a great alternative to wearing out those rare 45s: Simply rip the file and play it as often as you like. Final Scratch serves as a powerful studio application enabling producers to incorporate vinyl as a controller of digital media. Turntablists and skilled scratchers can now cut anything without having to leave behind their turntables and mixers of choice.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Despite the artistry that goes into digging for wax, DJs have always been limited to what they can find in stores. Although some may question the effect this technology will have on the future of vinyl, Final Scratch solidifies the future of wax by giving you access to the growing market of digital distributors — just buy your music from the Internet (that's right: buy the track; support your artists) and play it on vinyl. In respect to the DJ culture and the crafts of mixing, scratching and beat juggling, Final Scratch doesn't attempt to change the face of DJing but rather adds a digital dimension.
For all these reasons and more, we've adopted Final Scratch as a powerful performance medium and studio tool. In an effort to promote this groundbreaking technology, we will be touring with the system. For more info about the tour, visit www.3thehardway.com or come see Faust, Shortee and Perseus at a venue near you.