Styli

Cyberpunk, audio bodies, and scratched records.

Styli

The phenomenon of sound recording not only gave birth to the music industry, but primarily, it gave sound some unexpected materiality. Music became an accessible object in our interactive dialogue, and thus it emancipated itself from the structure in-built by its author. This resulted in the emergence of another trend in musical activity. Instead of creating new, closed musical objects, there appeared po-mo works that changed the existing compositions.

Overshadowed by the hip-hop turntablism busy being born between the Bronx, and Jamaica in the late 1970s, experimental DJs looked for other forms of sound narrations. Vinyl turntables were the tool in those searches.

Take, for example, Christian Marclay who was one of the experimental turntablism pioneers. Instead of seamless mixing two records together, he investigated the seams. While getting to know the materiality of the sound carrier, he modified its very body, physically damaging it, cutting, and pasting records together again. Because of these acts of violence, he revealed sound characteristics of the medium that are usually left in the wings of recorded material. With this, those scratches, creaks, and rustlings step into the spotlight in an act of acoustic striptease.

Unlike Marclay, the Japanese performer Otomo Yoshihide studies not so much the vinyl’s materiality as the phenomenon of the sound production itself when a stylus contacts different materials. Any materials, as a matter of fact, apart from records themselves. Instead, Yoshihide uses objects that produce feedback attacks and almost industrial wall of noise when his stylus touches them. By plugging into physical material, Yoshihide reads its information layer, and makes is audible.

Working with objects’ information layers is really the key theme for the turntablism, and it is directly linked with the cyberpunk’s visions of virtual reality. The endlessly propagating musical information caught on a sound carrier is the global database, the hypertext put together with scraps of memory, associations, thoughts, and meanings. Everything here can be broken, scratched, and soldered together again.