I am sitting in a dorm room at the Interlochen Arts Academy, in Interlochen, Michigan, United States with my friends Paul, Brian, and John. We are talking about a forthcoming party that Paul will DJ.
Me: “I want to DJ a party sometime.”
Paul: “Nobody wants to listen to Belle & Sebastian records all night, Peter.”
We have to start somewhere, so we might as well start here: In 1927, Theodor Adorno writes: “Only when gramophonic reproduction breaks down are its objects transformed. Or else one removes the records and lets the spring run out in the dark.” Or rather, a young Thomas Y. Levin writes that, translating Adorno’s essay Nadelkurven in the shadow of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We have to start somewhere, so we might as well start here, where I suspect that Tom, who would later become my dissertation advisor, would start in defending club culture, and the “music” it supports. The essay is Adorno, even if via Levin, and therefore as sophisticated in its argumentation as it is vicious in its denunciations. The précis of Tom’s reading of Adorno, to spare you both: The record player is only capable of being a musical instrument, as opposed to a piece of bourgeois furniture, when it reveals its own material conditions; the most beautiful music the phonograph can make is in the moments of its failure, when the conditions of reproduction become audible.