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Quote of the Week: The Turntable as Metaphor

In an interview with Greg J. Smith at Serial Consign (serialconsign.com), artist/educator Jeremy Hight talked about his work in and on locative art, especially the piece “34 North 118 West,” which Hight has described as “a generative narrative that relies on outdoor wireless internet connection to tell a story specific to user location.”

Hight shared, in the following description, a part of the project that didn’t make its final cut:

“The analogy was of putting a needle on a record, but at random. The needle is a point, a place and it moves and the record is also a place and it moves, yet both can be held still. When you drop that needle and that random sound emerges it was recorded at a specific time, and of a certain moment, people playing etc, but it also defies time as long as it can be heard, or triggered really. So”¦ a place is the same, and any place has many such moments, people, places, events and they can be also be subtle, humble, quiet, and yet important. “We used to talk to people about 34 North”¦ as also a story of the quiet moments, lost moments and their resonance and how it could even be the hidden ones, suppressed ones, or what what was not seen as ‘history’ by the media or the sexy semiotic of celebrity and big events. What about local people ? What about jobs no one remembers? What of the Latina women in the 1940s who helped build a city and no one remembers them now? A city can have a botoxed face, the past can often be obscured or lost. I walked out of the Downtown library one afternoon dazed after hours of looking at microfiche of newspaper articles from the early 20th century. It hit me finally with full force that this was not only a new kind of writing (progressing from many other forms of course”¦ not out of the blue) but more so it was to give places a voice. It was an odd feeling seeing something so big and knowing that it does not exist yet and how grandiose it would sound to call it such.”

The emphasis for Hight is the democratizing potential of locative art to store memories that, in the past, would have lost ground to more pervasive narratives. But what’s worth focusing on as well is his artful employment of the turntable as a metaphor. (The two paragraphs appear as one in the original text of the interview, but I divided them in order for the part about the turntable to have its own space for consideration, without losing sight of the larger context.)

The turntable has quickly gone from fact to metaphor, from consumer product to idea. Much of the turntable’s artistic impact these days is visual and nostalgic, usually a mix of the two. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the turntable’s iconic form in all its variations, but its physicality contained meaning, and that meaning can persist, can inform, even if the tool itself has largely been set aside. What’s beautiful about Hight’s insight about the turntable is his sense of the symbolism built into the device’s tactile, haptic reality. He locates in the vinyl record an origin point for locative art (as he says, the art is “progressing from many other forms”), how the turntable coordinated sound and place, aural and physical.

Read the full interview at serialconsign.com. More on “34 North 118 West” at 34n118w.net. Hight’s collaborators on the project were Jeff Knowlton, Naomi Spellman, and Brandon Stow. More on Hight at airstory.blogspot.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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