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Just don’t ask why: This artist cuts grooves into CDs to make them play like LPs

british artist cuts grooves into cds to make them turntable ready aleksander kolkowski s wilcox gay recordette
Got a bunch of dated CDs you haven’t listened to in years? Are you a fan of the cozy, crackly nostalgia of vinyl recordings? Then you’d do well to take a page from Aleksander Kolkowski’s book, as the London-based musician has figured out a way to transform compact discs into miniature, turntable-ready recordings by using a modified ’50s-era home stereo and recording device to carve playable waveforms into the modern medium. Kolkowski tells The Atlantic that the result is “a nice, warm sound, like it’s been remastered through an overdriven tube amplifier.”

Of course, we’ve heard of people blowing the dust off their LP’s to digitize their old record collections, but this reverse approach spins the idea on its head (oh yes we did).

This process destroys whatever the CD’s original content may have been, but leaves in its wake a series of grooves that can be played back on any turntable.

Kolkowski’s CD-slicing technique revolves around the customized Wilcox-Gay Recordette — a turntable with attached cutting lathe for producing vinyl recordings of AM radio broadcasts and personal/custom audio via included microphone. The artist has modified his Recordette to allow connections from any digital or audio inputs, expanding his recording options from AM radio and grainy mic recordings to just about anything. The connected device sends an electrical signal to the Recordette’s needle, which in turn carves an identical waveform image of the audio directly onto the disc’s physical surface. This process destroys whatever the CD’s original content may have been, but leaves in its wake a series of grooves that can be played back on any turntable. Kolkowski can fit up to two minutes and 50 seconds of audio onto each disc, which in turn plays at 45 revolutions per minute (RPM).

Wax is bigger than it ever has been for the modern listener – in 2012, vinyl record album sales in the United States jumped 17.7 percent to nearly 4.55 million units. Simultaneously, CD sales continued to decline, dropping 13.5 percent from 2011 to 193.4 million units.

Kolkowski admits that his endeavor isn’t just an artistic or cultural statement. “It’s transforming a disposable media storage device made for cloned copying into a one-of-a-kind cult object,” Kolkowski notes before explaining the ironic other half to his work: “In a way, it’s very tongue in cheek. There’s a lot of fetishism about vinyl, but I see this as quite throw-away, really. I do it for free. People bring a CD and I give them one in return. On a few occasions people have asked me to go into commercial production, but that’s not really my intention.”

The musician has taken his art on a tour of sorts, cutting spontaneous recordings for the various people who show up to witness his unique craft. Some have brought flash drives and requested the transfer of a specific song to one of these repurposed CDs. Kolkowski has even ripped audio from an onlooker’s CD to his own laptop, then carved the content back onto the very same CD, albeit in a much different physical format.

Aleks Kolkowski with the Exponential Horn
Aleks Kolkowski with the Exponential Horn. (Image courtesy of The Science Museum)

The project is part of a larger body of work devoted to the recycling nature of art. According to The Atlantic’s report, Kolkowski currently has an exhibition —The Exponential Horn: In Search of Perfect Sound — on display at the Science Museum in London. The show’s centerpiece is a “full-size reconstruction of the giant 27-foot-long ‘Denman horn.'” According to the official page for Kolkowski’s show, the original colossal horn (created by old-school engineer and audiophile Roderick Denman) was a popular highlight of the Museum’s daily tours in the 1930s, and the museum refers to the horn clone as “the UK’s largest audio loudspeaker.”

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