In 1977, When NASA launched Voyager 1, one of the first unmanned missions to Saturn, the spacecraft carried a collection of curiosities that would give extraterrestrials an account of life on Earth. Included in this Life-As-We-Know-It starter kit was a single gold-plated copper phonograph record, dubbed the Golden Record, containing sounds of our world: a clap of thunder, the roar of a train engine, greetings spoken in 55 languages, and music ranging from Bach to Chuck Berry. Thirty-odd years later, Voyager 1 is still sailing about in the solar winds, but here on Earth, records and their players have recast themselves as analog survivors—and thrivers—in the digital era.
In fact, a growing band of enthusiasts have come a long way in exploring the outer boundaries of turntable design. Here, with needles worthy of the Golden Record, are six extra-stellar wares.
Artist Tom Sachs has made the turntables of every delinquent teenager’s dreams. For his 2002 show “Nutsy’s,” the bad boy of bricolage included a Technics turntable station constructed on wooden police barricades and a podium plastered with the presidential seal—though the most useful feature may have been the built-in bong holder (bong and lighter included). However, this wasn’t Sachs’s first artistic attempt at mixing substances and music: His 2000 piece White Ghetto Blaster is composed of a DJ deck with a fridge full of cold Kirin beer as the base.
Forget sheet music. In 2005, London-based designer Simon Elvins constructed a phonograph completely out of paper, creating a rolled cone to pick up and amplify sound. Driven by a hand crank and held together by glue—even the arm and needle are constructed out of paper—it’s a delicate and entirely wireless act of engineering.
Dutch artist Dennis de Bel is a madcap cross-pollinator. In the past, he has turned a vacuum cleaner into a playable harmonium (a Vacuumonium), and a city street into a musical instrument (by devising a record player that picks up vibrations from the pavement). But his strangest associative leap may be his fully functioning sewing-machine record player from 2007. This vintage Singer model’s needle is repurposed to play vinyl rather than stitch thread.
This one separates the vinyl spinners from the iPod scrollers. London-based industrial designer and musician Yuri Suzuki’s 2008 Prepared Turntable sprouts five arms, each possessed with an individual fader, so you can not only spin records, but—using DJ-friendly loop-groove vinyl—re-mix your own version at the same time.
For a 2006 show at Susanne Vielmetter in L.A., artist Sean Duffy sliced apart and spliced together three different turntables to create his Frankenstein piece, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, named after the classic 1966 Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Duffy spun the film’s Ennio Morricone score using all three tone arms at once, the different starting points chasing each other sonically around the record. The result is an eerie atmospheric sound, like old records coming back to haunt us.
Ron Arad’s iconic 1983 Concrete Stereo is the heavyweight of design turntables—literally. Working with blocks of concrete reinforced by wire, the master industrial designer poured the molds roughly, leaving the iron casing exposed. It lends a gritty, destructionist appeal to an instrument typically defined by its balance and finesse—the perfect turntable to spin the soundtrack of urban destruction.