Grand Mixer DXT

Since recording the hit “Rockit” with Herbie Hancock in 1983 — the first known turntablist performance — the mere mention of Grand Mixer DXT leaves faces lit up and stories conjured up. With the now infamous Grammy Awards performance by Hancock and DXT, an entire generation of musicians had their collective imagination sparked. Now the Bronx native, credited with being the first to fuse hip-hop and jazz, is taking sonic restoration for a spin — effectively demonstrating, once again, the many possibilities for audiophiles in an increasingly sophisticated musical world.

EQ caught up with Grand Master DXT not long after he received an honorary award from Berklee School of Music for his pioneering contributions to the musical realm, both as performer and producer. We spoke with him about his latest extraordinary studio endeavor: restoring the Blue Note Records/Thelonious Monk Records release Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall — a historic live performance recently discovered at the Library of Congress.

EQ: Did this project require any special equipment or new techniques to enhance the original recording?

GRAND MIXER DXT: After talking with T.S. Monk [Thelonious Monk’s drummer and son], I personally felt that, if I was going to do anything to the source file, which was the quarter-inch analog tape, I was going to try to make changes without destroying the file . . . without it being noticeable that I made changes. I figured out a way to go into the sound files and surgically edit out ambient anomalies without being destructive to the file itself. I wasn’t guessing, I was gambling. But once I tested the theory, it actually worked.

EQ: Your approach reminds me a little of an anthropologist and/or a time traveler.

DXT: I went to 1957. While I was listening, I studied the music as if I was going to play it myself — to actually learn what was part of “the music” and what wasn’t. Once I came to my conclusions, I sought out to remove “what was not music” from the file. It was a spiritual thing. I sat with it for a week. I listened for a week before I did anything, made notes and markers, to the point where Monk and Trane began to directly speak to me.

They were saying, “Hey, man, young blood, could you get that hiss sound out of there, cause we’re not playing that into the audience. We don’t know what that is [laughing].” And that was based on the floors and the technology of the time. From a purist standpoint, one could say “leave everything the way it is, tape hiss and everything,” but that’s not really pure to me. There was no tape hiss in Carnegie Hall; there was tape hiss due to the imperfections of the recording technology of the time.

EQ: Are there qualities about the older analog recordings that you think make them superior to recordings made in the “modern” sense? Do they actually have more “soul”?

DXT: It depends on what you, as a listener, want. Some people don’t want to hear tape hiss anymore, because you can make a recording now without hearing tape hiss. But some people trade off and live with the tape hiss for its personality — the texture and warmth — all of the qualities analog tape can give you.

EQ: What did you think of the musical performances on the recording? Did you reference any other Monk or Coltrane recordings in advance to prep for your work?

DXT: I didn’t listen to anything except that CD for a week. I was fasting and listening. I thought it was incredible. I can clearly hear the tutelage between the two: Monk going completely out, in a genius fashion, and Trane understanding that — being inspired to just reach. You can hear that in the performance. That was part of their relationship.

EQ: So what is your approach to restoration?

DXT: My new technique is called Forensic Editing. One must find a way to eliminate any anomaly on the file that is non-musical. There are many ways to eliminate it. The human ear can be tricked or fooled into not hearing something that you can hear.

EQ: What is most significant, something that you might be able to point out to someone else that’s coming up and trying to do what you’re doing?

DXT: I think that once you understand that everything is based on levels . . . your volume, compression, EQ . . . it’s all about levels. Levels of frequencies in EQs, levels of feeling, the thrust in compression and overall volume; I think once you understand that as an art, then you can appreciate each one of those devices and use them more efficiently.

EQ: As a result of your restoration work on the Monk and Trane recording, what sort of response are you getting from the public, those who may want your help?

DXT: So far, it’s been pretty interesting. I just finished a project this week in which a guy found a cassette tape of his wife from 30 years ago. He wanted me to transfer the tape, and then he wanted me to take the words and reconstruct her words into a message to her daughter, because the daughter was getting married. The father’s gift to the daughter was her mother’s voice, speaking directly to her about getting married and going on with her life. The tape was from Iran, 30 years ago, where the wife was giving a lecture. She died five years after she made the tape and she had a child that was almost one year old. The daughter had never heard her mother’s voice. The woman was talking, giving a speech about Iran. I took the tape and we took words and reconstructed her speech into a message to her daughter. It’s definitely one of the most incredible projects I’ve ever done. It was really something special.