Speaking of the folks at DJ Tech Tools and modding controllers, my friend Matt Moldover is pushing a new term he’s coined, “controllerism.” Moldover, pictured here with his hacked-up Novation ReMOTE keyboard at the last Handmade Music event from CDM, Etsy, and Make, has a rig that combines custom Reaktor ensembles, Ableton Live, and modified controllers. His idea is I think to separate digital DJs using vinyl (following in the steps of the original turntablists) from those adding other performance elements unique to computers.

For more, here’s Ean Golden’s feature for Remix Magazine:
MUSIC MANEUVERS: Discover the digital turntablism concept, “controllerism,” compliments of Moldover

I’m curious to hear what people think of the idea. I enjoy what Matt’s doing, but I’m less into trying to put a specific label on it. Controllers have long been a part of computer music performance in all genres; I’m not terribly into the term “laptop music”, either, for the same reason. I’m not even into throwing out vinyl yet, either, especially when it can be used to power vibrating chairs and installation art with tree trunks — to say nothing of the folks who are still better at scratching vinyl than most of us are at, well, everything else. (Ironically, here at Create Digital Music I think we tend to be less pro-digital than Ean is, when he suggests anyone not embracing digital is a dinosaur.) Then again, I’m not all that into separating DJs from, you know, music. But regardless, maybe controllerism is a good term. Certainly, having seen Matt play, I think “musician” works pretty well, too.

Matt I know meant to be provocative. So I’m very interested to hear what you think.

  • Anything that inspires people to make the performance of live electronic music more visually engaging is a good thing. Giving virtuosic skill a label might challenge people to think about more than just the sound. Otherwise, there's no point to attend a live performance (except maybe beer selection…)

  • ERS


    I agree that getting people out from behind the monitor/mouse is a good thing, however i disagree that there is no merit to a live performance otherwise. There is an energy inherent to a live show that is missing when listening to music at home – people dancing together, gasping together at a particular sick beat, hooting and hollering or even booing together. This is especially true if the musician is a proficient improviser so the energy is a nice feedback loop/conversation.

  • Lee

    I'm definitely digging Moldover's modified controller and software setup, but I think Ean needs to chill out on the "old vanguard" rantings (isn't "old vanguard" a contradiction of terms, anyways?). For someone so interested in control surfaces, how is it he can't appreciate the beauty of the turntable as a controller? It is extremely simple, yet expressive and intuitive concept for the manipulation of recorded sound. So why does it need to be tossed out?

    I am all for new controller paradigms and exploring the possibilities of live performance, but I don't see the reason to toss aside a really effective controller design just because it has analog roots. Why not integrate? Scratching with keys looks really clunky, but mapping que points onto velocity pads is solid. Play on the strengths of each method, and you can really make something.

  • @Lee: yeah, I'm with you:

    * I'll have to get Matt to give us a closer look at his rig soon.

    * Whatever the term used, I feel strongly that you can learn a lot from turntables, and even a Pioneer CDJ. I'm a huge believer in the potential of computer tech, and its ability to do things that gear can't, but I think it's at its best design-wise when it considers what went before. More thoughts on this soon, as I'm hanging around more with DJs who are much further from having made this leap, and even as a non-DJ, I find their needs in terms of interface to be really instructive from a design standpoint.

  • I think this is a very good term, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Hopefully we get an enhanced MIDI protocol, or OSC everywhere so the controllers will be more intuitive and responsive. It was time someone also made a hand-held DJ controller, too.

  • Damon

    "Controllerism" kind of timely…

    I always get a kick out of the title of this web space.

    "CreateDigitalMusic." It's not a suggestion, it's a command.

  • This definitely falls within the moment sometime in 2005 when everybody looked around and said "Wow, laptops!"

    "Controllerism" is just mapping the same ideas of virtuosity and mastery of the physical instrument onto new technologies. It still, suspiciously, looks exactly like turntablism, rockism, and classicism, just wearing the disguise of plastic and circuit boards. If all the gimmicky lights and gee-whiz factor of the live show are taken away (for example, to someone who might be blind and can't see a circuit-bent SK-1 or monome controller,) the resulting sound is pretty much the same. Meaning, the recorded electronic music, weather remixed or mashed up or reconstituted, sounds aesthetically pretty much the same as the material produced on-the-fly. So, if the aesthetic and theory is the same as turtablism, and only the technology different, why take such a political stance on something that isn't terribly revolutionary? Technology's rendered the performance moot…

    I'm an electronic musician and DJ, and I do love to perform with Ableton Live and Traktor. I use controllers and do a lot of stuff on-the-fly, but I don't make a huge deal about the, ultimately, masturbatory gesturing I produce on stage or in the DJ booth. I'm all for new technologies, new control surfaces, and, as an electronic laptop-using musician, laying claim to some of the cache that vinyl DJ's have held for decades, however, I think time might be better spent thinking about how to avoid in electronic music some of the problematic issues and politics of turntablism and rockism – instead of focusing attention on someone who wants to be the Q*Bert of MIDI controllers.

  • Adrian Anders

    I don't think I'm totally on board the name "controllerism", but I'm very in favor of individuals trying to make their music controllers solid for live performance. This is a trend very similar to what was going on in the 80's/90's with DJ gear becoming more rugged/streamlined for live performance in response to the popularity of Turntablism and House DJs. Nowadays it's silly for companies making DJ mixers to have stiff faders, clunky pots, and unresponsive buttons. Likewise I hope this trend catches on and results in MIDI controller manufacturers making more live performance-oriented products. I think I would be willing to pay a premium (up to a point… Allen & Heath controllers are too insanely priced) for a MIDI DJ controller as solid as a Vestax PMC-05. Same would go for a keyboard controller with similar faders and pots.

  • I should add, controllerism *does* make a terrific domain name and Moldover has that, as well.

    Create Digital Music was never actually so intentional a name … it's a long story, but it was a distorted version of the book title we never actually used, and a domain I happened to be able to get, and it stuck. It doesn't have to be a command. You could imagine it means "I like to drink Dr. Pepper when I create digital music," or "tis nobler to patch modular synths than create digital music" or "now is the time to do this week's laundry, not to create digital music."

    In all seriousness, yes, my objection was that controllers are a means to an end, not the meaningful thing itself. But if mastering a piano makes someone a pianist, and a turntable a turnablist, then the upside would be that it suggests that controllers are something you practice, something you get chops on, something you get *better* on. And that idea is very appealing to me.

    As is doing laundry, ideally via digital control, on our new site Create Digital Laundromats.

  • Adrian Anders

    CDL FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!1111oneone

  • MrBook

    It is interesting to see that no matter how much the industry is going to adapt to the demands of these new "controllerists", there will always be people pushing the envelope, taking their tools apart and reinventing them, making them truly unique (for an extreme case of this, everyone should check out that1guy). These people that don't conform, push the art forward setting the bar for the rest, forcing us to keep up. I take my hat off to Moldover and I think its great that a "controllerist" is getting wide coverage.

    BTW, was anyone able to find the reaktor plugin he uses on the user library ??

  • Moldover rocks!! If thats what he calls himself, controllerist, then thats what I will call him. For those whose emphasis is the interface, maybe Interfacism is appropriate. Or for all the monome/tenori/WII fans, Interfeticism could apply.

    @Mr.Book, you might be referring to an ensemble not in the userlib called Beatlookup by Chris List. You can find a link to it in the reaktor builders forum in a thread called Next Beatlookup Thread. You are required to read the whole thread before downloading.

    Please play both sides at one meeting!

  • Ean Golden

    Hey guys, I just wanted to point out that I really appreciate you starting this discussion and the intelligent feedback from your readers. We are all on the same page here so let me just add a few points.

    I completely agree that its not about the name or the technology but how you use it. That is precisely what we pointed out here at this post on dj tech tools:
    So why controllerism? Because the world needs sound bites and a quick easy way to explain what guys like moldover and myself are doing. If anyone can come up with a better name, I would gladly use that but for now controllerism seems to be sticking. 🙂

    And just for the record, I am not so terribly anti-analogue. There are still many thousands of records and a pair of 10 year old Mk2-1200s at my house. The turntable is a BEAUTIFUL controller and instrument. Qbert has elevated his musical game to the level of jazz. That's why is so important to improve the quality of controllers and digital instruments. The exciting thing about the digital realm is how much remarkable potential there is for creative personal expression.

  • There will be no war between artificial and organic intelligences.

    It is human-kind's destiny to merge with machines, furthering evolution of the species and facilitating our survival in the forthcoming global cataclysm.


  • boxguy

    I sometimes still get a kick out of just mixing old 12" and it can be a lot of fun and mixing CDs can be just as fun, which is what I do mostly. However, I like Moldover's idea. I've been using Ableton for production, but the idea of warping all my tracks, I just don't have time for and not sure what I will be doing behind the DJ decks if Ableton is matching the beats for me.

    Playing with effects all the time can become boring to the ears fast, so I see the thing to do to start playing 3-5 tracks at a time if using Ableton.

    Or possibly use Ableton as my effects send/return and mix with CDJs. Anyone have other suggestions of pushing boundaries?

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  • The controllerists and the DJ's are not that far apart from each other. It's all about music guys, and the optimum situation is to try to find a meeting point for musicians, DJ's, and circuit benders. Controllerism IS this meeting place. The missing dimension (not really missing, just need more of it) is video, but that is creeping in. The Korg Kaptivator is the first "affordable" device of its kind to establish inroads into this new territory. The performance can become something more or less an event in and of itself. Anyone familiar with the Reactables, can now picture a room full of people wearing Reactable-like "jewelry" – Stay with me here. So say a chick is wearing a low-pass filter "necklace" and dances into the vicinity of a guy wearing a low frequency oscillator "bracelet". The effect is one of a massive filter sweep directly over head in the speaker system in the ceiling, much like at an Imax theater. The dancers could change the very music they are dancing to. This is one vision of future events as I see being more than possible right now. This is why all artists and mad scientist types need to bond and rap and brain storm on these subjects. Anyone who is familiar with Igor Amokian and his work knows that if he got together with some computer guys it would lead to some weird stuff – Igor is a performing circuit bender in the L.A. area. He is, however, old school and admits his lack of computer-related music tool knowledge, but I think he's warming up to the idea. I'm trying, man 😉

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