There are your average stupid records—Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, most of Seals & Crofts’ catalog—and then there are your really stupid records, musical artifacts utterly bereft of any reason to exist other than to showcase their own uselessness.
These are the cacophonous curios that get played for a full 20 seconds before your theretofore pleasant company turns sour and pleads: “For the love of Peter Dinklage, turn it off.”
I am drawn to these records. On my shelves is a record of hundreds of manipulated Pachinko machines; a record of compact discs smashed with hammers, glued back together and played, skipping, in a CD player; and a record with 1,000 separate lock grooves that repeat 1,000 different sound loops, depending on where you drop the needle.
Rutherford Chang has just created my new favorite stupid record, and ironically, it’s made from what is many peoples’ favorite record of all time: The Beatles’ White Album.
Chang, who lives in New York City, runs an exhibition at Recess gallery in SoHo called We Buy White Albums. He sells nothing, and buys only first-edition copies of the White Album. His exhibition is set up like a record store, stocked with hundreds of copies of the White Album, arranged by the chronological number stamped on the front cover.
Chang doesn’t want pristine collector’s copies, instead preferring the many drawings, poetry and other errata that young Beatlemania-afflicted baby boomers opted to scrawl onto the blank canvas of the album’s cover while listening to “Revolution 9” in the Nixon era.
Early this year, Chang posted online an mp3 of 100 copies of the White Album played simultaneously. At the first chords of “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” the sound echoes boldly, covered in a patina of pops and scratches from 100 old records. But because of the fluctuations in pressing, and variations in turntable speed, the records slowly, over the course of Side A, play slightly off from each other. “Dear Prudence” sounds like it’s sung by a chorus of ghosts. “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is a total mess. “Wild Honey Pie” is barely recognizable, awash in noise.
And yet Chang has recorded all four sides of the White Album this way, following in the footsteps of other musicians who’ve presented intentionally faulty playback as art, such as Stefan Wolpe, John Cage, Jim Kirby and William Basinski. Just this week, he put up for sale professionally manufactured vinyl copies of his experiment as its own standalone record: 100 copies of the Beatles’ White Album played at the same time, condensed into one album. The cover, above, is a composite of 100 albums from his collection, complete with handwritten names, drawings and tape on the edges.
He’s selling copies of his record for $20, and you might want to buy it before it gets shut down for copyright infringement—that is, if you love stupid records as much as I do. Get one at at 100whitealbums.tumblr.com.