Rutherford Chang is an artist who is also a record collector—which is to say, he collects a record: The Beatles’ White Album. To date, he has over 900 copies of the original 3 million-plus pressed when the 2-LP set was first released 1968, and has been presenting them as an art exhibition, We Buy White Albums. While the exhibit is primarily a visual experience, providing the opportunity to see the album in remarkably different states of decay (it will next be presented at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center in January), Chang recorded 100 copies, layering them on top of each other, and has now released the results on vinyl, too.
“I’m recording all the vinyl 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 when we first covered his art in February, 2013. “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.”
Rutherford Chang's We Buy White Albums art exhibit in Feb. 2013
Each record was played on a standard Technics SL1200 turntable, recorded as a single 48k .WAV file on a Tascam DR-100 digital recorder, then dropped into Logic 9. “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.”
Chang's 100x1 White Album Edition
Intending to show how every copy of the album “has been distinctly shaped by its history, both visually and sonically,” the double album’s packaging has also been layered. The gatefold jacket and record labels, too, are the result of dozens of scans opaquely placed atop each other. Underlining the differences between albums, the 2-LP set comes with a poster presenting the front cover of all 100 records. Chang briefly made the art project LPs available for purchase at the WFMU Record Fair in New York City, but the number pressed is purportedly unknown even to the artist himself.
While it’s undoubtedly a unique assemblage, the LP project falls into a gray area in terms of its legality. Perhaps hedging some bets, the runout grooves of the records themselves bear no markings or stamps to ID mastering labs or pressing plants involved in the project.
Whether the art project passes muster under Fair Use Doctrine may be subject to debate, but it certainly makes for a compelling listening experience.