Our party of six, including artist Xaviera Simmons and Trevor Schoonmaker, curator of “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl,” bustled into the WUNC-FM radio station. As we joined members of the band Superchunk, my day seemed to be starting normally. However, just as I was taking the artists’ coffee orders and making a mental note that soymilk is definitely still hip, an entirely unexpected challenge presented itself. “The State of Things” radio program about The Record exhibition and Superchunk was about to start, and someone needed to play a record during the show. I happened to be the only person available.
I had never seen a turntable up close. Xaviera showed me how to move the needle into the “grooves,” as the disc spun, making it look easy. I tried to play a song, following her example. “Zzzzt!” The middle of a song started playing. Xaviera asked if I was able to see the grooves. Genuinely puzzled by the machine, I suddenly realized how my parents must feel trying to navigate my MacBook. Grooves? I thought, What are these “grooves” they speak of? I tried tilting my head and bending down next the record, hoping the light would catch it in a new way and the grooves would be blatantly obvious. I had no such luck.
Eventually I thought I knew where they were. I then had a couple of successful needle drops and one that was far too heavy, which I learned from the cringes of the adults around me. Apparently, the needle is not supposed to bounce. The show was starting.
The host Frank Stasio began by talking about “The Record” exhibition and records in general. He also played a TV news clip from 1989, in which a reporter announced that records were officially becoming antiques. When it was finally time for me to play Xaviera’s song, I took a deep breath and steadied my hands. Then, I raised the needle and put it on the first groove. “Zzzzt!” Actually, I put it somewhere between the first groove and the edge of the record. My fingers felt large and clumsy compared to the delicate machine, but I scrambled to try again and got the needle on the song.
The host was amused. “You’ve never done this before, have you Chrissy?” he asked. He was right; I hadn’t.
In fact, I was born the year of the newscast announcing the antiquity of the record.
Listen to the podcast of the “State of Things” episode here.
IMAGE: Duke students check out records on turntables in the “Cover to Cover” installation, part of “The Record” at the Nasher Museum. Photo by Dr. J Caldwell.