Pro Audio exists to serve sounds—to create and preserve them so that they can be distributed and take on relevance beyond the spaces where they were created. Whether the audio is music, calls of an endangered bird species or some other transitory aural moment, its preservation leads to new micro-histories for the sounds as they are experienced in new, different contexts. But it also leads to journeys for the physical objects that contain the audio, too, whether they’re CDs, iPods or even old-fashioned LPs. It’s this last format that is the heart of a new art installation in New York City, We Buy White Albums. Exploring the idea of fleeting sounds traveling in a physical world, artist Rutherford Chang has collected 693 first-pressings of the Beatles’ White Album in various states of decay, and is recording them individually, bringing the ephemeral experience of hearing their sounds full circle, back to their origins in pro audio.
Presented at Recess Gallery in SoHo through March 9, We Buy White Albums presents the expansive collection and finds Chang both photographing the aged sleeves—often personalized by their previous owners with paintings, doodles, poems and more—and documenting the vinyl itself, now battered after decades in the wild.
Rutherford Chang with his massive collection of first-pressing White Albums.
“I’m looking at the way the record has aged,” Chang explained. “The Beatles’ White Album is totally iconic with its all-white cover, but now 45 years later, they’ve all become these super-unique objects, both the cover and the vinyl. The vinyl’s all warped and scratched in different ways.”
Those scars of existence are a key part of the audio side of the project. “I’m recording all the vinyls for the purpose of pressing a new vinyl which will be all of these recordings layered on top of each other with all of the skips and scratches,” said Chang. “You can hear all the differences between the albums as you play them, because it will start out with each side synched, and as it plays, they’ll go out of phase so it’ll be a gradual process.”
Each record is played on a standard Technics SL1200 turntable at the installation, recorded as a single 48k .WAV file on a Tascam DR-100 digital recorder, then dropped into Logic 9. Ironically, recording them digitally is intended to highlight the albums’ analog nature.
“It’s really about the physicality of the vinyl medium—that these are all unique objects,” said Chang. “That’s something that’s gone now with digital music…. These are all unique objects that change and play differently each time and have their own history.”