Monthly Archives: October 2013

User-Generated Time

A YouTube user (whose name I never bothered to learn) posted several videos of his vinyl collection.  The set-up was always the same: stationary camera facing an open turntable, next to which the cover of whatever album was playing sat.  A lone white-hot desk lamp, shining against a blank white wall.  No movement, except for the needle crawling across the disc.  The music was always subdued, cool-colored: trip-hop or low-key electronic.

The entire album played through in this way, the unseen user flipping the disc to side two when appropriate.  The sound was full.  The visuals empty.  You could hear the pops and hisses.  I would listen to the videos while typing papers, for background music.  When I got stuck on a word or a sentence, I would click to the video’s window and watch the emptiness.  Try to spot variations of light on the spinning vinyl.  Watch the needle move, like the minute hand on a clock.  Let my eyes wander between the featureless black shadow at the bottom of the frame and the featureless white glow of the lamp and the hot spot on the wall.  The desk lamp had a bottom joint that glowed blue, to match the sound.

Why was I so hypnotized by this image?  It probably reminded me of lying in bed as a teenager, listening in the dark with headphones on.  It whispered to me of the immense pleasures of doing nothing.

I admired the work that went into these videos.  The user seems to always stay with the record just off-camera until the end, sitting, listening, watching for mistakes.  In the video above, the record starts to skip at about the 17:00 mark, and the user lifts the needle and edges it forward.  I sometimes wondered how long it took to get the set-up right: how to angle the lamp, where to put the camera, how to ensure that the cover doesn’t fall down.  I liked thinking about this attentive idleness as a form of work.  This studied inactivity.  Where did the user get the idea to do this?  Why commit to making several videos of it?

I never watched one of these unwaveringly, all the way through.  But I have watched for several minutes at a time and never felt my attention wavering, never felt myself getting bored by it.  The composition seems just right, just so.  It has just enough negative space to be serene, just enough movement to see time passing without marking the passage of time.  I could never show this to anyone or watch it with anyone.  Watching for a reaction or becoming self-conscious would make it boring.  It would ruin the spell.

Maybe there are other kinds of spells like this.  Idle activities that repeat and repeat but don’t wear out.  If they exist, they must be private spells.  We get bored too easily anticipating the boredom of others.  It’s too easy to demonize technology for isolating us: headphones, solitary screens.  Isolation can be beautiful, if it happens in the right way.


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