Published on Culture 24
Stephen Cornford – Works for Turntable, Permanent Gallery, Brighton, until September 20 2009
It seems unlikely the record players on display will ever make another sound. In place of one slip-mat, for example, is a stone wheel and a marble has been harnessed to the stylus. It is surely beyond repair, yet on the side is a red button and on the wall a sign inviting visitors to go ahead and press it.
Surprisingly, it works. The stone wheel turns, the marble gets dragged around its spokes, and the whole thing is amplified by a speaker in the middle of the plinth. Each device is on a timer, and so the piece of music lasts about three minutes, the length of a perfect pop song.
There are eight customized turntables in the Permanent Gallery’s exhibition, all of which dispense with vinyl, instead playing a combination of springs, wires, marbles, ball bearings, bells and gravel. Tunes you can whistle are thin on the ground, but there are drones, rattles and rumbles aplenty.
But such avant-garde use of record players does have some precedent amongst musicians. French composer Edgard Varèse experimented with phonograph turntables in the 1930s. Then in 1939 John Cage composed a piece using two variable frequency turntables to accompany a piano and cymbals.
Cornford’s turntables are likewise designed for performance. Visit the gallery at 6pm on Saturday September 19 and you can see the artist present an evening of improvised sound. If you like what you hear, there is also a limited edition 7-inch single available to accompany the exhibition.
Nothing, however, beats trying them out for yourself. Press one red button and you have to press them all.