Some of the most amazing inventions come from humble beginnings. Justin Kent has an invention that redefines the role of the DJ, but it was in front of the couch that he began his journey.
In 20th-century fashion, a young Justin was raised in the glow of the television. In his teenage years he started to realize the emptiness of the boob tube, and made his way to spinning wax at raves while going to MIT. It was here he realized that vinyl, for all of its lovability, was expensive, delicate and hard to transport. However, the turntable has become so deeply embedded in musical culture that it's inseparable from the scene; some DJs, like the X-ecutioners, actually consider themselves "turntablists".
As Kent's interest in rocking parties waned, inspiration came for a new kind of instrument that would exceed the needs of even these demanding consumers. His incarnation of the classic turntable involves retrofitting the familiar industry-standard Technics 1200 into the EJ MIDI Turntable, a digital turntable with the ability to control, well, just about anything, from the music coming from the speakers to the club's light show.
"MIDI is so flexible," says Kent of the long-used digital technology that he integrated into the Technics. "If you wanted to scratch a break-dancing robot, or beat-mix a laser light show, you can do it now.
"I see a time where the DJ is mixing more than the music, much more," he says of his invention's future and of what he sees as the inevitable migration of the DJ's role into that of what calls an "EJ," or Experience Jockey, who's responsible not just for the music but for a complete sensory takeover involving a multimedia "experience" of sound and visuals. (Hence the name of Kent's Deltona-based company, EJ Enterprises.)
The ease with which Kent's product is added onto an existing turntable is also impressive, as it involves only an optical cartridge, a small external box and a monochrome slipmat that looks like a dorm-room black-light poster. Once these devices are integrated, the turntable can interface seamlessly with a laptop to mix audio. But Kent is most interested in applying the same scratching techniques to video and sound together at the same time to create an immersive environment. This could be seen as his personal rebellion against the prefabricated visual experiences that make up network TV.
Kent's still rocking parties, but now with a different slant. "I try to show people something they haven't seen before, or maybe something they've seen way too many times, but then remix it to make it fresh."
His act recently got cheers from the crowd at the Winter Music Conference in Miami. Deft flicks of Justin's wrist caused video to pause, stutter, rewind and match up clips in a way that was equal parts hilarious and profound. "I pick the `videos` that I like, mix 'em up just right and try to tell a story."
There was no lack of enthusiasm in the audience. "People just go insane," says Kent, even a little confused as to the visceral reaction the turntable gets. "You really have to see it firsthand to understand it."