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Hip Hop artist Rawz raps in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, over a track recorded by Inner Peace Records in a 1950s recording studio. © John Cairns

Urban Music Foundation are exploring the interplay between science, technology and hip hop, creating an immersive soundscape to investigate the physiological response.

The project team will create a sound art installation in which the audience will move through “Epochs”; isolated spaces designed to reflect the overall feel of 5 specifically defined eras: the 1950s, the 60s & 70s, the 80s & 90s, 2000-2022, and The Future. A bespoke sound track will be created by artists from Inner Peace Records for each one of the Epochs using hardware and software from the specific eras to create hip hop music, communicating their interpretations of these historic periods through their artistic response.

Technologies used in creating, recording and editing sounds have influenced, and in turn been influenced by the musician’s creative process since the beginning of recorded music. In some cases new technologies have even been pivotal in birthing entirely new genres of music; for example the ability to mass produce affordable electric guitars and amps led to the invention of Rock and Roll music, while evolutions in digital technologies (and their early limitations) led to seminal innovations in the production of Hip Hop music.

Using equipment and software from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s and 20s together on one track to create a completely original piece of music, artists and researchers can examine how evolutions in technology have influenced the music making process over an 80 year period, bridging two centuries. There is rich ground to explore here from both a scientific and artistic point of view, the project could consider questions such as; How do various technologies manipulate electrical signals in different ways in order to create newsounds? How is software used to digitally emulate analog technology almost indistinguishably? How do the acoustics of a space affect the signal captured by microphones? What new materials became available to make the new technologies possible? What happens to a sound wave or electrical signal as it passes through a chain of equipment in a recording studio?

Why Hip-Hop?

Sprouting from the poverty and neglect of late 70s New York ghettos, with roots that can be traced back through the beat writers of the 50s and 60s, to the West African tradition of Griot, Hip Hop has bloomed into arguably the most influential cultural phenomenon of the 21st century, touching every nation on Earth. Hip Hop’s founders adapted and innovated with the tools they had available to them to invent a completely new genre of music and give their community an amplified voice that is now heard all over the world. Based on the 5 original elements of Dance, Graffiti, DJing, MCing and Knowledge (now encompassing a 6th element of Theatre and Literature), Hip Hop artists have always utilized newly available technologies to reinterpret artefacts from their past. DJs would play vinyl records borrowed from their parents on cutting edge Technics SL-1200 turntables with newly developed and powerful direct drive motors. They would use two decks, connected by modified equalisers to loop their favourite sections of these records over and over again, as MCs expressed their lyrical finesse over the top using microphones designed for making announcements at community functions.

The techniques that these pioneering DJs used grew into the tradition of sampling; converting short sections of sound recorded from vinyl records into digital information using sampling machines specifically developed for this purpose in the late 80s. Producers alter the sound and tempo of these samples in creative ways and combine them with others to build up new rhythms and textures. This has become a central component in the creation of Hip Hop music, which in turn has driven advances with music making technologies and software.

Through the practice of always looking for innovative and unusual things to sample, Hip Hop has been influenced by, and influenced, almost every other style of music, even spawning new genres that wouldn't have been possible without tools designed for Hip Hop production.

To find out more about The Urban Music Foundation visit their website or follow them on social media.