Saturday, November 5, 2016

Christian Marclay: Record Without a Cover

Christian Marclay is a turntable terrorist, sculptor, and video artist. His cut-up album More Encores was one of the first albums made entirely from recycled materials, and along with John Oswald’s Plunderphonics is part of the bedrock of our cut-and-paste age. His art can be as awesome as it is goofy. His album cover cut-ups are legendary. His 24-hour movie The Clock is built entirely of clips from movies where the time of day mentioned in the original film plays out at the same time of day you watch the movie. A 1994 exhibit in Geneva called False Advertising consisted of outdoor paste-ups of five posters in different styles of five imaginary Christian Marclays – chansonnier with an autoharp, heavy metal shredder, folkie guitarist, classical violinist, and jazz saxophonist.

Many Marclay CDs are in print, but punishingly few of his records ever turn up for sale. You may never find the vinyl More Encores, or Footsteps, a 1000-copy run of records that lined the floor of a Zurich art gallery in 1989 as patrons walked on them for six weeks. That’s why when I walked into Exiled Records in Portland and saw Record Without a Cover on the wall, I grabbed it (how much did I pay? I demur). It’s Marclay’s first record, released in 1985, and you want to write him a million-dollar check just for the concept: it’s a single-sided platter, sold without a cover, with printed instructions on one side demanding it should never be stored in a protective sleeve. You put it on, it crackles away, and after four minutes you think "Did I just...hear something?" Noise is signal, signal is noise, you've been hearing it all along.

Sometimes great ideas beget low entertainment value, but this will transfix you. It’s a cousin to Bruce Conner’s Wavelength – what you think at first isn’t much of anything at all amplifies some aspect of itself until it feels like the whole world’s going to explode. Multiple minutes of a stasis of random record clicks and pops lulls the listener into thinking this is a gag record with a blank groove, until very gradually the records playing in the distance move to the front of the mix and the performance is revealed. It’s like locking yourself in a light-tight room and realizing after five minutes that Finnegans Wake is written on the wall in lumisescent ink, and it’s getting brighter. Or how an astronomer in 1995 pointed the Hubble telescope at an empty patch of sky for 100 hours and the final composite image revealed 3000 galaxies. When you listen to this, you will lean in!

Record audio & artwork

DISCLAIMER: To the best of my knowledge, this work is out of print and not available for purchase in any format. If you are the artist and are planning a reissue, please let me know and I’ll remove it from the blog. Also please get in touch if you’ve lost your art &/or sound masters and would like to talk with me about my restoration work.


  1. I guess you had to buy a new stylus after this project! Here it is on YouTube:
    I've been enjoying more of your posts. Of course they are always perfect.
    The Weatherman

  2. I was fascinated by the esthetic of this project but felt guilty in that I went against it from the first. A major point was after all, a record w/o a cover, meant to be damaged as time went on, additional scratches were the point. So what did I do? Placed it in a plastic cover of course! I did even worse with the "Footsteps" release. That started out as an art exhibit where patrons walked over copies of a record of footsteps, which were then releases to interested record buyers. I couldn't even bring myself to play it because the playing erased the dirt patterns left from the shoeprints on the disc. Obviously I don't understand Mr Marclay's work, but I am none the less a fan and have great respect for it.

  3. Can usually expect an interesting post from you, I must say. Keep up the great work, I may not always download your material but I always find it worthy.


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