Once you've learned to treat records as pliable sound sources--to be spun backward, skipped across, or interrupted--it's a short step to see them as sculptural objects. For over 20 years Christian Marclay has been shuttling back and forth between the two, part experimental DJ and part fine artist. Born in California but raised in Switzerland, Marclay returned to the States in 1977 for art school, then got caught up in New York's quixotic postpunk no-wave scene; since the early 80s he's been an integral part of that city's downtown improv community, working closely with John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, David Moss, and other key figures. Even though Marclay came up during the birth of hip-hop, he didn't absorb its sample-and-loop techniques, favoring instead noisy collage and abrupt juxtaposition. His style is rough and physical--he attacks his junk-shop turntables the way a thrash drummer might pummel his kit. He'll set a few LPs to skip by putting buttons of tape on their faces, then mix in a schmaltzy easy-listening record on yet another turntable, crank it up to a ridiculous speed with his hands, and suddenly shut the machine off; on another night he'll gouge an album across its grooves with the stylus or "play" a piece of vinyl by scraping it with his fingernail into a microphone. Marclay has sometimes treated the making of records as an artistic activity distinct from his performances--he's put out limited-edition LPs analogous to artists' books, and his classic 1985 solo release, Record Without a Cover (Recycled Records), redefined the scratches that accumulated on the unsleeved LP as a legitimate part of his music. The best (and perhaps only) way to sample Marclay's output from 1981 to '89 is the 1997 survey Records (Atavistic); a standout among his more recent recordings is the 1994 duo CD Live Improvisations (For 4 Ears), a dizzying round of 13 short, high-energy pieces with Swiss percussionist GŸnter MŸller, full of bright, crackling timbres and bursts of lightning-fast interaction. Marclay's 1999 outing with Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Fuck Shit Up (Victo), develops more gradually, even tectonically, with a single monolithic track taking up most of the disc. Though Marclay is a vital historic figure, he's somehow never played in Chicago before--the MCA will host his local debut under the rubric of a new exhibit featuring some of Marclay's newest sculptural, installation, and video work. He'll perform duets with an occasional partner, New York illbient DJ Toshio Kajiwara; Japanese turntable trio Bus Ratch will open. Friday, May 4, 8 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago; 312-397-4010.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paula Cooper Gallery.