I’ll be honest, I have never thought about the term nor the concept of ethnomusicology until I photographed Josch Chodakowsky in his apartment in Ditmas Park a few months ago. Josch (aka DJ Inbetween) is a DJ and composer- more specifically a sound collage-r, creating music by sampling elements from written songs to create completely unique songs.
Josch’s living room contains a library of about 10,000+ records, spanning the decades and continents. He has always had a fascination with the history of music and began collecting records at a young age. It should come as no surprise that Josch’s educational background is in Library Science and aside from composing and DJing, he works as a researcher during the day. But his true love of DJ’ing began while he was still in school, circa mid-1990s, when he and his friends would gather to listen to the latest hip hop records and attempt to sample their first songs.
Facing the giant wall of records, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. Where would you even start when you have a universe of sounds at your disposal? When I asked Josch, he said for him the creative process is a bit like “lightning in a bottle”. He began pulling records out to show me how ideas would turn into songs, picking out a bass line here or the first measure off of another record, and programming those so that a song began to emerge. Most of the samples were completely unrecognizable and he purposefully choses songs that are obscure so that the listener doesn’t form associations with that sound. Each time he pulled a record, on to the turntable it went, quickly and without hesitation. Then, when the piece he wanted to play was over, back into the library they went, sometimes to a different spot than where they came from – a reflection of the organization that only he was privy to. It reminded me a bit of a cook in the kitchen, grabbing a pinch of this spice and that, stirring around and tasting the sauce to see what else was missing.
Within the confines of the concept of musicianship, what Josch creates might not be considered making music because he’s not actually playing or composing with an instrument. However, to me, it absolutely embodies the term. To create a unique song by connecting dozens or hundreds of already written elements of music, is still in its essence composition and it is incredible to see these stretches of creativity and the capabilities of sound. A postmodernist approach to making music, and one that weaves together society and culture at that moment in time.
For Josch, collecting records is a bit like archeology; an examination of the significance of music in our culture and the tracing of the roots of modern music to their points of inspiration. His appreciation of music is infused with an innate curiosity of piecing a puzzle together that is in fact never ending. When he hears something that strikes him, for example an interesting bass line, he will often look up the musician, find the other records they played on, research what influences they had, and then delve into the music of those influencers, and so on and so on until a musical family tree of inspiration begins to emerge.
Although Josch’s musical inclination is towards early Funk, Soul and Hip Hop, his research extends far across the globe. He told me he would go through phases when he would delve into a certain country’s music and dig deep into their history, often piecing the significance of the artist in that country’s moment in time. And often, when he embarks on a particular country’s music history, he learns how to play the musical instruments native to the country so that he has a deeper sense of the music.
When it comes to record collecting, the rarer the record, the more exciting. “If the apartment was on fire, this is the box I would take with me” he said as he pulled out a “Supercase” of 45’s. Gently he took out a record by The Third Guitar with “Baby Don’t Cry” on it and laid it on the turntable. In the process, showing me the tattoos on his forearms which replicated the album’s label. What made these particular records so sought after? Josch explained that some of the records in the Supercase were rare because they were the original albums that had been sampled by famous songs, in other cases, they were records made by unknown bands of which there were only a limited number of copies pressed. I asked him why it would be matter if a completely unknown band had put out a limited number of records. But he explained that for collectors, the thrill is in finding that incredible and undiscovered record from an unknown band. A stroke of luck and/or determined investigation.