Playing the Record Lathe: Vinyl Record Cutter as Musical Instrument




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This thesis argues that the vinyl disc cutting lathe, a machine which is traditionally used in the manufacture of records, can in fact be used for the creation of music as well as for its reproduction. This practice-based research utilises the Vinyl Recorder T560, identifying thirteen disc cutting techniques which can be used in music composition, revealing the breadth of phonography as an artistic discipline. The lathe can be played to create rhythm, modulate pitch, generate noise and shape timbre, with disc cutting techniques enhancing and exploiting vinyl noise as musical material. Through a body of creative work I situate my own contemporary account of using a vinyl lathe as a musical instrument within a 21st century studio environment. Taking Thomas Edison’s 1887 invention of the phonograph as the starting point, I survey examples of phonographic history, which reveal that the creative potentials for the record cutting lathe have been theorised and experimented with from the very beginning. While similar results can be achieved with tape and digital audio sampling, composing with the vinyl lathe has a unique set of compositional methods and its own idio-sound. The portfolio includes seventeen pieces of music, live performance documentation, a catalogue of recordworks and a video introduction to the work. The thesis is split into distinct chapter themes, which I will summarise below: 1. Vinyl Object: traces a history of phonography from Edison’s experiments in 1870s to the Gramophonmusik of Ernst Toch and Paul Hindemith in 1930, the 1948 etudes of Pierre Schaeffer, the dubplates played by Jamaican sound systems, the battle tools of the hip hop DJ and the illbient remixes of artists including DJ Olive. Identifying that throughout the phonographs history artists have developed phonomanipulative practices as part of their compositional processes. This sets the ground for conversations that extend into the use of phonography and phonomanipulation in turntablism, sound art, noise, glitch, techno and experimental music in the subsequent chapters. 2. Vinyl Noise: addresses the noisiness of the vinyl record. When sounds are recorded to vinyl, they are altered by the sonic characteristics of the recording process itself. Vinyl’s surface noise can be increased during both disc cutting and playback, creating noise artifacts, glitches and what can be considered as cracks in the media. Through both theoretical discourse and practice, I demonstrate that vinyl has its own idio-sound, which can be manipulated during the record cutting process itself. 3. Vinyl Performance: identifies two approaches to vinyl performance: performing records; and performance with records. Any playing of a record can be considered a performance in its own right. The performative aspects of record playback can be manipulated during the record cutting stage to create performing records that interact with the playback equipment to create musical outcomes. The performance potentials of the vinyl record can be further exploited through techniques such as mixing and scratching. Through analysis of the portfolio piece Vinyl Minimalism I demonstrate how vinyl cutting can be used within the wider context of vinyl performance. 4. Vinyl Minimalism: focuses on two areas of vinyl minimalism found in the locked groove and ‘silent’ records. Through analysis of records by NON, Jeff Mills and Carsten Nicolai I assess the locked groove as a compositional device and argue that it is an ideal tool for minimalist music. This is further demonstrated through an explication of the portfolio pieces MK Long, Corey Locked Grooves and Piece for Cello and Locked Groove. I analyse ‘silent’ records by Yann Leguay, Stephan Goldmann, Carsten Nicolai concluding that silent records reveal the medium’s material structure.





Research Institute