By Simon Slieker
Of all the reasons why I prefer DJ’ing with vinyl, there is one that I’ve not heard anyone else talk about. It goes to the heart of the unique difference this medium offers, and is at once the thing that makes it come alive in one milieu and go to hell in another.
The romantic notion of resonant room feedback.
First I’ll discuss the romance of it. Then I’ll go into more detail. You can judge whether the “science” is real or not.
Playing records is all about vibration
The ground zero in the chain of vibration is the point at which the diamond tip of the needle runs across the chiselled groove of the record. This vibration is picked up by the stylus, and sent on it’s way through the various processing and amplification machinery, to the speakers and ultimately to your body and ears on the dance floor.
Now because that vibrational point of contact is “live” it is also receptive to other vibrations that come, not from the record, but from the room itself. There are two other kinds:
- Surface vibration: emanating from the oscillations of the desk/floor and the turntable itself.
- Air vibration: the movement of the air inside the room expanding and contracting in response to the walls of the room and the bodies within it alive with the dynamic movement typical of a populated space.
Both of these vibrations are active in direct response to the output of the record, in effect what the DJ is putting out, is being reflected back. And this reflection is more than the vibration of the record, it comes back with interest, and that interest bears the signature of each individual in the room. Each person in the space, both
individually and collectively plays an active part in vibrating the air (and floor) back to the needle on the record.
We’re all familiar with the aphorism “we’re all connected”. Well here is a tangible instance of this connection. And I love it.
To me this means that when I play and I feel the vibe of the room around me, I am aware that more than me feeling it, my sound source feeling it too. Indeed the very record I am playing is also playing the room!
There is a cycle of connectivity here that I’m sure has an energy about it: a dynamic signature coming back to this point of connection where vibration meets the pickup; the point of amplification.
So next time you’re dancing to a music source which is vinyl at its origin consider the romance. Get caught up in this: we’re all swimming around in the resonance of our being and our action. We, by our very presence, action and substance somehow contribute to the overall auditory experience of that space, of that set of music.
Know that if you’re there when I’m DJ’ing, this is my philosophy and I regard you as a contributor to the experience and in this way it’s true that we’re all in this thing together.
Okay so let’s turn the dimmer down on this a little.
I’m all for romance but what’s the nature of this liaison anyway?
Good question because for all the romance it’s not like this resonant feedback is going to add another layer of rhythm, or vocal track. Or is it? No, not as such, although I have heard close to it with weird resonant frequency hums, so I probably shouldn’t rule out the possibility.
What it does amount to is that intangible “depth” or “warmth” that arouses the misty eyed gaze of the record enthusiast. What is actually going on is subtle airborne feedback creating an element of distortion to the otherwise clear sound. But how it often sounds is rich, and like the sound is more complete: especially in a dance floor environment where we want oomph and fullness in the sound. Indeed we want to be able to feel it, and the more frequency, especially in the bottom end, the more we feel it.
TMRF = H
Yes at the outset I said this is the best and worst of vinyl DJ’ing. What I’ve described above is the best case. What about the worst? TMRF = H
Too much resonant feedback. Too much: (I finally have to say the “H” word”) HUM. Never has something so innocuous dealt such disaster.
Hum is our worst nightmare. But all it is in effect is too much feedback. Too much of a good thing. So instead of having a beautiful addition of subtle feedback vibes, it turns into a raging torrent of distortion that overrides the source.
Needless to say, when this happens the dance floor covers their ears and the DJ recoils into reflexive countermeasures that eliminate all sense of flow and creativity. Worse still, if the source of the excessive vibration is coming from floor movement because of dancing feet, we enter the nightmarish cause and effect paradox every vinyl DJ dreads.
DJ torture hell vibes
Consider the torture of the DJ who has at their core the desire to inspire dancing, but in succeeding, creates the conditions that lay waste to that success.
It’s the absolute reverse of the positive cause and effect of the above. It is the destroyer of sets and the bane of the DJs world. It makes the DJ regard the dancer with suspicion: “Go off, but do it quietly! And don’t bounce.” No, it doesn’t really wash. The two options available are both fraught:
- Continue playing as you were and pull out the humming frequencies as they occur and ignore the skipping records when they jump. Basically this will play out as it sounds, hamstrung and shit and ultimately you’ll lose the dance floor.
- Play music that is less likely to make people dance in such a way as to create the upsetting vibration. And surprise surprise, same outcome, lose the dance floor and cripple the set.
Ugh, the memories writing this brings back. I kid you not it makes me feel sick. What a terrible note to end on…
So there you have it. The Romantic Notion of resonant room theory. There’s a bit of Mills and Boon about it and there’s some sort of dharmic principal at play, coupled with esoteric evidence that we are all one after all.
So be kind to your neighbour. Especially on the dance floor. And stop pushing past for that matter because that shit action is being picked up and reflected back as well. And I for one don’t want to be amplifying it. And “Excuse me” and “Sorry” go a long way. But that’s a story for another time.