Recently I visited Munich at the invitation of Theresa Faus of Bailongo. Theresa also gives music seminars so she had asked me for some more advanced topics. The lectures were over three days and we had great attendances, sometimes over thirty people.
During my visit Theresa interviewed me for the German tango magazine Tangodanza. The interview concluded with a couple of difficult questions which I was happy to answer. DJs in particular might find these topics of interest.
Theresa: Now some difficult questions. You DJ at festivals and marathons. There’s been some discussion here recently about the importance (or otherwise) of using lossless formats for ripping music to your computer. What’s your opinion?
Michael: Technical aspects are important but only up to a certain point. In DJ-ing, the limiting factor is usually the sound design of the milonga. Very few milongas have a sound system that is good for tango music, particularly in regards to the type, number and positioning of the loudspeakers. The room suffers from reverberations. It will have a frequency characteristic which will need equalising. I have only ever been to one milonga where this was done, but in any case it’s impossible to do perfectly because the characteristics of the room change as people arrive. These aspects make a huge difference to the sound that you hear and are seldom attended to, if ever. In addition, the milonga is a social environment. People are talking and moving, making noise. It’s not the same as listening quietly at home with expensive headphones.
Regarding mp3, in the early days the coders were poor and people often used a bit rate that was too low. Today, the differences between a lossless file and an mp3 file that is ripped with an adequate bit rate are very small. My experience is that you will never hear them in the real-world environment of a milonga. If you are worried about mp3 and your hard disc is big enough to rip everything lossless, then go ahead – why not? Just remember that there are bigger factors that are not under your control.
How adventurous should a DJ be? Should he try to educate the dancers, or should he just play it safe?
There is a consensus about which tangos are good for dancing, but, in my opinion, the idea of an accepted canon of good music is an illusion. To give a simple example, fifteen years ago you didn’t hear Canaro with Maida at the milonga, and “Poema” was unknown, even in Argentina. If we all play only what is already accepted, then we would never hear much of the music that today we think of as “core repertoire”. There is such a thing as a core repertoire, but it is not fixed. It is changing slowly over time.
On the other hand, I’m a bit uncomfortable with this notion of trying to educate the dancers. It could imply that the DJ knows best. Of course, the DJ needs to know tango music well. From his (or her) knowledge and experience he might decide to try some new music. However, it’s the whole community that decides whether or not they like dancing to this music – not the DJ, or some group of experts. So yes there is a process of education but I think we need to be humble about it.