Anyone who's ever struggled to get the paper sleeve back into a vinyl record's cardboard cover knows how physically interactive listening to records can be, and that's what vinyl record artist Michael Dixon likes about them. Utilizing a diverse array of materials and intentionally overcomplicated packaging, Dixon uses 1940s record cutting lathes to make hand-cut record editions that are works of art in themselves.
His unique approach to record production has led Dixon to work with adventurous artists like The Flaming Lips and Aerial Pink to produce limited edition records cut into unorthodox materials like upcycled plexiglass, laserdiscs, picnic plates, CD-Rs, mirrors, placemats, X-rays, and even 90% cacao chocolate.
"I'm always on the hunt for found materials at yard sales, thrift stores, and roadside trash piles. I love finding stacks of weird paper, discarded insurance company portfolio folders, gift boxes, floor linoleum, X-rays, old books, etc. and letting them inspire a release. Then I'll approach a band with the concept and we will collaborate on the idea from there. I also use my releases as an excuse to learn a new skill: letter pressing, silkscreening, paper making, marble painting, woodworking, etc," Dixon tells Creators.
Back in 2005, Dixon started a record label to release his own home recording projects and began getting records made by Peter King, who he calls "the short-run lathe cut record Godfather." And before long, Dixon was making these hand-cut records himself. "After learning about his process, I became obsessed with buying and learning how to use these 1940s-era radio station record cutters. I began buying broken machines on eBay and at thrift stores, and after thousands of hours of tinkering, I finally began getting decent results and cutting my own releases," explains Dixon.
One of Dixon's experimental projects is a series of records he calls Eulerian Circles, which are discs that have multiple center holes, creating the look of a Venn diagram on a clear surface. These records play entirely different recordings depending on which center hole is centered on a record player. "You have to work pretty hard to figure out which groove set goes to which spindle hole, and change them every song," says Dixon, who really only discovered the process by accident. "I drilled out the center spindle holes of 100 discs using a drill bit that was one size too large. Rather than just throwing way $150 worth of plastic, I drilled the correct size hole on either side of the oversized hole with the plan to use them as tester discs for calibrating the record lathes. The result turned into a psychedelic effect of overlapping grooves," Dixon explains.
In addition to materials and cutting techniques, Dixon likes to play with his record's packaging and often conjures up ways to increase the the complexity of the interaction between the listener and the record. "One of my favorite tricks is to ship records that are incomplete packages that they have to customize before I ship them the rest of the package. I've done a few records that had black and white covers but included markers or watercolors for the buyer to use to paint in the design. Once they email me a photo of their finished design, I send them the second bonus disc of the set," says Dixon. But the point of these interactions isn't just to make the listener jump through hoops, Dixon wants listeners to question the kind of relationship they have with the records they buy.
He says, "I love the idea of someone having to make the choice between owning an incomplete, but pristine record or having a record that is drawn on, but has all the discs. I think by coloring on the cover, you are not only making it your own, but you are committing to owning it."
Despite having put out hundreds of releases and experimental projects, Dixon continues to be motivated by the experiences that drew him to records in the first place. "When I was a teenager buying punk 7"s and CDs from touring bands, I always gravitated towards the personal nature of a silkscreened or even poorly Xeroxed sleeve, CDs packaged in cases made from beer/cereal boxes, that kind of thing. The fact that a real human had made and assembled this (often ramshackle) product, as opposed to a huge automated machine, really made me connect with both the object and the music much more deeply."
See more of Michael Dixon's vinyl record art and numerous editions he's put out on his website.