Saturday, June 7, 2008

Vinyl Photography - Husker Du's Zen Arcade

I was working on the ol' blog yesterday afternoon, trying to fix a problem - which I'll come to shortly - when I happened to notice a very photogenic scenario occuring beside me on my record player. The evening sun was coming in through a gap in the curtains, across the turntable and almost exactly in line with the tone arm. Since photography - well, okay, mostly landscape photography - is all about seizing the lighting opportunities, I got up and got my camera - and here are a selection of the results.

The record in question is probably impossible to identify from most of the pictures, but it is Husker Du's Zen Arcade (Side B to be specific). I saw this on a random trip to Tower Records and just couldn't resist picking it up, a double LP - with black, white, silver and gold labels for each of the sides respectively. I've written about Metal Circus before, but this is the pinnacle of Husker Du's output, and a pinnacle of 80s punk/hardcore in general.

Zen Arcade is not just a hardcore double album with experimental tendencies, but a forerunner of 'emo' in the explicitly personal lyrics and leave-home concept running through it. It is that emotional fierceness which is mirrored in the sonic experimentation, blistering hardcore of songs like 'Indecision Time', 'Something I Learned Today' or 'Beyond the Threshold' mixed with odder sounds that Metal Circus only hinted at, such as 'Hare Krsna', 'The Princess and the Tooth Fairy' or the transcendcent 'Dreams Reoccuring'/'Reoccuring Dreams'.

Zen Arcade is an extremely atmospheric hardcore album - not 'atmospheric hardcore' in terms of, I don't know, Jesu - but in the way that it has a sound which winds its way into your head, and sticks with you for weeks. A sprawling behemoth of a hardcore record by most usual standards, it generates its own captivating atmosphere for the hour-plus-long journey it takes you on.

Given the colourful, distinctive album cover, an arresting montage of neon, textured pastel colours and roughshod hardcore text, these photographs seem a little disconnected. Blues and yellows rather than pink and blues, but all it really is the context in which the album is playing out. Vinyl is photogenic because it offers a reflective surface, as it plays - unlike a CD, for example, which is locked away when playing and elsewhere has a brash, gaudy iridescence insensitive to subtler moods. The glow on the record, and the straight shadow of the metallic tone arm is here combined with the reflections on the dust cover and the shaft of sunlight, again on the dust-shield (unsurprisingly, covered in dust - which builds up pretty quickly, and is pretty obvious when the sun shines on it).


Feedtime's Shovel, by Brushback

I took this wonderful picture from Brushback's One Base On An Overthrow, where he posts tracks from old punk, hardcore and indie records on a particularly regular basis, and always with a shot of the vinyl at the end. This record is Feedtime's Shovel LP from 1986, and apparently it's 'filthy'.

Like me, he obviously likes the photographic appearance of vinyl, although I have a personal distrust of flash. I'm especially proud of my b&w capture of Slint's Spiderland (which appears, in abridged form, as one of the rotating headers for this blog) and also the washed out, wintery blue picture of Dan Deacon's Spiderman of the Rings. Not sure how much further mileage I will get out of this category, but I reckon opportunities probably will crop up, exactly as they have done in this case.


Husker Du - Zen Arcade SST, 1984

Husker Du - Zen Arcade

('Masochism World' and 'Standing By The Sea' from the end of Side B - i.e., the soundtrack to the above photos; and the entirety of Side D - 'Turn on the News' and 'Reoccuring Dreams' - all ripped from the vinyl for maximum authenticity!)


Brushback said...

Hey, cool!

I never thought to photograph through a dustcover. Of course, my current (crappy USB) turntable doesn't have a dustcover, so that's part of the reason why.

Bouncing a flash off vinyl can give some pretty neat effects; you can make rainbows and stuff, though all that extra flash tends to wash out the record label.

gabbagabbahey said...

yeah, I like the iridescence in the flash - but then there's something pure about the sunlit too.

the cool thing about the dustcover is that it's slanted at the front, so the rounded edge gives a distorted effect to the reflection.

josephlovesit said...

Great pictures! Glad you captured them.