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Mark Katz

Mark Katz teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music and Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ, and is editor of the Journal of the Society for American Music.



"Analog and Digital: A Love Story"

Analog is supposed to be dead, longed ago bumped off—or at least swept into obscurity—by digital technologies. Analog never died out, however, and in the early 2000s, a strange thing happened: sales of vinyl records soared. Analog technology persists in other ways as well, notably through its coexistence with digital technology. Some musicians make recordings on century-old cylinders and disseminate their music as MP3s, while performers of ancient analog instruments such as drums or violins (think Merrill Garbus or Andrew Bird) use digital looping pedals to allow them to play in harmony and counterpoint with themselves in live performance.

This paper examines the lively coexistence of analog and digital with special focus on a technology known as a Digital Vinyl Emulation System (typically DVS for short). The DVS allows DJs to manipulate digital sound files stored on a laptop connected to analog turntables, and has been particularly embraced by hip-hop DJs. Based on a decade’s worth of interviews with DJs, I explore the complex and evolving relationship between hip-hop DJs and digital vinyl. Most broadly, this paper asserts two claims about modern musical technology: first, that technological engagement among musicians is driven as much by values, aesthetics, and cultural norms as it is by the design or capabilities of a technology, and second, that the story of analog’s persistence is not one of resistance to, but rather dependence on, digital technology. In other words, the tale of analog and digital is a love story.