Monday, November 3, 2014

Janek Schaefer | Skate/Rink

Janek Schaefer
London, UK: audiOh! Recordings, 2003
12" vinly LP, CD3
Edition size unknown

The term Turntable Skating refers to the tonearm of the record player, if improperly balanced, skipping across the disc towards the centre. A popular early DIY technique to thwart this was to tape a penny to the top of the tone-arm, to weigh it down. Most turntables now include adjustable counterweight contraptions. These devices also aim to keep the stylus in the centre of the groove (against the deterministic spiral of the groove, which draws it towards the centre of the disk) to prevent damage to the needle and to minimize distortions in the reading of the sound.

Janek Schaefer's Skate usurps this mechanism to create new playback and listening experiences. Using a custom built lathe, he developed a fragmented cutting technique to create a concentric collage of individual short 'sounds scars' on the vinyl. The sound from a pair of car speakers was used to generate the grooves.

When the disc is played, the stylus navigates it's own random path across the "intermittent terrain of physical/sonic diversions". A number of variables, including the make of the turntable, the speed and the user themselves, will affect the result of playback and thus offers each listener a somewhat unique listening experience. This approach follows in the footsteps of Christian Marclay, Milan Knizak, Lee Ranaldo, Boyd Rice and other artists/musicians and composers who treat the vinyl LP not as a fixed piece of music, but as a source material. A chapter I wrote for One For Me and One to Share called "The Needle and The Damage Done", examines this tendency in artists' recordworks (click here).

For those without a turntable (or without one they wish to risk), the accompanying CD3 features 99 tracks, with lengths varying from four seconds to almost a minute and a half, but with most hovering around ten seconds.

"The fashion for packaging CD reissues in minature replicas of the original album sleeves is inverted by Janek Schaefer's Skate/Rink which contains a 3"CD tcucked away incongruously in a 12" inner sleeve. The other half of the gatefold cover houses Skate, a vinyl disc that also plays games with expectations. Skate departs from the traditional spiral path steering the stylus from edge to centre. Schaefer built an ersatz lathe witha vibrating cutting head and scored the surface of the acetate with broken-up grooves that randomise the playing path on each passing. Skate is a kick in the teeth for all patented anti-skate mechanisms.

The record as art object has beenhighly visible as well as audible in recent years, not least through Christian Marclay's vinyl constructionsand turntable collages. Back in the mid 1960's the damaged or modified record as artwork and compositional resource was tried and tested by fluxus artist Milan Knizak with his 'Broken Music' series. 'Music While You Work', realised by his Fluxus associate Arthur Kocke, between 1958 and 1964, had already interupted the groove with plastic drips designed to cause annoyance to listeners. Schaefer's Skate can easily be connected to such interventions, but the assumption today is that we have become attached to surface noise, through nostalgia for a medium facing obsolescence or through conscious or subliminal expansion of our listening horizons. In place of passive, irritated audience, Schaefer envisages participants in an ongoing soundwork. SKate is offered as a starting point for the users personal explorations. "Experiment with it," he exhorts, " Have Fun!"

The Rink 3" CD is a 20 minute composition combining sounds from the LP and room recordings from a 2001 Skate installation in Cork Ireland. It has 99 index points to enablethe CD specific variation of random play. The sound predictably mixes graininess and shadow in a musicof crackle hiss click whine, crippled rhythms, occasional lapses into silence or shifts from surface imediacy to suggestions of spatial depth. The disc is stamped with an image of vinyl hosting three tracking arms, a further hint that Rink is in part a prompt to have fun with your own Skate."

Julian Cowley, The Wire

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