In 2006, I wrote the following as an insert in the original Softl release of joy of fear: “This record couldn’t exist without the small collection of one-off ‘acetate records’ (dub plates) that I’ve been making since 1997, when I first encountered Richard Simpson and his disc-cutting lathe in Los Angeles. One aspect of making dub plates that I’ve loved over the years is that the sound that gets cut into the record—linearly, in so-called ‘real’ time, with beautiful trembling grooves that begin at the outer rim and arrive in the middle—is in an immediate and continual process of intermingling with the material of the plate itself. Another is the special clumsiness, the furniture-ness, of the record player, an instrument whose history of pleasures, public and private, I hear in conversation with the different ‘sublime’ of cello & piano…”
In 2020, these thoughts still resonate for me. The problems are still problems, I think. The record starts with the concrete gesture of putting the needle down. The operation produces an immediate doubling: vibrato as form (a mechanical wobble) and content (Casals?). Which register is the meaningful one? Later tracks use similar means to distort the clarity of versions, samples, effects and aftereffects. The graphical aspect of inscription that I am pointing to in the text, the “trembling groove,” seems manifest everywhere, making playback feel more like recording, a precise and continuous act of excavation that destroys for both pleasure and melancholy. I hear the emphasis on mechanics and process as an argument for a certain kind of repetition, for playback as an affective state, more uncanny than sublime. Music as a landscape of historical objects marooned in digital space – MR
It’s still easy to summon the feeling of surprise and pleasure I took in discovering the medium of dub plates. Also, soon after, in the possibility of making compositions out of multiples and sets. It was a music of surfaces and simultaneities—you could put the needle down anywhere at any time, so it was necessary that they worked at any speed and in combination. I composed with that functional cluster of outcomes in mind.
All the sounds were samples of one sort or another, pre-degraded by my cassette deck capture method. I would compose suites of plates, then play them myself on 3 or 4 turntables, or form ensembles to play them, one record per person. All methods of manipulation were valid, but we gravitated toward the analog— guitar pedals and the like. I think the idea was to generate versions— to conjure situations, essentially. To keep it going, I would heat metal pins before performances with a lighter and insert the hot metal into the inner groove of the record, one per plate, with the result that the tonearm hit an obstruction eventually and— voila—a lock groove. This primitive strategy suited me well, adding what sounded like a rhythmic thud (for example on track one at around 17 minutes) to the mixture of mechanical sounds and effects.
These pieces were premised on a series of landscapes— an imaginary opera set in iconic scenery. I think I was imagining settings like secret gardens and forests at midnight and shipwrecks. Each performance also had an element of danger: for one thing, playing a plate at all further degraded the already unstable signal-to-noise ratio on it — pushed it toward noise, which I loved, like a continual state of abrasion, touch as conflict. It was a dialectical process, aimed at production itself – MR