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Making a Paper Record - a record without prior acoustic information

Published onJun 27, 2022
Making a Paper Record - a record without prior acoustic information

Workshop Title

Making a Paper Record - a record without prior acoustic information

Description (up to 750 words)

“I have suggested to change the gramophone from a reproductive instrument to a productive one, so that on a record without prior acoustic information, the acoustic information, the acoustic phenomenon itself originates by engraving the necessary Ritchriftreihen (etched grooves).” [1]

In 1923, Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy made the above proposal to produce a record without inputting acoustic information. At the time, it was simply a provocative idea. A century later, the idea can be realized on several materials, including paper, wood, and acrylic, owing to mature vinyl audio recording technology and current personal fabrication tools [2][3].

With our approach, instead of using a recording of the music, we computationally drew a waveform with a common vector graphics application, namely, Adobe Illustrator, by calculating the frequency of every note of the music. The result is horizontally engraved on a paper with a portable cutting plotter. The outcome will be played with an analog record player by each participant.

A characteristic of the work is the lack of original sounds (the outcome is not a literal record). It is reminiscent of the 1930s practices of Rudolf Pfenninger and Oskar Fischinger, who produced sounds, such as sine and square waves, without recordings. Of course, our technique differs from theirs in the use of computational vector lines instead of optical patterns.

The workshop consists of three parts in two or three sessions corresponding to the time zone differences: A: Historical background, B: Making a paper record, and C: Performance.

A. Historical background - 40min 

At the beginning of the session, we provide an introduction of the core concepts addressed during the course. We develop a short historical trajectory of analog record from its beginning such as Phonoautograph in 1858, Phonograph in 1878, and Gramophone in 1887, through its active acceptance in music from DJ culture to recent experimental music/sound art such as Milan Knizak, Paul DeMarinis, and the work of organizers. Theoretical and artistic concern about mechanical/musical reproduction and its consumption is discussed at the above. Further, the latest achievements in personal fabrication / maker movement / DIWO culture such as 3D printed record, CD based cutting machine, and DIY turntables are introduced as an indicator of coming environment in our community. Technical information about vector graphics and cutting plotters is also presented here. 

* 00:00 - 00:10: Opening + Registration + Introduction of organizers + Participants introduce themselves each other 

* 00:10 - 00:25 Introduction of concepts + Analog Record - early experiments, through musical fulfillments, to extreme achievements + Personal fabrication - spread of ideas, alternative of mass production, inter relationships in ‘social’ creativity 

* 00:25 - 00:40: Introduction to technologies + Vector graphics - etching groove in graphical way + Cutting machines - how the machines work 

B. Making a paper record - 80min 

In this session, participants make a simple locked groove style (i.e. concentric circle) analog record with Adobe Illustrator and a cutting plotter (brought by the organizer). We provide an instruction booklet for participants. The booklet has step-by-step instructions. Each instruction indicates how to graphically fabricate the part of the record such as using zigzag effect to make a wave form. Following the booklet, participants create a data of a record for cutting. The data will be remotely sent to the organizer, and the organizer cut each data with a cutting plotter on their site. After the cut, the organizer tests the record with a turntable. While the session, the organizer remotely answers questions and provide assistance. 

  • 00:00 - 00:10 General description of following process and introduction of booklet

  • 00:10 - 00:50 Making a Paper Record - following the booklet 

  • 00:50 - 1:20 Cut - cutting the data + Play - testing the result 

C. Performance - 30min 

The performance is carried out by the organizer. The results (i.e., paper records) will be played together in back to back (playing together) style as a public online performance. After the performance, the organizer will ask postal address for each participant, and will send their paper records as postal cards. We also expect to share all resulted records as a compilation with a form of ZINE (PDF) and provide to other attendees of NIME2022 through the workshop website

  • 0:00 - 00:20 Performance with the records

  • 00:20 - 00:30 Wrap up. 

This workshop provides an opportunity for participants to explore A: alternative use of their computational graphical tools (i.e., Adobe Illustrator) for a musical purpose without coding, as well as B: the basic of personal fabrication through the use of cutting plotter with a paper and mature audio technologies. 


  1. László Moholy-Nagy. 1923/1989. New Plasticism in Music. Possibilities of the Gramophone. In Broken Music: Artists’ Recordworks, Ursula Block and Michael Glasmeier (Eds.). Berliner Kunstlerprogramm des Daad and gelbe Musik, Berlin, Germany, 53-58.

  2. Kazuhiro Jo. 2014. The role of mechanical reproduction in (what was formerly known as) the record in the age of personal fabrication. Leonardo Music Journal 24: MIT Press, 65–67.

  3. jojporg, How to make a record without prior acoustic information, instructables,, 2013.

Short Description (up to 70 words)

Through the workshop, each participant will remotely make a paper record without prior acoustic information by their hands and mind. Each result will be cut and performed by the organizer and sent to each participant as a postal card. The workshop will consist of a historical review of sound recording technologies in conjunction with a making-of paper record as well as a short online performance with the results by the organizer.


Kazuhiro Jo

Kazuhiro Jo (Ph.D. in design) is a practitioner with a background in acoustics and interaction design. He has been presenting his practices at museums and festivals, as well as papers with his projects such as “The SINE WAVE ORCHESTRA”, “phono/graph”, and “life in the groove”. Currently, he works as an associate professor in the Department of Acoustic Design at Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan as well as an advisor (part-time) at Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM].

Preferred Length of Workshop

Two and half hours for each session (around 10-20participants for each) includes breaks.

Technical and Space Requirements

We anticipate having the workshop through an online meeting tool (e.g., zoom) by sharing the desktop and audio.

Each participant should have a PC/Mac with Adobe Illustrator (CS3 or later). *A trial version is fine.

A cutting plotter and a standard analog DJ set (Two turntables e.g., Technics SL-1200 series, One DJ mixer) are provided by the organizer.

Links to Supporting Media (optional)

Example of instruction booklet:

Example of performance:

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