XperimentS ... M station
Recorded Delivery - an interview with Janek Schaefer,
# The Triphonic Turntable
An instrument which Janek Schaefer designed himself and uses in his live "musique concréte" improvisations, which features a three tone arm multi-record, reversible play, infinite vari-speed turntable.
> MR: That brings me on to discussing your live performance. You're known for performing with the Triphonic Turntable - can you describe for us how that's constructed?
> JS: Yep - trial and error in my bedroom! I'm not an electronics wizard, and in my mind it was a very simple system, you just want something to go forwards and backwards at any speed, its a 9V motor, and it's got 3 arms on it which i wanted to be stereo, each seperately controllable - so how do you put that together without really knowing? I'm really longing still in my life to meet a really good friend who is a wizard with electronics cos i've got so many ideas! But I went to this shop on Edgware Road which has got this little Chinese man out the back... its really grubby and he's got thousands of drawers with lots of components in and its really mythical! And I said "Hello this is what I want to do", and he said "Oh bl**dy hell" and he said "No"... And I went back and he said "Yes, well this is what you want", and got this ridiculous post-it note and scribbled out a circuit, and gave me all the stuff in a bag and told me to pay! And I said "Orright, thanks mate"... so I went home, learnt how to solder, learnt how to read this diagram and put everything together with trial and error really. And I'm good at making things so I could make it look nice, so it all worked out and it sort of has this Technics kind of bl**dy look about it that I never really wanted but its been good for scratchy people being interested in it, scratch DJs and everything!
So basically its intended to do anything you can with a piece of vinyl, because I was interested in vinyl as the record source for any sound, because there must be every sound ever on a piece of record somewhere in the world... and being able to change that. Records are ready-made, and then you can change it, and then it becomes yours - so its not recognisable as the original, thats kind of the concept for it. There have been some other ones come out - I've heard of a four arm one and there's other things, but they're still not as versatile as mine 'cos I can do all speeds and backwards and forwards... and play three records at the same time if you want to be gimmicky! If you can! Theres one arm going normal direction and theres two arms that look as though they're going backwards but it doesnt matter which way the arm points cos all it is - the record is the thing that goes backwards and forwards, the sound is recorded one way. So if you play it the other way, its reversed. All it is is a needle going over a surface, it doesnt matter which way the arm is facing, they all play what the record tells it to play. Unfortunately it'd be nice if one played it backwards while the other played it forwards but you can't do it! Its infinite varispeed from I think 1 1/2 rpm to 77 1/2 rpm..
> MR: I remember the sounds from this were really quite stunning - there were various glissandi and things that I would not have expected had come from a turntable...
> JS: Well i don't remember what I played at that occasion,[a live performance at Goldsmiths College, London] but... I've been doing it three years, and you learn basically what you want to do with it.. so I made my own record that has got a lot of grooves on it and collages of sounds and stuff... I think what has happened is that its become ideal for playing a lot of groove records, cos you can just bounce the needle round and its totally random and it picks up whatever it wants - thats where I've arrived with it really, thats how i use it now, but also I see what you mean now about the glissandi because there was this one record - its a continuously rising tone - or descending - I can't remember because I play it both ways! Its meant to clean the internal guts of your stereo.. its a pretty inert sound, it is what it is, there's no compositional value to it...
# Vinyl Xperiments
> MR: You also use records that you've then melted down and locked grooves produced by stickering out areas on records..?
> JS: Yes. What I do there in a way is I put objects on the record player which stop the needle going round any further.Then I know its always going to be the same when I come to do live performance, because I'm not truly improvisational, personally I don't feel I am in the way that others are, because if I find a locked groove in a record because I've stuck an object on it, I know what it sounds like, and I want that to happen again... I don't want to just go into no-mans land, I want to know what I'm working with. If you play a saxophone and you improvise, you know what notes are what. But if you play a record player and it doesnt hit the same spot, then you don't know what you're gonna do! And I like to know what i'm gonna do, basically!
> MR: I imagine a saxophone player though would have a framework around a live improvisation anyway... so its sort of analogous there...
> JS: Possibly, yep.
> MR: What are your sound sources with those locked-groove records? What were they originally?
> JS: My favourite technique is to take a 7 inch, because they play at 45 speed, and if you slow them down to16rpm, there the biggest change in the sound happens. But when I say I put an object on the record, it doesnt get in the way of the music. So the records I use - it just doesnt matter, I mean I sort of know that I don't like people that sing on records because it sounds like a slowed-down voice. So I look for instrumental records, or the most curious, funny... I'm looking for odd 7 inch sounds...
> MR: And you collect them from all over the place?
> JS: Yes... You kind of find out there are places that are good for it, and you travel all the way there to the South Coast or something to root through a garden shed in the back of somebody's shop full of funny old 7 inches, and come out with 20 that are probably going to be really good. And then you throw it on the record player, and stick something in the way to stop it, and out it comes...
> MR: With your live performances, is that the only sound source that you use?
> JS: No, no. When I started with the Triphonic, it was kind of the beginning of my new musical career - I always wanted to get funny sounds from the real world and turn them into beats or something - really being quite simple, transferring real world sounds and mutating it into music was always what I wanted to do. Three things, electronics, record players, and found sound, that is what I use, and always have done, to create my work. So it took me a couple of years - and I'd heard about these things called contact microphones, and I thought well they sound like exactly what I want but I don't really know where to get one, and I don't know if I want to buy that cos I don't know if it is it and it costsd £25 quid, you know......So then I ran into Robert Hampson, who used to form the group Loop, in the 80s, and he does Main in the 90s, and we did a gig at the same place in an underground nuclear bunker in Scotland. Being an architect I much prefer to play in unusual places, basically, thats my favourite place to play. We met each other, got on like a house on fire, and he had a contact microphone that was really robust, and said this is the one you want, so I went out and bought it. So that was a year ago, and so I've been using contact microphones, and a lot of my stuff's transferred now to sounds of the real world. We're in a group together now, called "Comae" [released on Rhiz records].
> MR: You also use minidisc samples in your live set?
> JS: Yeah. My work is - I walk past my gear, and I stop for 5 mins and I potter on it, I put some records on or I rub something or I don't know what i do, and make a kind of one and a half minute 'event', I call it, and then I stick that on minidisc, and build it up over weeks and weeks.. So then you just put them on loop and thats a fantastic medium as well!
> MR: and then you've got some found sounds that are a part of your performance as well?
> JS: Yep. ...Well, the record seems to have been a focus for a while, and I'm looking at different ways of doing it... its been done before in a way, people put records in ovens, but I've kind of rationalised it and called it "Re-Molten Vinyl", because what i saw happening, as far as I'm concerned, was when you put in the oven it relaxes all the stresses imprinted into it and sort of returns to more of a natural state when it was hot originally - so each record does different things, there are some incredible old records that turn to biscuit texture...
# Shifted Centre Vinyl and "Wow"
My latest thing is shifted centre vinyl - where during the cutting process I drill a new hole next to the original spindle hole, and I cut the record around that off-centre hole - so when you get the 7 inch back (which is what i've just released), the actual track is asymmetrical on the circular disc. Its called Wow [Diskono Records, 2000] - its a two and a half minute sound collage of sounds that I've procured from drilling new holes, like the glissandi record,.. when you put it on the record deck the arm moves left to right, because its not tracking centrally, it makes it go "waaahaaahhaaaahaaa" which is a "wow" sound. So I collaged all these wow sounds together into a track, and I pressed it offcenter on this 7 inch, and then that plays back in a sort of "wahhaaahaaaa".....
> MR: .. so it adds further layers of "wow"...
> JS: Yeah. It totally dominates the track of wow sounds. Its a very technical project to get people to do these funny things, it takes time and energy and patience, but its worked.. Its released on Diskono Records, we've released 289 of them, and then as part of your purchase you also send an envelope back, and then 289 other versions of that are physically remixed - its called a Physical Remix - where we invite people [to remix it]... we send them free records and they physically alter the record in whatever way they want! My favourite one from the last series that they did was someone stuck a record to a record player and that was their physical remix - and you get the whole package back in the post! So everyone who bought the original gets one of these physical remixes for £1 postage costs. We're in the middle of that at the minute - Lowlands Distribution are selling that from the Netherlands.
# new experimental vinyl work with Phillip Jeck
Going on from there, I'm planning my next offcenter vinyl release with Phillip Jeck, who did "Vinyl Requiem" - an 180 self-amplified record player piece where he put them all on at the same time - he was my inspiration for kicking off this whole musical side of my sound-world. He's been doing it for 10 years or something , playing with old vinul, and he's still playing with old vinyl... He was my idol - I went to a concert - Panasonic, Phillip Jeck and Chris Watson, and this turned out to be everything I was ever interested in, really basic electronic vinyl manipulations and field recordings. So I went up and spoke to Phillip and it turned out my mum knew him and stuff and they were good friends - Mum used to be a dancer and they used to do performances and stuff with Phillip playing the music when i was a kid and stuff, and so thats why I invented the turntable - I saw Phillips work, I loved it and I didn't want to rip him off, so i thought how can you do what he's done but totaly opposite - so instead of doing 180 record players all at the same time I thought I'd do 1 record player with 3 arms on it!
> MR: sort of the inverse of what he's doing?
> JS: Yes. So i've always wanted to work with him and I got invited by Kraak Records (Belgium) to do a project with him, so I came up with this idea of doing the offcentre vinyl in an LP version - I havent cut it yet, so I dunno if its gonna happen but the idea is we're going to have lots of incomplete revulotions - so when you cut the record its gonna have several off-centre holes round a spindle , they all give different arcs on the disc, in different places, off-centre. So it'll go 3/4 around the groove, lets say, and then we'll take the stylus off, and build a collage of all these that overlap, that cut over each other, so it becomes a very textural thing to look at, but when you play it, the stylus will hit one groove, it'll come to an end, drift off through no-mans land, to another groove, hit that - it'll be completely chaotic. And there might be overlapping locked grooves which are complete revolutions - its quite complicated! But if that comes out thats a world Beta! >more...
-> the Triphonic Turntable
|->A live performance by Janek Schaefer and Phillip Jeck|