The ScrubBoard: A Cassette-Based Take On Turntablism

Turntablism created a culture and musical movement, however, entrepreneur Jeremy Bell thinks there is more work to be done to perfect turntablism. The ScrubBoard is the first (that we know of!) cassette tape-based controller that is meant to be played in the same way a DJ uses two turntables and a mixer. Keep reading for more about how the ScrubBoard works, what a DJ can expect out of it, and the man behind the project.

What is it?: The ScrubBoard is a cassette tape-based alternative to the turntable, providing turntablists with a more versatile and intuitive way to scratch and mix songs. Jeremy Bell, the creator of ScrubBoard, points out that the turntable is a device that wasn’t made with the intent of being played. It was meant to just play the music. His theory is that by tweaking the design, a device could be created that would open flood gates to new possibilities in the art of turntablism.

How does the ScrubBoard improve turntablism?: The ScrubBoard will be a device that features a moveable tape head which can be “played” using a sliding Seesaw Killswitch that the user slides up and down the moving tape. The switch contains a tape head that makes contact with the moving strip which produces the sound from the tape. It can manipulated with only one hand that allows for the scratching of the audio and the crossfader, simultaneously. Watch the video above to gain a better understanding of how the device works.

Who’s behind the ScrubBoard?: Jeremy Bell is a freelance audio engineer based out of San Francisco. After struggling with DJing using a turntable he decided to turn to his workshop. He developed the ScrubBoard Alpha and a began to innovate the standards of turntablism. We asked him a few questions about the project:

What is your background music/audio? 

I come from a very musical family, and I started taking piano lessons at around six years old, and branched out to the guitar and bass in my early teens […] but I’m much more interested in composing than performing.  I have a degree in music composition from SF State, and had the opportunity to compose for several prestigious ensembles while I was there.

My interest in audio started almost as early.  My dad was a TV producer and an award-winning documentarian […] I remember him showing me how to use an audio tape splicer, and explaining different types of Dolby noise reduction, and it really made an impression on me.

What inspired the creation of the ScrubBoard?
Laurie Anderson did this performance where she glued a strip of audiotape to a violin bow and had an audio tape head on her violin, so it would generate audio when she played it. […] I think roots of the ScrubBoard go way back to my early childhood when I would spend hours playing with my tape recorders.
I loved to try to force the tape player to do things it wasn’t supposed to do, like I’d keep jamming my thumb down on the play button while I was recording to make it sound “wobbly,” or I’d press the pause button halfway down to alter the tape speed. I ended up breaking so many cassette players and cassettes themselves, and then I’d take them apart and experiment even more.
What are your hopes for the Kickstarter?
This is my first Kickstarter campaign and it has been a very learning experience.  If I make my funding goal, the money will be used to engineer and build a fully-functional model, which will be used to demonstrate the scrubboard to companies, and hopefully find someone who can mass produce it.
I wish I could have promised to manufacture fully-functional ScrubBoards to the higher-paying backers, but there were just to many variables, since the fully-functional “ScrubBoard Beta” hasn’t been fully engineered yet. At the moment, it’s actually looking like the ScrubBoard probably won’t meet its goal in time, probably because of my inability to offer more enticing backer rewards. And if it doesn’t meet its goal, I’m really okay with that.  My main goal with this campaign was to get the idea out there and get people talking about it, and by that measure I think it’s been a big success. Whether or not I meet my fundraising goal, some version of the “ScrubBoard Beta” will get made.
How would the cassette tapes be made to be used in the ScrubBoard?
With my handmade “ScrubBoard Alpha,” I put together a series of samples in ProTools, then send the ProTools output to a tape deck and I record to a cassette tape. Then I turn the tape over and record another series of samples that’s the same duration onto side B. That puts me right back to the beginning of the audio on side A.
Then I cut the tape right at that point, and spool it out of the cassette and glue it on to the little elevated platforms I built on the board.  Then I splice the tape in the cassette back together, so that the cassette is still usable in a tape deck.  For the ScrubBoard Beta, I’m hoping to create some kind of tape cart that uses 1/4 inch reel to reel tape, for a higher fidelity sound.
The ScrubBoard is a new take on turntablism that uses audio cassette tapes and a movable tape head.
“An audiotape-based alternative to the turntable, providing turntablists with a more versatile and intuitive way to scratch.” – Jeremy Bell

The ScrubBoard is definitely a one of a kind – and while some may argue the for the complexity of learning how to scratch with turntables, this is still great work. Jeremy is innovating technology to open up the possibilities of DJing and take the art to a whole new level.

While cassette tapes are rare nowadays, his design allows for future products to come out based the schematic. Imagine, a device that plays the same way but as a MIDI controller? Or maybe even a codec to turn the ScrubBoard into a device much like Serato vinyl? The ScrubBoard is an interesting product that may create a whole new way for DJs to mix music.

Do you think the ScrubBoard could be useful, or is it just an imaginative device? Let us know below in the comments!

Learn more about the ScrubBoard Kickstarter campaign and pledge to support the project.

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