WITH PAPER RECORDS READ BY A HIGH-SPEED VIDEO CAMERA, THE DYSKOGRAF COMBINES DIGITAL AND ANALOG MUSIC-MAKING TOOLS INTO SOMETHING ENTIRELY UNIQUE.
Digital music consumption is chock full of metaphors related to the physical media that preceded it. We’ve seen MP3 players dubbed “jukeboxes,” tablet apps that let users scratch tiny virtual records with their fingertips, and digital booklets of album art that recreate the liner notes of the compact-disc era. Even the iTunes icon was based on a CD until it was updated just two years ago.
Dyskograf makes an interesting statement about this disparity by combining multiple forms of analog music-making with high technology to create something entirely new.
The creators call it a graphic disc reader. To create a song, users start by drawing on paper records with a felt-tip pen. A high-speed camera watches the disc as it spins, feeding the image to custom software that turns the sequence of markings into sounds based on their location on the platter. Inking in one concentric ring of the disc might produce a bass drum, another a snare. In the middle section of the disc, a squiggle turns into a synthesized bass line. In essence, it functions like a player-piano scroll, turntable, and digital sequencer in one–a high-tech way to reintroduce us to the low-tech media of yore while reconnecting with the physicality that was fundamental to listening in the vinyl era.
Jesse Lucas, who co-created the Dyskograf along with fellow members of the Avoka collective Yro and Erwan Raguenes, says it’s also about how physical media inexorably links music to the passage of time. “I think I realized it had so much importance when I first showed a five-year-old kid how a turntable works,” he told me. “For me it’s important to understand that music is about time, time that goes by, linear time … and digital mediums have broken that link to linear time. It’s too easy to jump, to cut, and to go somewhere else.” Of course, he admits, that temporal freedom has engendered new techniques, new sounds, and even entire new genres of music (Girl Talk would need a lot more patience if he were dubbing tapes). But “in the end,” Lucas says, “it’s all about finding a balance.”
In addition to appreciating music as something that occurs over time, the Dyskograf also reminds users of the permanence of physical media. When you’re noodling around in Garage Band, you can get rid of a mistake instantly with a keyboard shortcut. Not the case when you’re making music with a Sharpie. “People really learn a different way when they have to choose very carefully what they are doing,” Lucas explains.