Making a Record, a new installation at New York’s Audio Visual Arts, doesn’t quite fit into any standard descriptor. It’s a document of a performance, a collection of jewelry, a storytelling archive, and a piece of audio art all at once.
To explain how this remarkable installation came about, it helps to know something about its makers, the Brooklyn artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson, who describe their practice as seeking "to give shape and physicality to the immaterial." Usually, that immaterial substance is sound. "Many of the ideas surrounding these transformations are inspired by the processes used to record, playback and encounter sounds," they explain.
But back to the AVA, and the conundrum of describing the multistage Making a Record in text (when really, it should be heard). The piece begins with four gemstones: a diamond, a ruby, an emerald, and a sapphire. Out of each stone, Dubbin and Davidson fashioned a small stylus to put in a Laquer cutting lathe. Then the duo invited a jeweler and gemologist to chat about the (fascinating) stories, culture, and science behind the four stones, recording her voice onto a blank record. These master records hang in the AVA gallery.
The four gemstones were given over to the jeweler Karen L. Davidson to be set in gold as pendants. Once complete, the artists sent the pendants to a group including an artist, a writer, a psychoanalyst, and a curator, who were asked to wear them and respond with a statement about their experiences. At AVA, their observations exist alongside the pendants, as Davidson’s authoritative voice echoes through the room. One wearer remarks that rubies aren’t anything like what Shakespeare described. Davidson discusses the phosphorescence of rubies, and why they glow in the dark after you turn off the light. The recordings go on for almost an hour.
There’s also something deeper here about stories and sound. We’re shown sound as it progresses from the vocal cords into the air, from the tip of a ruby stylus and into the grooves of a record. Then we watch those styli take on their own stories, out in the world, that come back in the form of observations about wearing them. Compared to the intangible packets of data that music arrives as these days, Making a Record is a throwback to a time when "cutting a record" actually meant cutting a record.
Making a Record closed on February 17, but you can still see (and listen to) the piece at AVA’s website.