Behind records, dj sniff hides a no-display computer-based rig running his own software, extending the possibilities of what turntablism can be. Photo by Tanya Traboulsi.

dj sniff, aka Takuro Mizuta Lippit, has been a leading figure in experimental turntablism and experimental music in general. Following studies in New York and Tokyo, he’s been a key artist and curator in the scene, as well as a top practitioner of turntable technique that pushes the envelope of what the record player can do. I got to spend some time with him in the basement of STEIM, the cutting-edge “electro-instrumental” research center in Amsterdam, as he jammed on his rig.

Combining a computer running Max/MSP with interactive physical control and conventional scratching and mixing, Taku’s rig is a kind of hybrid meta-instrument, a one-man ensemble of sound. In our video, he first gives us an extended improvisation. It was literally just him messing around when I happened to flip on the camera; this flows out of him both as a soloist and with other musicians (including acoustic instrumentalists). Then, he walks us through that gear.

Some of what you’ll see, apart from the obvious turntables and a one-of-a-kind custom device of sniff’s own creation:
Mac mini
Cycling ’74 Max/MSP (you can’t see it, but via his custom patches, it’s doing the sampling)
Stanton SCS.3m Controller
Novation Dicer DJ Controller (the little, triangular device propped on the edge of the turntable)
Foot pad

The “Crossfader Trigger Sampler” is the heart of the rig, what Taku says he had to learn to play. It’s powered by a PIC18F microcontroller, though these days you might well choose a different option. (The device was designed in the pre-Arduino days.)

Take a look:

I’m listening now to dj sniff’s album, titled simply ep. It’s actually nearly a full hour of music, perhaps best described as experimental turntable jazz. I love Taku’s inscription on the back, from the liner notes, as it says a lot to me about the relationship of performance and recording media:

“With every scratch, our memory of a past is suspended and we hear and here the now.”

dj sniff is curating and playing STEIM’s PATTERNS + PLEASURE festival next month. We’ll be in Amsterdam, and will be doing a Handmade Music call; more on that shortly. I just hope I can fight through jetlag and make some music down in STEIM’s bowels.


More dj sniff:

Photo: Frank Balde.

At STEIM in Tokyo, 2008:

  • He

    Technically interesting, musically imho more in the WTF area..  Is anybody able to listen to this more than 25 sec?

  • He

    Richard Devine on the decks comes to mind

  • wow, that is terrible.

  • BARF

    Its experimental. Did you expect a pop song?

    I dig it.

  • I will start to post more often wishlists to cdm.. amazing.. thanks for the article peter..

  • love the idea of sniff, in relation to the use of a mac mini with apple scripts in order not to need using monitor and approach live electronics thing, in this case turntablism, as an only instrumental thing. as I have time and money to do such a thing, I will buy a mac mini, and use this sort of approach. I am tired of being looking at the computer while I am playing

  • Ed

    Seems like an overly complicated device to just change the pitch and sample sample/stop.  In the interview video he explains other functions but I didn't really notice any audible difference nor did the parameter changes have a deterministic effect, which maybe related to the sample material.

  • every since the mixer feature called fader start/stop was created, that starts and stops CD players, i have always wondered why faders can't send MIDI signals. i think nobody really thought this was needed. FLESH O.N.E. created a mod for the Vestax 06 Pro that essentially allows you to hook up a midi cable to a homebrew internal device that sends MIDI on/off when you move the fader. I've always wanted one of those but now I'm wondering if there is a simple OSC solution that can track hand movements instead of MIDI. I would find it useful to be able to trigger samples while doing a multiple click flare…each click would trigger a different sample. That's just one idea. Midi is nice too. Great concept from Sniff on the auto-boot MiniMac. I had an XP laptop boot up immediately into whatever music app i needed and closed the lid and just banged away at a midi keyboard using MIDI to control patches. I like the experimentation going on here. Tablists have always been snubbed for creating experimental tools in the DJ community unless it benefits the community as a whole. I see this in the same way Jazz Artists first went off into the Free Jazz realm. Eventually…we can all learn to improvise with our own home brew tools and come up with systems of notation for what out devices do.

  • @regend -> I guess like there's some models of korg digital dj mixing desks which comprise MIDI implementation in the hardware. If ir does so, it's very easy, with maxmsp, to turn those signals into osc. you just need an mxj object that a guy, if not mistaken, also from netherlands has recently done, which alows you to easy map OSC messages (and when I say easy, I really mean as easy as placing a noteout or midiout object in max). also, you can easily use some apps which are around there to use the motu soundcards (I think metric halo has also those things), to convert midi/osc signals to cv, and by doing so control, for an instance a analogue filter/synth, no matter if you use a more or less deterministic approach to the problem..

  • uLoveMe

    AWESOME. the only dj i have ever encountered with true musicality and skill. and gorgeous music to boot.

  • cosimo murgolo

    Respect!!!!!! I wish musicians would be more   humble like this guy.
    Keep up with your good work.
    All the best.

  • JoshuaB

     Sort of turntable free jazz… Zorn meets q-bert.

  • sD

    While I try to be fairly open-minded when it comes to experimental music, this seriously sounded horrible. 

    Technology is hardly a crutch for ability, and even the way he manipulates the record makes him look like some guy who doesn't exactly know what he's doing, but has draped himself with various pretentious labels to somehow justify the audio salad that he's made.

    Experimental? Yes. Music? Hardly.

    Many of the people singing his praises come across as hipster dickheads who equate things not making sense to brilliance.

  • sniff!
    this dude is awesome,
    nicest guy ever…
    serious boundary pusher…
    STEIM has been cranking since 1969!
    makes you feel young….

    see you in amsterdam hoss….

  • Jon

    Terrible. I don't care how technically challenging it is to accomplish what he does this simply isn't music.

  • Wow – I'm surprised at the blatant hostility towards someone working in a niche area musically. I thought that CDM readers were accustomed to a fair share of interesting posts about genre bending and experimental approaches to music creation. 

    Comments that this is simply not music just show a lack of information about the music a great number of people are out there creating. I'm reminded of a quote by Francisco Lopez – "music is listening to any sound with dedication"

  • BARF

    "Many of the people singing his praises come across as hipster dickheads who equate things not making sense to brilliance."

    What if people just enjoy it and you're just an asshole?

    Chill the fuck out and recognize that not everyone has the same taste in sound or music.

  • The Tokyo 2008 video isn't a very good introduction to dj sniff. You get about two minutes of a muffled kick bouncing around. I imagine that it sounded cool in the club, but whatever energy was there doesn't come across in the video.

    The first video is much more interesting. The opening rhythm has a good texture and the sound quality is good throughout.

  • @ben
    the shit talkers never have much to offer… 
    dope saxophone work man.. 
    thanks for linking… 

  • that should have been "you get about two minutes of a muffled kick bouncing around at the beginning"

  • offisuh pupp

    sorry bros

    dj koala was more experimental (1 turntable, turned off?) 
    and more musical at the same time
    10 years ago

    this is jus whack

  • He calls himself a turntablist.. If everyone would call themselves pilots most of the airplanes would never get turned on, nevermind fly.. I'm glad that you are experimenting but don't call yourself a turntablist.. please..

  • I'm a fan of DJ Sniff. I enjoy the various "this is not music" comments very much. If those commenters could let us know their various definitions of music then perhaps we hipsters can make a promise to go and hang out on their respective peripheries.

  • I really enjoyed his discussion of his performance strategy. His approach is very personalized (a fader record sample events rather than a typical note on/off message fun!) and by damn it works. I do like seeing "the haters" comments… people that react that strongly are still passionate about music and one day they will see the brillance, just give them a little patience.   Also…  as a complete computer music lover i do like seeing them put away, having a laptop between the audience and musicians creates a very loaded situation for good and bad and its great to see folks that are removing the boundary.

  • Peter Kirn

    This is entertainingly divisive. He must be doing something right. πŸ˜‰

  • mdk

    i like it. and i dont like much these days. πŸ™‚

  • @offisuh pupp many people would agree that Kid Koala, the ISP and BeatJunkies crew, the XMEN, and many other tablists, introduced an entire cannon of "musical" turntablism 11 years. what i'm seeing is a resurgance of the use of turntables as well as bringing in digital or computer techonology to continue a tradition. 11 or more years ago, tablismk was not only abuot the musicality but also a performance art and showmanship.

    @tiago I have a Korg KM-2 that is already taken apart due to a failed channel 2 that Main outputs, Channel 1 inputs all work. I'm going to hack away at and see what i come up with. It's a great mixer for sampling and triggering loops and adding effects to live vinyl and the recorded loops.

  • krzysztof cybulski

    Great stuff!!! It seems like a perfect blend between turtablism and live electronics! And I love the idea of using a mac mini just as an engine, not mentioning the controller design, where each element has a different feel, just like different techniques and articulations on an ordinary instrument. This is very musical approach! I agree that the music itself might get annoying after some time, but that doesn't change my mind: this is really something πŸ™‚

  • @Regend… definitely love Kid Koala, I would even suggest that Christian Marclay was the unintentional father of turntablism… rocking the decks in most unorthodox ways since the late 70s. His inspiration was obviously not an explicit direct reaction to beat oriented genres of music/remix culture but a larger exploration of performance techniques with a healthy dose of John Cage and the conceptual. IMHO, unlike Cage his actual music is more fun to listen to than talk about or watch unfold. Erikm is a name that also comes to mine who has expanded turntablism beyond the safe zone.      

  • @Edison – Thanks man – thanks for dropping by my site. πŸ™‚

    @Derek Morton – ah Erikm – it's been a while since I heard that name! I saw him perform back in 2008 in Bordeaux when I was there studying. It was part of a festival devoted to the music of Luc Ferrari – and Erikm had worked extensively with him before his tragic death. An awesome example of what can be done with experimental turntablism… he gave a great performance

  • Brandon

    Fantastic! Great to learn about Sniff's process. His work is super-interesting.

  • Brandon

    I actually bought a rane empath mixer after learning about for the cv (fader start) outputs he utilizes to use with my modular. you can get some crazy shit going running those into a voltage controlled sampler like the phonogene or the tyme sefari…

  • oh my god, haters come and join the 21st century, or even the 20th, please, you'd think after stravinsky and 12 tone stuff and john cage and rock & roll and hip hop and bird that anyone with half a brain would realize calling something 'not music' is inane. 

  • I feel honored to be introduced on this site and thanks for all the comments. I believe all the negative comments come from the love and dedication to turntablism and DJing – I come from the same place, so I only have respect to y'all.

    For anyone interested, here is the Max5 patch for my fader triggered sampler and the startup applescript:&nbsp ;

    What is "music" is a hard question, but I do think there are things that are "musical", I just hope that is conveyed in my live performances… This is my favorite project that I have: &nbsp ;

  • He

    I find it very interesting how different people react to this kind of stuff…  I for one simply can't enjoy the output, so I think it's more a matter of tastes…  (to be not far to seek I don't like freejazz too)  Every niche has its audience..  Music for everyone is boring as hell! πŸ˜‰  
    So Peter, keep them coming, the posts about obscure stuff!!

  • @Brandon my thoughts exactly. i have the drum trigger board for the akai s900.

  • DJ Sniff is my hero. He pulled an awesome gig @ Flow festival years ago. He had briljant gamelan set as a finale.

    (Then again I also listen to Mainliner, Konono N°1, Magma and Reich too…)

  • Sniff is great and a cool guy. Met him at Steim during my own residency and he was very supportive in that role. He's a very humble, yet strong player. Great to have this type of stuff on here.

  • Dj Sniff is a really great guy and performer. I spoke to him when he performed with Paul Bell at my university (Surrey) he was so open about his practices and method – really inspiring!
    His music is pretty far out there for a lot of people but boy it was fun to listen to!
    I'd really recommend going to see him live as obviously, the vibe does not come through quite so well on video.
    Even if you don't like the end product, you've got to admire this guy's record collection!

  • Bicky

    This post remind me this video