Christian Marclay

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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California-born, Switzerland-bred and New York-based turntablist Christian Marclay (1955) "composes", performs and improvises using phonograph records. He has applied John Cage's indeterminism and, in general, Dadaism's provocative principles of aesthetic demystification, to the civilization of recorded music. His music can be just a mechanism for letting a record evolve a sound over time (typically, by having people somehow degrade its sound), or it can be a distorted collage of other people's music.

Record Without a Cover (march 1985 - Recycled, 1985) was exactly that: a record sold with no cover and no jacket, so that it keeps deteriorating after every playing. The record itself contains a chaotic college of sounds, but one is left to suspect that the real music is the static noise picked up by the turntable's cartridge. It was followed by the limited-edition (50 copies) Record Without Grooves (Ecart, 1987).

Each of the tracks of More Encores (may 1988 - No Man's Land, 1989 - ReR, 1997) is made entirely of (processed, warped, distorted, damaged) records by the artist after whom the track is titled. The results of this "remix" process range from the quasi-satirical cacophony of John Zorn to the demonic exotic orgy of Martin Denny, from the static turntable noise of Louis Armstrong to the inevitably dadaistic skit of John Cage. Jimi Hendrix is transformed into musique concrete, and Christian Marclay himself is the subject of sonic torture in the last piece.

He remixed album covers for his series "Imaginary Records" (1988-97).

Other "recordings" include: Footsteps (RecRec, 1990), a totally random composition, the outcome of hundreds of people walking on a record; the Live Improvisations (june 1993 - For 4 Ears, 1994) with Guenter Mueller ; Records (Atavistic, 1997), which collects rare recordings from 1981-1989; Moving Parts (Asphodel, 2000), a turntable duo with Otomo Yoshihide; etc.

Berlin Mix (1993) was a simultaneous multi-concert "conducted" by Marclay, consisting of 180 musicians playing all sorts of different music (string orchestra, classical choir, hip-hop dj, accordion ensemble, samba band, instrumental soloist, klezmer duo, opera singers, funk group, string quartet, rock group and ethnic combos).

97 Is 97 (december 1997, released only 14 years later) features Christian Marclay on turntables & electronics and Elliott Sharp on 8-string guitarbass, bass clarinet & electronics.

Acoustiphobia Vol 1 (january 2000 - Sublingual, 2001) is a live improvisation among Ikue Mori and Christian Marclay and Elliott Sharp.

DJ Trio (november 2003 - Asphodel, 2004) contains improvisations with other turntablists.

Text Of Light (Starlight Furniture, 2004) is a collaboration among guitarists Alan Licht and Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo, turntablists Christian Marclay and DJ Olive, drummer William Hooker and saxophonist Ulrich Krieger. Text Of Light released the triple-disc Metal Box (2006), including the 58-minute 052202 Tonic/020103 RAW.

Guitar Drag (november 1999 - Neon Gallery, 2006) is the soundtrack to a video installation obtained by recording the noise of an electric guitar being dragged around behind a truck.

The six-movement Graffiti Composition (originally conceived in 1996) was recorded by an ensemble of guitarists (Elliott Sharp, Melvin Gibbs, Lee Ranaldo, Mary Halvorson, Vernon Reid). It is debatable who the author is: Marclay had the idea of posting blank posters around a city; random passers-by scribbled on the posters; Sharp used the posters as the score for the composition; and the performers, using their idiosyncratic languages at the instrument, are the ones who actually turned those meaningless signs into the music of the album.

Marclay's fame as a multimedia artist was growing exponentially. Video Quartet (2002) is a 14-minute, four-screen video montage made of 600 film clips taken from the history of cinema (basically, hyper-sampling applied to video). They are clips of people playing instruments, singing or just making noises. They are somewhat ordered and synchronized to create a music of their own; both a visual and an aural composition.

The interaction between visual and aural realms was later pushed to the extreme of recusion: Screem Play (2005) is a 29-minute collage of videos that becomes the score based on which improvisers play music, and that performance becomes in turn the film of which it is the soundtrack.

In 2010 Marclay created a large-scale installation at the Whitney Museum in which some 50 avantgarde performers (including Joan LaBarbara, Elliott Sharp, Alan Licht, Zeena Parkins) performed according to "scores" that were nothing else than piles of three-dimensional objects, while pianists such as Robin Holcomb improvised based on the "score" of a chalkboard on which the audience was invited to scribble or draw at will. Cage thought that all sounds are music. Marclay expanded that notion to every object: all images are possible notations for music.

Clock is a 24-hour video collage consisting of snippets from the history of cinema in which there is a clock or a watch. The snippets are ordered chronologically and in such a manner that the time displayed by the device is the time that the spectator is experiencing. Clock was a big sensation when presented in New York in february 2011.

The Afternoon Saints of Shirley Jangle (K-Raa-K, 2010) were turntablist Christian Marclay, Swiss percussionist Gunter Muller, Sonic Youth's guitarist Lee Ranaldo and bagpipe player David Watson.

djTRIO was a turntablist trio formed by Christian Marclay, Toshio Kajiwara and DJ Olive and documented on 21 September 2002 (Cuneiform, 2012): several minutes of gurgling extraterrestrial noise, a duet of electronica and samples of choral songs reminiscent of Stockhausen's Hymnen, a passage of vintage-sounding concrete music, an evocation of AM radio cacophony, and (on the second half) a throbbing sounds and industrial clangor, rounded up by an ominous rumble, skipping dance beats and classical music.

The 20-meter long Manga Scroll (2010), inspired by Japanese manga, worked both as a visual artwork and as a score of music, first performed by Joan La Barbara. The installation "Surround Sounds" (2014) was based on onomatopeic sound-words (words that mean a sound, such as "bang") found in comic books.

The 36-minute long piece of Amalgam (april 2014) was a live collaboration between Okkyung Lee on cello and Christian Marclay on turntables.

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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