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: