Silent Grooves

by John Harvey

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‘Silent Grooves’ refers to a band (or track) by that title on a vinyl disc, released in 1967, designed to help domestic audiophiles correctly set-up their stereo-record players. The disc enabled listeners ‘to check record playing equipment without the need for … expensive and complicated instruments’. Specifically, the band provided a means ‘to detect how much rumble and hum is present’ when the disc is played. It consists of grooves on which nothing had been recorded. All that can be heard is the low-frequency noise of the turntable’s motor (the rumble) and the electrical noise emitted by the amplifier (the hum).

The concept of the silent ‘band’ inadvertently summons John Cage’s music composition ‘4’33”’ (1952). For the duration of the piece, the performer refrains from playing anything. The listener’s attention is, instead, directed to the ambient noises arising within the context of the performance. Likewise, the auditory experience of ‘Silent Grooves’ is determined by the noises made by the particular audio equipment under scrutiny. Thus, the composition and the band sound markedly different depending on either where or what they are played. Over half-a-century has passed since the disc was pressed. Static and small scratches have accumulated. The grooves’ ‘silence’ is, now, far more relative: the listener hears the rumble and hum through surface noise.

The sound sources for my composition (which is the same length as the original band) derive from a turntable, a DJ mixer’s preamps, and the grooves’ wear and tear. Their sonorities have been amplified considerably. Halfway through the piece, there is an interval of ‘true’-relative silence. It corresponds to the performance of a comparative test, suggested by the disc’s sleeve notes. The listener was instructed to lift the tone-arm off the disc’s surface and lower it again in order to discern where the noises were emanating: from either the motor drive or the electronics of the player

credits

released April 11, 2020
Personnel: John Harvey

Instrumentation: Adobe Audition Creative Cloud, Allen & Heath Xone:23C mixer, and Stanton ST.150 turntable.

Context: Composed and recorded in Aberystwyth, UK, 7-10 April 2020.

Source: 'How to Give Yourself a Stereo Check-Out', London: Decca, 1967.

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John Harvey Ceredigion, UK

Harvey is a historian of art, visual culture, and sound art, and also a sound- and visual-art practitioner. His research field is the visual and sonic culture of religion, principally. He explores non-iconic attitudes to visualization and sonic articulations of religion by engaging visual, textual, and audible sources, theological and cultural ideas, and systemic and audiovisualogical processes. ... more

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