Sunday, February 08, 2015

Alastair Wilson - Grafonola (Quincunx)

Such a unique, delightful object! The central item is a 10" vinyl recording--78rpm on one side, 45rpm on the other--consisting of sounds made via a "Columbia Viva-Tonal Grafonola 112 (c.1927) steel needles and shellac records". This arrives in a sleeve which seems to date from around the same time. Not sure if they're all alike but mine could be the one in the image below (same printing, in any case), with tissue-thin, aged paper that's already disintegrating near its edges, very lovely.

There's a small faded orange card included which proclaims, "DON'T DISCARD THIS CARD -- You will be delighted when you call and see your Photo in Miniature at CRONULLA--CANDIDS", a Sydney-based service.

The abstract nature of the recording is, of course, at perfect odds with the packaging. The 78rpm side (am I lucky to have a turntable that plays at this speed?) rapidly runs through a series of tiny sounds: scratches, worryings of the needle proper, etc., just a level or two above surface noise and, necessarily, incorporating that as well. Wilson intends that, over time and repeated plays, his contributions fuse with the deteriorating surface of the vinyl, rendering them indistinguishable. Side B, at 45rpm, is only mildly louder. On each, the sounds proceed in an unhurried, almost casual manner, something I find very attractive, giving a sense of calm investigation that happens to have been caught.

Purchasers of the physical item are given access to four more tracks on bandcamp, which can also be bought separately. These cuts expand the palette a little, and are every bit as enjoyable as those on the record although, I must say, the corporeality of the vinyl adds substantially to the experience. The fourth track includes several minutes of 20s jazz band music that sticks its head out somewhat awkwardly but endearingly.

A warm, special release.


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