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Continuing some of the longer articles from the main Brain page ...

December 31, 2006 - Montreal

Music of the Hemispheres  By CLIVE THOMPSON, continued....

“Even back then, Dan was never satisfied with the simple answer,” said Howie Klein, a former president of Reprise and Sire Records. “He was always poking and prodding.”

By the ’90s Dr. Levitin was disenchanted with the music industry. “When they’re dropping Van Morrison and Elvis Costello because they don’t sell enough records,” he said, “I knew it was time to move on.” Academic friends persuaded him to pursue a science degree. They bet that he would have good intuitions on how to design music experiments.

They were right. Traditionally music psychologists relied on “simple melodies they’d written themselves,” Dr. Levitin said. What could that tell anyone about the true impact of powerful music?

For his first experiment he came up with an elegant concept: He stopped people on the street and asked them to sing, entirely from memory, one of their favorite hit songs. The results were astonishingly accurate. Most people could hit the tempo of the original song within a four-percent margin of error, and two-thirds sang within a semitone of the original pitch, a level of accuracy that wouldn’t embarrass a pro.

“When you played the recording of them singing alongside the actual recording of the original song, it sounded like they were singing along,” Dr. Levitin said.

It was a remarkable feat. Most memories degrade and distort with time; why would pop music memories be so sharply encoded? Perhaps because music triggers the reward centers in our brains. In a study published last year Dr. Levitin and group of neuroscientists mapped out precisely how.

Observing 13 subjects who listened to classical music while in an M.R.I. machine, the scientists found a cascade of brain-chemical activity. First the music triggered the forebrain, as it analyzed the structure and meaning of the tune. Then the nucleus accumbus and ventral tegmental area activated to release dopamine, a chemical that triggers the brain’s sense of reward.

The cerebellum, an area normally associated with physical movement, reacted too, responding to what Dr. Levitin suspected was the brain’s predictions of where the song was going to go. As the brain internalizes the tempo, rhythm and emotional peaks of a song, the cerebellum begins reacting every time the song produces tension (that is, subtle deviations from its normal melody or tempo).

“When we saw all this activity going on precisely in sync, in this order, we knew we had the smoking gun,” he said. “We’ve always known that music is good for improving your mood. But this showed precisely how it happens.”

The subtlest reason that pop music is so flavorful to our brains is that it relies so strongly on timbre. Timbre is a peculiar blend of tones in any sound; it is why a tuba sounds so different from a flute even when they are playing the same melody in the same key. Popular performers or groups, Dr. Levitin argued, are pleasing not because of any particular virtuosity, but because they create an overall timbre that remains consistent from song to song. That quality explains why, for example, I could identify even a single note of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”

“Nobody else’s piano sounds quite like that,” he said, referring to Mr. John. “Pop musicians compose with timbre. Pitch and harmony are becoming less important.”

Dr. Levitin dragged me over to a lab computer to show me what he was talking about. “Listen to this,” he said, and played an MP3. It was pretty awful: a poorly recorded, nasal-sounding British band performing, for some reason, a Spanish-themed ballad.

Dr. Levitin grinned. “That,” he said, “is the original demo tape of the Beatles. It was rejected by every record company. And you can see why. To you and me it sounds terrible. But George Martin heard this and thought, ‘Oh yeah, I can imagine a multibillion-dollar industry built on this.’

“Now that’s musical genius.”

THE largest audience that Dr. Levitin has performed in front of was 1,000 people, when he played backup saxophone for Mel Tormé. Years of being onstage piqued Dr. Levitin’s interest in another aspect of musical experience: watching bands perform. Does the brain experience a live performance differently from a recorded one?

To find out, he and Bradley Vines, a graduate student, devised an interesting experiment. They took two clarinet performances and played them for three groups of listeners: one that heard audio only; one that saw a video only; and one that had audio and video. As each group listened, participants used a slider to indicate how their level of tension was rising or falling.

One rapid, complex passage caused tension in all groups, but less in the one watching and listening simultaneously. Why? Possibly, Dr. Levitin said, because of the performer’s body language: the clarinetist appeared to be relaxed even during that rapid-fire passage, and the audience picked up on his visual cues. The reverse was also true: when the clarinetist played in a subdued way but appeared animated, the people with only video felt more tension than those with only audio.

In another, similar experiment the clarinetist fell silent for a few bars. This time the viewers watching the video maintained a higher level of excitement because they could see that he was gearing up to launch into a new passage. The audio-only listeners had no such visual cues, and they regarded the silence as much less exciting.

This spring Dr. Levitin began an even more involved experiment to determine how much emotion is conveyed by live performers. In April he took participants in a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert — the conductor Keith Lockhart, five of the musicians and 15 audience members — and wired them with sensors to measure their state of arousal, including heart rate, body movements and muscle tension.

At one point during the performance Mr. Lockhart swung his wrist with such force that a sensor attached to his cuff went flying off. Dr. Levitin’s team tried to reattach it with duct tape, until the conductor objected — “Did you just put duct tape on an Armani?” he asked — and lighter surgical tape was used instead.

The point of the experiment is to determine whether the conductor creates noticeable changes in the emotional tenor of the performance. Dr. Levitin says he suspects there’s a domino effect: the conductor becomes particularly animated, transmits this to the orchestra and then to the audience, in a matter of seconds. Mr. Lockhart is skeptical. “As a conductor,” he said, “I’m a causatory force for music, but I’m not a causatory force for emotion.” But Dr. Levitin is still crunching the data.

“It might not turn out to be like that,” he said, “But wouldn’t it be cool if it did?”

Dr. Levitin’s work has occasionally undermined some cherished beliefs about music. For example recent years have seen an explosion of “Baby Mozart” videos and toys, based on the idea — popular since the ’80s — that musical and mathematical ability are inherently linked.

But Dr. Levitin argued that this could not be true, based on his study of people with Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder that leaves people with low intelligence. Their peak mental capacities are typically those of young child, with no ability to calculate quantities. Dr. Levitin once asked a woman with Williams to hold up her hand for five seconds; she left it in the air for a minute and a half. “No concept of time at all,” he said, “and definitely no math.”

Yet people with Williams possess unusually high levels of musical ability. One Williams boy Dr. Levitin met was so poorly coordinated he could not open the case to his clarinet. But once he was holding the instrument, his coordination problems vanished, and he could play fluidly. Music cannot be indispensably correlated with math, Dr. Levitin noted, if Williams people can play music. He is now working on a study that compares autistics — some of whom have excellent mathematical ability, but little musical ability — to people with Williams; in the long run, he said, he thinks it could help shed light on why autistic brains develop so differently.

Not all of Dr. Levitin’s idea have been easily accepted. He argues, for example, that music is an evolutionary adaptation: something that men developed as a way to demonstrate reproductive fitness. (Before you laugh, consider the sex lives of today’s male rock stars.) Music also helped social groups cohere. “Music has got to be useful for survival, or we would have gotten rid of it years ago,” he said.

But Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard known for his defense of evolutionary psychology, has publicly disparaged this idea. Dr. Pinker has called music “auditory cheesecake,” something pleasant but not evolutionarily nutritious. If it is a sexual signal for reproduction, then why, Dr. Pinker asked, does “a 60-year-old woman enjoy listening to classical music when she’s alone at home?” Dr. Levitin wrote an entire chapter refuting Dr. Pinker’s arguments; when I asked Dr. Pinker about Dr. Levitin’s book he said he hadn’t read it.

Nonetheless Dr. Levitin plugs on, and sometimes still plugs in. He continues to perform music, doing several gigs a year with Diminished Faculties, a ragtag band composed entirely of professors and students at McGill. On a recent December afternoon members assembled in a campus ballroom to do a sound check for their performance that evening at a holiday party. Playing a blue Stratocaster, Dr. Levitin crooned the Chris Isaak song “Wicked Game.” “I’m not a great guitarist, and I’m not a great singer,” he said.

But he is not bad, either, and still has those producer’s ears. When “Wicked Game” ended, the bass player began noodling idly, playing the first few notes of a song that seemed instantly familiar to all the younger students gathered. “That’s Nirvana, right?” Dr. Levitin said, cocking his head and squinting. “ ‘Come As You Are.’ I love that song.”



The New York Times, September 16, 2003: 
 We Got Rhythm; the Mystery Is How and Why
, continued


In his theory of sexual selection, Darwin proposed that traits found attractive in courtship would enable their owners to get more genes into the
next generation. The upshot would be the emergence of adornments that had no immediately obvious survival value in themselves, like the peacock's tail or the troubadour's ballads.

Darwin's ideas about music have been extended by Dr. Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Miller notes their potency in pointing to the opportunities open to popular musicians for transmitting their genes to the next generation. The rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, for instance, had "sexual liaisons with hundreds of groupies, maintained parallel long-term relationships with at least two women, and fathered at least three children in the United States, Germany, and Sweden.  Under ancestral conditions before birth control, he would have fathered many more," Dr. Miller writes.

Why on earth would nubile young women choose a rock star as a possible father of their children instead of more literary and reflective professionals such as, say, journalists? Dr. Miller sees music as an excellent indicator of fitness in the Darwinian struggle for survival. Since music draws on so many of the brain's faculties, it vouches for the health of the organ as a whole.  And since music in ancient cultures seems often to have been linked with dancing, a good fitness indicator for the rest of the body, anyone who could sing and dance well was advertising the general excellence of their mental and physical genes to a potential mate.

"Music evolved and continues to function as a courtship display, mostly broadcast by young males to attract females," Dr. Miller writes in "The
Origins of Music," a collection of essays by him and others. 

But other psychologists argue that Dr. Miller's courtship theory does not do full justice to another important dimension of music, its role in cementing social relationships and coordinating the activities of large groups of people. Dr. Robin Dunbar, of Liverpool University, has shown that monkeys spend a large amount of time grooming other members of their social group, so much so that they would scarcely have time to look for food if their 50-strong groups were to grow any larger.

Dr. Dunbar believes that the much larger human groups, of 150 members or so, overcame the grooming barrier by developing a new kind of social glue, namely language. Group singing, or chorusing, may have been an intermediate step in this process, he suggests. He has preliminary evidence that singing in church produces endorphins, a class of brain hormone thought to be important in social bonding, he said in an e-mail message.

Others, like Dr. Edward Hagen of Humboldt University in Berlin and Dr. Gregory A. Bryant of the University of California at Santa Cruz, believe the
role of music in human evolutionary history was not to create social cohesion but to signal it to rival groups. By putting on a better song-and-dance display, a group could show it had the coordination to prevail in a scrap, and could thus avoid a fight altogether, they write in an article available on the Web.

Male chimpanzees sometimes chorus in a call known as a pant-hoot, though usually to attract females to a new source of fruit they have found. For human ancestors, musical displays of this kind "may have formed the evolutionary basis for the musical abilities of modern humans," Dr. Hagen and Dr. Bryant write. The Pentagon's vigorous support of military bands; $163 million in 1997 — lends a certain resonance to this view.

The courting and social cohesion theories of music's origins assume that there are structures in the human brain that have evolved specifically to handle music. If no such structures exist, then Dr. Pinker's theory or something like it is correct.

A leading clue that points to music-specific structures, yet is so far not conclusive, is that many features of music are universal as well as  apparently innate, meaning present at birth. All societies have music, all sing lullaby-like songs to their infants, and most produce tonal music, or
music composed in subsets of the 12-tone chromatic scale, such as the diatonic or pentatonic scales. Some of the earliest known musical instruments, crane bone flutes from the Jiahu site in China, occupied from 7000 to 5700 B.C., produce a tonal scale.

Dr. Sandra Trehub, of the University of Toronto, has developed methods of testing the musical preferences of infants as young as 2 to 6 months. She finds they prefer consonant sounds, like perfect fifths or perfect fourths, over dissonant ones. A reasonable conclusion is that "the rudiments of music listening are gifts of nature rather than products of culture," she wrote in the July issue of Nature Neuroscience.

But although certain basic features of music, such as the octave, intervals with simple ratios like the perfect fifth, and tonality, seem to be innate, they are probably not genetic adaptations for music, "but rather appear to be side effects of general properties of the auditory system," conclude two Cambridge scientists, Josh McDermott of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dr. Marc Hauser of Harvard, in an unpublished article.

The human auditory system is probably tuned to perceive the most important sounds in a person's surroundings, which are those of the human voice.  Three neuroscientists at Duke University, Dr. David A. Schwartz, Dr. Catherine Q. Howe and Dr. Dale Purves, say that on the basis of this cue they may have solved the longstanding mysteries of the structure of the chromatic scale and the reason why some harmonies are more pleasing than others.

Though every human voice, and maybe each utterance, is different, a certain commonality emerges when many different voices are analyzed. The human vocal tract shapes the vibrations of the vocal cords into a set of harmonics that are more intense at some frequencies than others relative to the fundamental note. The principal peaks of intensity occur at the fifth and the octave, with lesser peaks at other intervals that correspond to most of the 12 tones of the chromatic scale, the Duke researchers say in an article published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience. Almost identical spectra were produced by speakers of English, Mandarin, Persian and Tamil.

The Duke researchers believe the auditory system judges sounds to be pleasant the closer they approximate to this generalized power spectrum of the human voice. "A musical tone combination whose power is concentrated at the same places as a human speech sound will sound more familiar and more natural," Dr. Schwartz said.

Some people are unable to appreciate music, raising the question of whether some music-specific faculty has been damaged. People who are tone deaf also fail to hear pitch changes in the human voice, so this deficit does not seem specific to music. Some patients have music agnosia, an inability to recognize familiar melodies, even ones to which they know the lyrics. But the brain has to store memories about music somewhere, and the music agnosia patients could have incurred memory damage that just happened to hit the music archive, Mr. McDermott, of M.I.T., said.

"Any innate biases on music must derive from something in the brain, but at present there is little evidence for neural circuitry dedicated to music," Mr. McDermott and Dr. Hauser conclude.

Dr. Zatorre, of the Montreal institute, takes a similar view. The brain has evolved faculties for perceiving sounds, organizing events in time and
maintaining memory stores, he said. "Once you've got all that hardware in place, it can be used for a lot of different purposes. But I don't think
it follows that music was selected for."

Whether music is cheesecake, courtship or cohesion, its mystery remains unbreached.


Songs of ourselves
New research suggests that we like music that sounds just like us
By Christine Kenneally, 11/9/2003
, continued

This music-is-math idea is often accompanied by the notion that music, formally speaking at least, exists apart from the world in which it was created. Writing recently in The New York Review of Books, pianist and critic Charles Rosen discussed the long-standing notion that while painting and sculpture reproduce at least some aspects of the natural world, and writing describes thoughts and feelings we are all familiar with, music is entirely abstracted from the world in which we live.

Neither idea is right, according to David Schwartz and colleagues. Human musical preferences are fundamentally shaped not by elegant algorithms or ratios but by the messy sounds of real life, and of speech in particular -- which in turn is shaped by our evolutionary heritage. Says Schwartz, "The explanation of music, like the explanation of any product of the mind, must be rooted in biology, not in numbers per se."

Schwartz, Howe, and Purves analyzed a vast selection of speech sounds from a variety of languages to reveal the underlying patterns common to all utterances. In order to focus only on the raw sound, they discarded all theories about speech and meaning and sliced sentences into random bites. Using a database of over 100,000 brief segments of speech, they noted which frequency had the greatest emphasis in each sound. The resulting set of frequencies, they discovered, corresponded closely to the chromatic scale. In short, the building blocks of music are to be found in speech.

Far from being abstract, music presents a strange analog to the patterns created by the sounds of speech. "Music, like the visual arts, is rooted in our experience of the natural world," says Schwartz. "It emulates our sound environment in the way that visual arts emulate the visual environment." In music we hear the echo of our basic sound-making instrument -- the vocal tract. The explanation for human music is simpler still than Pythagoras's mathematical equations: We like the sounds that are familiar to us -- specifically, we like sounds that remind us of us.

. . .

This brings up some chicken-or-egg evolutionary questions. It may be that music imitates speech directly, the researchers say, in which case it would seem that language evolved first. It's also conceivable that music came first and language is in effect an imitation of song -- that in everyday speech we hit the musical notes we especially like. Alternately, it may be that music imitates the general products of the human sound-making system, which just happens to be mostly speech. "We can't know this," says Schwartz. "What we do know is that they both come from the same system, and it is this that shapes our preferences."

. . .

Schwartz's study also casts light on the long-running question of whether animals understand or appreciate music. Despite the apparent abundance of "music" in the natural world -- birdsong, whalesong, wolf howls, synchronized chimpanzee hooting -- previous studies have found that many laboratory animals don't show a great affinity for the human variety of music making.

Marc Hauser and Josh McDermott of Harvard argued in the July issue of Nature Neuroscience that animals don't create or perceive music the way we do. The fact that laboratory monkeys can show recognition of human tunes is evidence, they say, of shared general features of the auditory system, not any specific chimpanzee musical ability. As for birds, those most musical beasts, they generally recognize their own tunes -- a narrow repertoire -- but don't generate novel melodies like we do. There are no avian Mozarts.

But what's been played to the animals, Schwartz notes, is human music. If animals evolve preferences for sound as we do -- based upon the soundscape in which they live -- then their "music" would be fundamentally different from ours. In the same way our scales derive from human utterances, a cat's idea of a good tune would derive from yowls and meows. To demonstrate that animals don't appreciate sounds the way we do, we'd need evidence that they don't respond to "music" constructed from their own sound environment.

No matter how the connection between language and music is parsed, what is apparent is that our sense of music, even our love for it, is as deeply rooted in our biology and in our brains as language is. This is most obvious with babies, says Sandra Trehub at the University of Toronto, who also published a paper in the Nature Neuroscience special issue.

For babies, music and speech are on a continuum. Mothers use musical speech to "regulate infants' emotional states," Trehub says. Regardless of what language they speak, the voice all mothers use with babies is the same: "something between speech and song." This kind of communication "puts the baby in a trance-like state, which may proceed to sleep or extended periods of rapture."So if the babies of the world could understand the latest research on language and music, they probably wouldn't be very surprised. The upshot, says Trehub, is that music may be even more of a necessity than we realize.

Christine Kenneally is writing "From Screech to Sonnet," a book about the evolution of language, for Viking.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


And finally, from one of the earliest ruminations online about the role of music, specifically the role of women DJs, here's the rest of that post from the DJ Dazy website from the late 1990's:

Lisa Louise and I had a wicked girl bonding night as we sat with Little T, a.k.a. Tanya Brunes (Leaf Recordings), Michelle McKay (Diva Productions / Full Moon Records), Leanne Bitner (Leaf Recordings / Nettwerk Records), and Amtrack a.k.a. Annmarie McCullough (Girls Kick Ass Productions / Bucko-5 Records) gabbing about all aspects of the scene. Everyone seemed to come to a consensus on what drew them to the tables. THE MUSIC. That is what it's all about! But to start at the beginning, it is about as hard to find even an intro, as it is to enter into the world of DJing. In a lot of ways, the two just go hand in hand. A Woman DJ, what a concept! At least that's what some guy thought at the last party I went to.  There was DJ Heather (of Chicago) rippin' up the tables, when this guy walks over, mystified, points to the tables and shouts, "Do you hear that mix? And it's a girrl!" Of course it's a GIRL, pal. I mean, are you really that surprised that the feminine energy could display a mix as tight as that?!

Now don't worry, this article is not going to be the proverbial 'I am Woman hear me roar!'', but it certainly is going to educate you on what it's like to be a woman in the world of DJing."  It's not an easy task to, well, as Little T put it "crap your pants the first time you play, in front of..."  

"Guys, all guys!" Leanne adds for emphasis. Of the handful of women DJs in a city teeming with some pretty good ones, here are some of the few women who have managed to pave the way and show the guys just what it's like when a chick gets behind the tables. Little T takes the lead.


Little T: "More for women than it is for guys, cause women feel things so differently than men do.  And we have so much more feeling for the music - I'm not saying... but in the beginning, we have more feeling for the music, and guys that I know that have started DJing, have more feeling for all the girls. And they'll openly admit that."

(Laughter all around.)

Michelle: "I think there's also an element, like when it comes down to playing out, specifically, of performance. There's a circle of completion there, and of communication as well. And I don't mean strictly ego-gratifying, but I mean like an exchange, of emotion, and energy, and completion, although that sounds a little cliche, it's definitely there for me, and it completes it when I play against that, and people get out and dance. It makes it feel completed."

Amtrack: "I think the music is the basis for everybody's draw to it, but then you find somebody who inspires you, then you see someone spin, and it's just such an experience. For me - for all of us I guess, but for me, it was Doc for sure. But I mean, I think we all have that one person that made that last push."

I (Melanie) got DJ Renee Brunette's views one night as we yelled over the throbbing bass, and soulful tracks one Wednesday night at Bar None. As women we all have different points of views on things, but it still seems to come down to the feeling you get from the music.

Renee: "Just the love of the music basically, and just deciding that out of all the industries out there the music industry was more appealing, cause I liked to listen to it so much... I like the feeling it gives me. I don't feel the same way when I hear other styles of music. It makes me happy."

TAXI: Let's talk about the relationship of how you as women communicate music. Do you find that you communicate something a little bit differently? I mean, as individuals each communicating a different style, a different message, or a different feeling, but as comparison to the way guy DJs are out there?

Amtrack: "Somebody actually commented this to me yesterday, somebody who has a very similar taste in music, said, 'You go out there on a different tangent than I do, because you bring the romantic, maybe love-stuff into your music, which I would never do.' The guy would go towards the harder, like you know what I mean? I think that's just it. You can like the same kind of music but I think women bring something different to it, I think it's a little bit more funky, a little bit more groovy..."

Michelle: "Not necessarily. I think even down to details, like how you touch the mixer, how you touch the record, watch the difference in touch..."

Renee: "Of the girls that I have heard, there seems to be more feeling to it, but that could just be me to. I do think that girls care more about what is going on. Girls are more receptive of other people and more sensitive."

Melanie spoke separately with DJ Dazy (from San Francisco / House Vibes) about her take on it all. As she says, "I think women who play records or make music, have a bit more passion in what they do. I'm not saying that men don't but now that I have heard a lot of women playing records, I can tell the difference."

When it comes to record shopping, the experience can be both gratifying and distasteful. Getting more records, well that's the gratification, dealing with the kid next to you, well that's a different story...

Leanne: "Even with record shopping you have to go through some bullshit too. You're in there and like... even when I go in there now, there's guys who look at me like, 'why even bother?'"

Little T: "I was at Trax last week, in Toronto, 'kay. Tim had put this stack of records - he always puts a stack of records aside for me when he knows I'm coming - so I had to go through 70 records. So this is like, this long, grueling, entire day procedure. So I get up there, and all the single booths are taken, and at Trax you have to go up there, and they play the records for you. You can't physically touch them and it's sooo frustrating cause all you wanna do is go? (flip flip flip) and you know what's up. So I go through this entire thing, put the stack on the counter, and the guy looks at me, like 'Oh, my god, I can't believe this girl wants to listen to 70 records. I gave him the first record, he looks at me and he goes...? Puts it on, and I go - no. 'Next'. And he goes "Can I ask you what you're looking for? Do you know what style of music you'd like to hear?" No, I don't. I go, "Yeah, what's here!" He goes, "Oh? fine." Totally treating me like I have no idea what's going on. Playing the entire side of a record, I'm like? "Next, go, great! I wanna know what happens right there. Okay, thank you. Next!"


TAXI: "Do you think that women are being accepted more as DJs than they were before?"

Unanimous: "Yes!"

Dazy: "Yes! It's totally awesome!"

Renee: "Basically if you love music it doesn't matter what sex you are, how you handle yourself in the industry is another thing. If you are just mellow and relate to guys on a level then it's cool. A lot of younger guys don't take you seriously, but on the other hands a lot of older guys are accepting of it. It really depends. It's the same for guys starting out, except girls have an advantage because they are a minority and they have tits. I think when Little T started, she had a tough time cause she was like one of the only girls, and she paved the way, but now more girls are popping up so it's more common."

Leanne: "There are advantages of being girls spinning. People want girls to spin, it's an attraction. It's completely an attraction to have a girl who wants to spin. Oh, and maybe she's good! Wow, what a concept!"

Michelle: "There was something I was reading last night, actually it was an interview with Krista, she made such a good point. It was just like, the problem with being a girl and being a DJ is that whole sexual angle. it completely overshadows everything. It's like, completely irrelevant. But the point that she made, was that if a girl happens to meet somebody at a party, or whatever, then it's like, oh yeah, she's using her sexual angle, blah blah blah. But if a guy happens to sleep with twenty girls from the party, then it's like, 'Wow, way to go!' Like the amount of DJ groupies you can pick up at a party is like, pasted to the top of your CV, you know, like, if you're a girl, it's like this horrible thing to have done."

Leanne: "You know what I've heard guys say a million times? Do you know how sexy it is - like if there's a good-looking girl up there playing records, it's like gotta be one of the most sexiest things in the world. I'm like, Yeah. Hell, yeah."

Little T: "I like, hide behind the turntables. I wear the biggest, baggiest, grossest clothing I can find. I like, slap it all on, I slink through the club and hide behind people, and I get behind the turntables and I like, hide there. I don't want anyone to look at me, I just want everyone to listen to what I'm doing and that's it."

That's exactly it. That is the reason the DJ is up there. Whether male or female, the DJ is the driving force communicating the music to you. It shouldn't matter who is up there, all that matters is that they establish a connection and communicate that connection to you. Becoming a DJ is not always what it's cracked up to be. Like anything it takes time, dedication, money, and the will to just do it. It takes years to achieve the status of making it a full-blown career, and it's not always a stable one at that. But those that put their heart and soul into it, love it like no other.


TAXI: "When it comes to actually getting out there and playing in front of people, how do you determine when you are ready? Is the first time generally the right time?"

Little T: "Can you imagine if that stuck in their mind? The first time you ever played. But the first couple years that you are playing you do improve every single time you play."

Michelle: "It's like parenting, you'll never feel ready. Someone will kick your ass and make you do it... The first time I played out was the most horrible experience of my whole entire life. I was just so humiliated... Then someone booked me for a big party, and about a week later I called them back and said, 'you know that I am new.' He said, 'oh ya it's cool. I asked around and it's cool.' From that day, I practiced and played everyday for 6 hours. Everyday until that party, and it went off!"

Little T: "The first time I played out I had to play for two hours with T-Bone and Darius. It was Ray's party, he put on this Christmas party, and in the bottom underneath, it said '...And Introducing Little T'. Everybody had been hounding me to play out. I'd been playing for like 8 months. I'd be, 'I'm not ready I'm not going to play out anywhere in public.' I played for two hours and I was so upset.  Anyone and everyone came by to hear me play, and it was so horrid..."

TAXI: "Advice to newcomers?"

Little T: "Don't be intimidated. Buy some records. Learn the labels that your style of music is on."

Michelle: "Just go out and do it!"

Leanne: "Have someone show you the beats, the 4/4 time. People need to know that there is timing involved just like matching music. It's not just matching beats... and you are going to have to pay your dues."

Michelle: "Very important when you are starting is to prioritize your spending. It's expensive to get started."

Little T: "None of us have nice clothing."

Michelle: "It won't just be given to you on a silver platter. It's going to take a hell of a lot of work. It won't come easy, you are just going to have to earn the respect. Also you should expect that it is going to take a long time to learn."

Renee: "Be yourself, don't compromise anything. Respect yourself, and respect others. Follow your dreams and follow your passion. It sounds really cliche, but it's true. I think girls sometimes underestimate themselves, but anyone can do anything."

TAXI: "Would this be your most fulfilling out of all the jobs that you are doing?"

Leanne: "Hell ya!"

Amtrack: "Yes!"

Michelle: " It ranks up there, I'm also an artist."

Little T: "It's all I do except for the label."

TAXI: "What is the most exciting, most passionate thing about what you do?

Dazy: "The seems to get better and better every year."

Little T: "The music that comes out everyday. And when you get records you're like 'woohoo, I got more records!'"

Michelle: "That searing hot track that hits you!"

Leanne: "One of the things that happened for me was on New Year's, I played every single one of my very favourite records, and for the first time everyone that was out there, they loved it, they were dancing. And I was, 'Oh my God you people are sharing my feeling!' It meant a lot."

Amtrack: " I think it's the feeling that you get when you know there is connection between you, the turntables, the records that are on them and the people. When you get that, you've made people dance. Cuz dancing is something I've always done, and when I see people dancing to my music, there is nothing that is better than that feeling."

"Feeling from the music", that phrase seemed to come up quite a bit with all the girls. Emotionally as women, the feeling we get when we hear a song, the way it hits us, the way it consumes our body is much the same we get from anything we are passionate about. If a woman is passionate about something it absorbs her whole being, and those around her can only be struck by it's sense of sensitivity. When a woman gets up there, fuks the mix up til it's so phat you don't you what hit you, she's just graced you with her technique and is giving a part of herself to you, and that makes it all worth the listening.

A few stats:

Little T: 7 years, house

Amtrack: 1 year, house, progressive house, downtempo

Leanne: 2 - 3 years, phat house

Michelle: 1 year, house (deep dubby to hard)

Renee: 2 ? years, house

Dazy: 6 years, house (chicago, deep, and disco)

Arizona Republic Newspaper

The Tables are Turning: Lady deejays don't want a revolution, all they want is a little respect

D. Parvaz adn David Proffitt

Pop quiz: Name some hot hip-hop deejays. Ok, who did you come up with? Robs Swift (of the X-ecutioners)? Gearhead? Invisibl Skratch Piklz? DJ Faust?  You're more or less on track. Thes guys are some of the top spinners in the business.

Now try and think of some female deejays. Go ahead, take your time.

Boy oh boy, where are all the girls? They're out there, you just don't hear much about them.  A few female deejays across the country and in Arizona are starting to make noise, but they still run into the attitude that they're "just girls" who are hired by promoters who want to prove their political correctness.  It's a distinction that many of them wish would disappear.

"The kids don't really care (about the deejay's gender)," says Mara, a Valley deejay who spins mostly electro, breakbeat and house. "The only people it really matters to are the promoter and the other deejays...and it disappoints me that they're not looking at who plays well."  She says everyone is too focused on bean counting.

After all, promoters benefit from a gender gap because they can say they've got female deejays on their fliers. But the problem is that they still don't expect much from female deejays.  Women get the gigs, but they don't get the respect. And the one thing they'd like to see change-- that they're viewed as novelty acts-- is precisely what gets them a lot of their gigs.

The irony isn't lost on the deejays. Still, they'd rather sacrifice a night's pay than play a gig they don't deserve.

"If you're hiring me just because I'm a girl, I won't play for you," Mara says. "If you're good enough to be up there (on the deejay stand), it shouldn't matter if you're a girl, a boy, whatever. That's the thing that upsets me about people hiring female deejays-- you wouldn't hire a male if he sucks."

After playin a couple of parties where she felt like she only got a spot because she's female, she avoids becoming the token woman on the flier by asking promoters who else is spinning and why they asked her before agreeing to play.

Mara's been playing out for about four years-- practically an era in the high-turnover world of dance music-- but she says she doesn't always get the same respect as her male counterparts.

DJ Symphony, the sole female member of the Beat Junkies, a Los Angeles-based hip-hop crew, says women probably view deejaying as a guy thing, while men don't take their female counterparts seriously.

"I think the male friends that have turntables might view a girl as a groupie," she says, recalling how a woman she knew of lost interest in deejaying. "I guess they just sent her little subliminal messages."

Other female deejays are beating the odds, such as the Valley's Miss Jag, who started spinning darkstep and techstep jungle about a year ago on a friend's decks.  "He said that I had natural beatmatching skills," she says. "We ran out to Swell (Cothing and Records in Tempe), and he bought me five or six records and told me to practice."

So she did.

Hundreds of practice hours and a few dozen record purchases later, she got a gig. Then another, and then another.  Now she's getting out-of-state bookings and is about to come out with her first mix tape.  She said that being female definitely helped her get attention, but that focusing on an accident of genetics takes attention away from the most important thing for deejays-- how well they play the music.

"I don't think it should matter-- what would happen if I dressed up like guy? Would I get the attention? Probably not," she says. "I think it's great to get attention, but I just want to be known as a deejay."

Tucson deejay Lady Jane also started spinning jungle about a year ago, and she's had the same quick rise as Miss Jag.  At one point male deejays were asking her to help them get jobs, an uncomfortable experience since they'd been spinning two or three times longer than she had.  She attributes this to female deejays' being something of a novelty.

"Promoters talk to so many guys, they must feel like it's the same thing all the time," she said.

But in the long run, deejays will earn respect for their solid skills, not the type of hormones they have.

"I think it's great that some people are like, 'Girl deejays! We need more!' but that's not it for me,"  Miss Jag says. "For me, it comes down to the music."

Such success could open the field to more women. San Jose-based DJ Dazy is optimisic. She runs an online mailing list called "sisterdjs" from her Web site (, with about 90 subscribers worldwide.

"There are a lot more female deejays everywhere," Dazy says. "When I first started deejaying six years ago, I could count all the women deejays on my hands. I think in the next couple of years we are going to see a lot more female deejays playing out."

Arizona Mix Mistresses

Profiles by David Proffitt

Miss Jag Also known as: Jennifer Tanguy Style: Darkstep and techstep, "moveable" jungle. Dating advice: "Sometimes guys says it turns them on (that a woman can spin records)-- I just blow them off." Mix tape? Soon. Check Swell Clothing and Records, 1444 N. Scottsdale Road, Tempe.

Genesis of a deejay: "After I saw Emile, Gary (Menichello) and Bahamut at Bassics (in November '96), I knew that I wanted to be up there and do that." Best trainspotter: "My mom came to my debut at Planet Rampant (in November '97). She said it was 'interesting.'"

Lady Jane Also known as: Erin Gwinn Style: Techstep jungle, "darker, musical stuff." Mix tape?  Yes, but supply is spotty. Check Swell, Plastik Records (101 S. Central Ave., Phoenix) or Burn Music (7607 E. McDowell Road, Scottsdale). Gut reaction to deejaying: "I play oboe in an orchestra (at the University of Arizona), so the thought of all the freedom I have deejaying was almost scary at first." Academic goal: To put on a party for her senior thesis where a deejay and a chamber orchestra play together. "I'd have to find some really good musicians, though. The beats on the record don't change, and they'd have to keep together." Parting thoughts on gender: "I've always been a tomboy, so maybe that makes me more open to being in a male-dominated situation like deejaying." Current whereabouts: Unknown. Gwinn feld Tucson for the wilds of Los Angeles this summer. Reports are that she'll be back for the fall semester at the UA.

Mara Also known as: Mara Arrieta Style: Electro, house and breakbeat. "I like to mix it up a lot and play different styles. It's important to show you can play everything, and it keeps them guessing."  Mix tape? No. "I find them really limiting. What if somebody hears your tape from a couple of years ago and thinks you're bad because the music's not fresh? If you want to hire me, I'll tell you where to come see me, and I'll do a good job." Trainspotters beware: "I'd rather play for three people dancing than 3,000 people standing there watching me. What kind of vibe is that? I hate it when people watch me.

DJ Andy W. shared tips on DJing with a friend, who shared them with the sisterdjs newsgroup.  Andy's tips on learning to DJ reflect the passion that committed people bring to the art of mixing music.  With Andy's kind permission, I share them with you:

From: AndyW 

Subject: Re: How did you learn to be a DJ

When first starting out, mix everyday... if only for a couple minutes. Never leave the decks frustrated. Have a positive attitude where there is no such thing as failure, just different modes of learning... some obviously more successful than others.

Make tapes of yourself.

Learn your records. Start with ten that you know work together. Know them well. Know when they break, know when they go. Practice them in a predetermined set (aka striving for "perfection" in mixes that you know sound good), and alternate with an on the spot mixed up order (aka learning to improvise) often as well.

Mix friend's records, especially if they spin another genre (acid breaks and jungle are particularly useful to learn to spin because the phrasing is so obviously off if you fuck up).

Buy more records.

Name different styles of mixes. For example, I try when I sit down and mix try to get a couple peak to drop mixes, a couple flat smooth runners, bass punch runs, a couple tricks, etc. Learn to be flexible. I know a lot of DJs who can't mix without seperate EQ per channel, and trust me...many massives still use those fucking peice of shit MP-24's with no bass cut or any EQ whatsoever per channel. Learn to mix without the crossfader, without monitors, without headphones... each of these teach you important things about what to listen for in a mix. Fuck with yourself and you'll better deal with adversity. Almost anybody with some basic skills and good records can get lucky and spin a good set when the fates are helping... the goal is playing solid and getting people off even when it's not a perfect setup or a good night for you (or say, some heartless mugwump nazi prick face steals your records and you end up playing a friend's that you're not entirely familiar with).

Grab a stack of records in a a similar BPM range and beatmatch from one to the next to the next as fast as you can (record this for some real fun).

Beatmatch whole records together and just let them play through...

Try not touching the record once you initially mix it in... use just the pitch (I've gotten away from this lately... something I'm working on actually).

Keep it fun.

Hit the basics: Get your volume control (like when you slam in a track, that it's at the volume you wanted it to be), phrasing (choosing points at which the records line up in a complementary fashion) and beatmatching down. Once that aspect of the technique is down, start playing house parties and giving your tapes to your more honest DJ friends and asking for reviews in return.

And notice to all DJs: Preplanned sets SUCK COCK!!! Why is it that we go to raves instead of just sitting home and listening to KOME or something? Cause we got sick of corporate playlist repetition and lame stiff musical programming that fails to take a crowd or mood into account and is just a list of tracks. Every set should contain a substantial improv element, especially if you play in the same town more than once (cause really, it might as well be a mixtape up there instead of a person unless you vibe off the crowd, change it up and go somewhere with it)!

Read Miyamoto Mushashi's Book of Five Rings and apply Japanese wordfighting strategy hints to your mixing. Apply Feng Shui to your mixing. Apply your emotions to your mixing. Get in there!!! Listen to various styles of music that use drum machines, and if possible, learn to mix from 60 bpm to 190. Dance while you mix. If you drink or smoke or use ketamine daily or whatever, practice in the same states of mind you might find yourself in when playing out... various chems change your perception is subtle ways that can really affect you unless you know they're there.

And PLEASE sets your sights higher than some of the wankers I keep hearing at parties around here that barely pull of 16 beat crossfades between two records by the same producer. Try the frenetic energy of Jeff Mills, the offbeat creativity of Stacey Pullen, the precision dicing and wreckless groove styles of turntablists, the wobbly classic flow of Juan Atkins, the smooth ride of Jeno, the assertive asskicking build to build phrasing of Carl Cox, the near perfect beat splicing of Alexi Delano, the pounding amorphous sound folding of Richie Hawtin... whatever.

I'll shut up now.