In his day job, John Carluccio roams the aisles of Madison Square Garden with a camera crew, scouting the most enthusiastic Knicks fans in the crowd to display on the JumboTron. Away from the Garden, it's Carluccio, 32, who's the enthusiast. For the past 15 years, he has devoted himself to understanding and publicizing the art of scratch DJs, or turntablists, those men and women who make music through frenzied, seemingly chaotic scratches on vinyl. He has directed a documentary series called Battle Sounds that appeared in the 1997 Whitney Biennial, showing the sophisticated techniques behind the music; has organized concerts all over the world; and has written serious defenses of the medium as an art form. Yet for all Carluccio's work, DJs still had to deal with the rep that they made music without a system of notation, meaning no composition could ever be reliably re-created. Besides costing them the esteem of other musicians, the lack of a written system also meant turntablists could share their work only through recordings.
At a 1997 studio session of the pioneering DJ collective X-ecutioners, Carluccio found a solution. While the X-ecutioners tried to repeat sounds they had made earlier in the day, Carluccio started scribbling down different lines to represent the various scratches. Then he put his lines on a modified musical staff, with the vertical axis representing the rotation of the record and the horizontal axis representing time. Ever since, he's been refining the system he calls TTM, turntablist transcription methodology. "Before notation, the music didn't have a lingua franca," says Carluccio. "People would refer to certain scratches, like a baby scratch"--which moves the record back and forth without mixer controls--"or a drag"--a slow scratch that creates a low pitch--"but no one knew how to replicate them precisely." With the help of industrial designer Ethan Imboden, Carluccio created TTM version 1.1, a pamphlet-size guide (available free at www.battlesounds.com that explains the system in simple terms. Now aspiring DJs can actually see the music, making it easier to learn, and top artists can publish and copyright their compositions. "Putting it on paper doesn't necessarily make the music any better," says Carluccio, "but it helps get more people exposed to it, and that elevates the level of the art."
--By Josh Tyrangiel