Learning by Doing

| November 30, 2010

Background

I know Jace Clayton through my wife, who is also a musician. Jace has been DJ-ing for over 20 years. When I interviewed him I thought it was really interesting that DJ-ing, for him, was both a personal and social activity. Jace learned how to DJ through one session with a friend and from there he practiced on his own, consistently. He developed his technique as he learned, and now he is better able to engage the social aspects of DJ-ing, like reading his crowds and adapting his sounds accordingly.

Teaching with the Video

Jace introduces the idea of “aggressive listening” in this video, and he thinks it is an essential skill for a DJ to have. What does Jace mean by this idea, and how can we incorporate it into the life of a classroom? How can a teacher be an aggressive listener, and how can she encourage her students to experiment with this practice? Also, what does Jace mean when he calls the computer the folk instrument of the current generation? Is technology making DJ-ing and music creation more accessible? How can students participate in the possibilities made available through technology?

Extended Interview

How did you learn to DJ?

DJ-ing is interesting, its like artisanal, so you learn from another DJ, you learn it by practicing. A friend of mine, who is a house DJ who spent one afternoon teaching the basics, and then after that I was on my own. It’s a lot of practicing. So much of DJ culture, especially back then, mid-nineties, late-nineties, was word of mouth. One person to another, always kinda secret. What exactly are the DJ’s doing, how are they blending these records. It wasn’t easy. Learning how. The basics of DJ-ing are quite simple, after that is practicing and getting records and all of that. For the first couple years I was a terrible DJ, technically speaking.

Can you tell me about your style?

A lot of what my particular style does, I take the aspect of overlapping sounds. I really like to push it. So instead of using two turntables I use a third turn table. I like to do things, like have a hip-hop beat on turntable and I can get an accapella from a different style of music and mix those in together at the same time. It sounds like the same song. On the third turn table I would add flutes or at a different beat. Or a beat that’s twice the speed, so it all kinda mixes together. The dj-ing can be quite lazy, it could be one song after the other, it could be an ipod on shuffle, then it can be extremely involved to someone who is constantly doing something, using different sound sources. Or real time collage – or the cut and paste approach. And that is the school that I am interested in. you can take all these different sound sources and tell a story with them. Its not necessarily using my own music but the way that I am layering things and transitioning makes it a very personal experience.

How important is practice?

Back in the day, practicing, I would record myself, doing a mix and trying to make sure the bled is okay and trying to figure out using equalization on records and but essentially at a very basic level a good DJ is going to be a good listener and aggressive listener who wants to hear things differently, a lot of practice. It involves having that objective distance from the thing that you are making and trying to figure out if it works.