The locked groove was introduced in the early days of vinyl record manufacturing for a purely practical reason – to prevent record-player needles from running onto the paper label if left unattended. These locks were silent.
Unintentionally locked grooves soon followed. Damaged vinyl records, in addition to skipping, sometimes had flaws that caused the needle to be pushed back repeatedly, creating a kind of accidental loop. Generally, that meant a trip back to the record shop for a replacement copy. (Today’s vinyl is no different; although the move to higher quality pressings has made this relatively rare.)
As studio technology advanced in the second half of the 20th century, the locked groove became one of a variety of innovative techniques incorporated into recordings. There’s no documentation of who did this first; The Beatles are generally credited with the initial execution on their 1967 release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Who followed suit with The Who Sell Out that same year.
In the decades that followed, the kind of repetition produced by the technique became increasingly popular across a variety of music styles. Electronic music is an obvious example.
A new recording by Shefield-born composer Adrian Corker showcases how effectively the concept can be applied to avant-garde music. The 20-minute EP features six gorgeous pieces that pair locked grooves with exceptional performances on violin, piano and percussion by Aisha Orazbayeva, Mark Knoop and Sam Wilson respectively. Josephine Stephenson contributes a looped vocal.
Graeme Durham recorded the looped sounds – originally onto acetate and then digitized. From the notes: “Because of the softness of the acetate the lock[ed] grooves break down as they are re-recorded causing unexpected effects as the needle carves away the surface of the vinyl. This generative process adds layers of unpredictable noise culminating finally in white noise.”
The result is superb. The meditative nature of the loops, balanced against the more traditional performances is neither fully linear nor circular. It is both at once. And on this disc, the combination is executed beautifully.