Not surprisingly, the majority of 3D printing applications are pretty mundane, taking over assembly lines and monotonously manufacturing car parts and the heels of shoes. However, innovator Amanda Ghassaei has recently used 3D printing in a way that makes us fantasise about a DIY music revolution, a futuristic step back into the old school, a step towards putting music industry suits back on their toes.
Pushing the limits of 3D printing technology, Ghassaei has created a program for converting virtually any format of audio file into printable 33s. Her prototype recordings of Nirvana and the Pixies are printed on a high-resolution Objet Connex500 and are fully functional on standard record players. The album doesn’t fly out of the printer like pages out of a LaserJet but rather the record and its grooves are created by laying down layers upon layers of resin. Although ‘high-resolution’ does imply a superior quality, the larger grooves, redolent of Edison’s first phonograph, emit noisier audio signals and thus produce a resolution much lower than modern microgroove records.
There is no question that the project is visually and conceptually titillating, but the sound quality makes a futuristic innovation seem quite primitive. A drastic evolution of the music box becomes a mature reinvention of the Fisher Price record players of the 90’s. However, for Amanda the technology doesn’t mean to profess its potential for high-volume manufacturing. Nor does it attempt to replace conventional record production. With the eventual introduction of higher resolution printers, refined techniques and as the quality of materials increase, she hopes that independent artists and “tinkerers” will begin to experiment with the technology in creative ways. Perhaps the implementation of printed vinyl will follow the suits of colour pressings or, more eccentrically, Nicholas Jaar’s Prism Music Box, as a novelty but with the purpose of providing a unique listening experience.
Sadly, 45 fans and aspiring record labels will not be printing their own records anytime soon without considerable investment. One album, with the capacity to hold six minutes worth of music, will set you back 200 quid just for materials as well as producing nearly indecipherable audio. However, it would be hardly shocking if 3D record printing eventually exploited our culture’s current obsession with 35mm and medium format photography and became another hipster playground. But until then, perhaps the frivolous future of 3D record printing belongs amongst designer portfolios and pin blogs with its cousin the BurittoBot.Jessica Roberts