CD sales have plunged over the last decade, but vinyl LPs have become increasingly trendy, with music fans still desiring a physical product to clutch to their chests on their way home. Recognizing this trend, several years ago musician Adam Baumeister (formerly of Bad Weather California) purchased a record lathe and formed Meep Records, which manufactures vinyl LPs and singles for Denver bands.
Lately, Baumeister has begun using his lathe to create conceptual art, taking very old recordings and manipulating them with locked and backward running grooves, all cut into heavily stylized picture discs. In advance of his art exhibition opening at Fancy Tiger on Friday, Novembe 1, we caught up with Baumeister to chat about Wagner, extinct birds and the art of the LP.
Westword: From what I understand, you've taken field recordings of extinct birds, placed them on a picture-disc record, and manipulated the sound with strange groove placements on the record?
Adam Baumeister: Correct.
So what do the records sound like?
Well, they're lathe cuts on super-thin plastic, so they have kind of a dirty, old sound to them. And they're field recordings -- one is from 1953 in Guam. There's cool jungle sounds on there, it's interesting.
How well is the original sound preserved after all this groove manipulation?
Most of the groove manipulation I'm doing are locked grooves. So I'm placing the sounds of the recording onto the record, and then place the locked grooves at various points on the record, so it stays forever repeating on the one groove. So you literally have to budge the needle over every once in a while if you want to hear more. It will get stuck on some weird bird-call, or someone talking in the background, or some fly buzzing. And that's a hypnotic, rhythmic sound that DJ's can use -- it has its own patterns that you can slow down and effect it.
When I was I kid I was always stoked whenever there was a locked groove at the end of the record. I was like, "Oh, wow, it goes on forever." And now that I have a machine and make records, I over-use it.
So ultimately you're using what has been traditionally seen as a flaw -- the sound skipping in the middle of the record -- and using it intentionally as a hypnotic effect.
Yeah, it's cool when you make one, you're never sure what it's going to sound like. You just stop the machine that's cutting the groove from going inwards. I'm always excited to put the record on and see what it sounds like.
With the show you're doing on Friday, is that going to be only the bird recordings?
The extinct bird records are just one in a series that I've done. I'm also doing a phonotagraph locked-groove record as well. It's part of the earliest recordings that man had made, which were on a phonautograph. This was around 1860, before you could record sounds, they'd record sound waves on paper. It's what early record players were based on.
About five years ago this guy in Indiana University wrote a computer program that could optically scan these visual waves and reproduce them into audio sound. It was a big story on NPR at the time, and when I started doing these records I remembered it and thought it would be cool to try.
What was the music they were recording?
Some of it's not music. New York City hired Thomas Edison to make sound tests of the trains around certain neighborhoods. Mostly they were mature scientists trying to figure out how to record sounds, so a lot of them are the scientists just recording their friends, or having someone come in and sing a scale, or a popular song of the day. One of the earliest recordings is from 1860, and it's someone singing "Au Clair de la Lune," which was an old traditional French song -- people still know it to this day.
So there's the extinct birds, the phonautograph recordings -- which are both picture discs -- and there's another one I'm working on now called The Death of Gods. It's excerpts from Wagner's The Ring opera series that are backwards.
You've recorded them backwards?
There's a trick on my lathe that I've wanted to do for a while, where you cut the groove inside to outside of the record. A lot of people have used it throughout the years for hit singles that you send to radio, because the sound of the record changes from inside to outside, and this way the song sounds better at the ending. It's the loudest and optimal sounding at the end when you segue into the next song.
When was that used?
I think the '50s and '60s. So you drop the needle at the inside of the record and it plays to the outside. I found a book of amazing drawings that were scenes from the Wagner opera, and I had the idea of making a bunch of picture-discs of it. I've also put the sound on there backwards as well. So I have all of these pictures on there of like, Siegfried discovering a woman, and then the recording is the Symphony Orchestra of Chicago, and I've reversed them. A backwards sounding Wagnerian opera sounds pretty fucking amazing. And it looks cool, too.
Follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.
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