London musician Aleksander Kolkowski is giving new life to a dying musical format—by turning it into an even older format. His idea: repurpose the compact disc to play like its musical predecessor, the vinyl record. “I’m taking the optical digital back to analogue,” he says.
Using a modified Wilcox-Gay Recordette—a 1950s home stereo and recording device—Kolkowski cuts grooves into a CD, making it playable on a turntable. The re-engineered CD plays at 45 rotations per minute for up to two minutes and 50 seconds. The audio result is “a nice, warm sound, like it’s been remastered through an overdriven tube amplifier.”
Any digital or audio input, including a microphone, can be connected to Kolkowski’s customized device—which means he can put whatever song, sound, or voice recording he chooses onto the CD to be played like a record. To do this, the input device sends an electrical signal to a needle on the Recordette which cuts an exact waveform representation of the sound onto the CD like the arm of a record player working in reverse. It renders the original data on the disc unreadable, but etches into the disc something new and often spontaneous.
At a handful of public appearances across Europe, Kolkowski has produced recordings of everything from throat singers to a marriage proposal. He says it's most fun to work with people performing live and off-the-cuff directly into the microphone, while some bring memory sticks with audio they've prepared in advance, and on one occasion he was given a CD from which he ripped a song to his laptop and then cut the song back onto the same CD.
“It’s transforming a disposable media storage device made for cloned copying into a one-of-a-kind cult object,” he states. But that’s not to say he’s too precious about the whole thing. “In a way, it's very tongue in cheek. There's a lot of fetishism about vinyl, but I see this as quite throw-away, really. I do it for free. People bring a CD and I give them one in return. On a few occasions people have asked me to go into commercial production, but that’s not really my intention.”