Maria Chavez Listens to, Rather Than Through, Vinyl Surface Noise

Check out her transfixing "Kids- TRIAL 18 (Unfinished)."


“[E]ven without engaging the motor one can still create interesting sounds simply by placing the needle on the surface area of the platter and turning up your volume. It becomes a giant contact mic, reacting to the physical sonic characteristics of whatever you place on top of it. This versatility, along with countless other little features that the turntable provides, makes the turntable a valuable instrument in my opinion. Vinyl is a detail to me, a sound vocabulary that I can manually manipulate.” That’s sound artist and turntablist Maria Chavez explaining, early last year, to Kristin Iversen of both why and how the turntable is central to her sonic activities.

You can hear Chavez’s exploratory efforts in “Kids- TRIAL 18 (Unfinished),” a transfixing mix of brittle, foregrounded surface noise and warped, melancholic melody. The vinyl static and buzzy textural imperfections are like hard cold icy rain hitting the window of a parked car, as heard from the inside. That sound is precise and sharp and it comes in clusters, each wave suggesting that maybe just maybe the flurry of noise will finally recede, until the ear eventually makes peace with the fact that the noise is the music. For Chavez, that vinyl noise is what you listen to, not what you listen through. You listen for its patterning, its physicality, the slight variations in timbre, volume, and depth.

Amid that dusty precipitate in “Kids- TRIAL 18 (Unfinished)” is a soft, narrow melody, a mere riff that is repeated, cut up, looped, and heard in varying degrees of completeness, both forward and backward. It gives the ear enough familiar song-like content to satisfy an underlying, culturally accumulated need for something tonal, but it is by no means sufficient on its own. It is there as a foil for the surface noise of the vinyl, something that it purposefully never comes close to rising above.

Track originally posted at More from Chavez at,, and Photo by Maggie Shannon, from an article at

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