As We see it – Hi-fi Arcana I

Stereophile|April 2020

As We see it – Hi-fi Arcana I
Some Stereophile readers will surely remember—some may even have in their collections—Christian Marclay’s 1985 vinyl release Record Without a Cover, surely one of the oddest records ever, right up there with the dying-rabbit record and the seven-inch single that’s tinted yellow by the band’s actual urine.
By Jim Austin

I had filed away my memory of Record Without a Cover in a brain-slot adjacent to Gary Dahl’s pet rock and The Nothing Book, the wordless bestseller from 1974. But then I read an interview between Marclay and musician/scholar David Toop,1 published in a book I recommend: Arcana III: Musicians on Music (Hips Road, 2008). It’s part of the Arcana series, edited by John Zorn, which is now up to its eighth (VIIIth?) volume.

Side A of Record Without a Cover features what sounds like several record players playing at the same time—just surface noise first, gradually increasing, then a slow crescendo of chaotic music and sounds. The B side has no grooves, just words written in a spiral, including the etched admonition to not store the record in a protective package. The goal is precisely to let it get scuffed and dirty so that the sound changes over time. Marclay writes:

Record Without a Cover changes as it gets damaged and these changes become part of the composition. The needle might skip or loop, or the surface might get so damaged that you can’t really listen to it or you’ll just hear fragments. . . .

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April 2020