Heard Out

Phil Zampino, The Squid’s Ear, September 1, 2003

The state of turntablism has undergone rapid transformation over the last decade or so. No longer content with manipulating vinyl in unexpected ways, some artists have now turned on the tables themselves, utilizing every inch of the case, platter, motor, tone arm and stylus of the venerable record player.

Martin Tétreault, part of Montréal’s Ambiances Magnétiques collective, is one such artist. He began this evening with a solo turntable set. Looking something like an impish scientist he sat pensively behind his mixer and two turntables, if turntables you can call them. In fact, one was simply a spinning platter raised high on the table, a piece of rotating metal with a disembodied stylus and tone arm that he used to probe various items at hand. His other turntable was a standard Technics, although Tétreault often eschewed vinyl in preference to metal plates, and he often used open RCA cables in deference to the stylus to generate rumbly, sparking and oddly explosive sounds. He ended one piece by throwing a 7” record onto a pile of objects he had built up on his stylus, eliciting audience laughter, though his more frequent slamming of the tone arm would cause a serious vinyl addict to cringe in horror. At times his approach seemed chaotic or even spastic, while at other times he built revolving grooves that were glitchy and intense. It’s difficult to call Tétreault a DJ in this context, but as a turntablist he sees many unexpected possibilities.

It was clear from the two Technics decks on Yoshihide’s table that he would focus on the turntables, so it came as a bit of surprise that Yoshihide played much of his solo set on guitar, playing through a blond Marshall amp. His playing was drenched in feedback, starting with a buzzy intro that crescendoed into a ringing harmonic pallette, growling and angry. His playing was urgent, piercing, and vicious, a dirty blues with strong tremolo. Out of this slowly emerged the strains of Ornette Coleman’s ”Lonely Woman,” drifting in the feedback, a languorous rendering of the song. This slowly receded as Yoshihide began applying clips and various tools to his strings to effect, generating blocks of feedback and rich tones that rung and dropped under his thoughtful control. Yoshihide then turned to the tables to complete his solo set. He began by slamming on a disc, generating strong feedback, shaking the decks and probing at his discs to create long looping harmonic grooves punctuated with sudden collisions, unlikely beats and internote interference. The set ended with something sounding like an alien death ray, a fitting end to a charged set.

After an intermission the players returned as a duo, with both players at their turntables. The similarities in style were as striking as the contrasts: both used their styli as a probe, striking at objects that occasionally included vinyl records, but also included metal plates, cymbals, and seemingly anything loose and nearby. Yoshihide had springs mounted on his styli to force them into repetetive grooves. Tétreault picked up a vinyl record and scratched at it with a free stylus as though it were a guitar. Both developed long grooves over which they busily worked, but generally Yoshihide tended towards more patient development of sounds relying often on delays, including an extended interaction with the package from a battery against his tone arm, making a wailing melodic cry. Meanwhile Tétreault jumped between sound sources in percussive and disruptive ways. As the set developed both settled into grooves, and the point of applying their approaches to turntables as opposed to any other solid object became apparent, as the rhythmic, cycling nature of their sound became more obvious. Dueling airplanes, industrial washing machines, droning noise with the beating of construction nightmares married and exploded, the factory gone haywire under the hands of these two noise pilots. The sheer feedback, interbeats and thunderous sounds threatened to change the listener’s body chemistry, a satisfying and jarring experience.

The sheer feedback, interbeats and thunderous sounds threatened to change the listener’s body chemistry, a satisfying and jarring experience.