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Re: error correction/Nicolas Collins
I've been hearing and reading quite a bit about Nicolas Collins lately (who
coincidentally studied at the school I now attend, though that has nothing
to do with how I heard about him), but I haven't been able to find his
anywhere. However, Kim's remarks reminded me about an interview I read
him where he talks about his modifications to CD's and players. The below
is excerpted from a longer interview at
By the way, if anyone has more info on Collins or is familiar with his work
and where to find it, do share, off-list or on.
I started to do the CD-skipping-thing in '88 or '89, and used it a lot in
live performances, since I tend to do a lot of pieces that are based on
processing found sound material. In a nutshell, everything I do has to do
with sticking something into a machine and watching it come out different
the other end. I used to work a lot with cassette tapes, I put different
material in the left and the right channels and sort of distributed stuff
randomly over tape so you would never know exactly what you would get when.
And I started using CD players because I could remotely control them very
easily, to get access to different parts. I did some modifications in the
players just to see if I could manipulate the CD the way you can an LP --
scratching. I came up with a few very simple tricks whereby you can scratch
and cue and this kind of stuff.
MC: So you do the tricks on the CDs or inside the CD player?
NC: In the CD player. In terms of history, there were a number of artists
most particularly Yasunao Tone, a Japanese artists working in New York, who
did pieces where they prepared the CDs themselves. They discovered that if
you put crayon marks or cellotape on the CD, you can get it to do all sorts
of jingling stuff. But I went inside the CD player and looked, because I
suspected -- and I was right -- that the laser was always reading
information off the disc, even when you're on pause or moving from track
to track 30. It's always reading information, but the control computer
"censors" the output, decides for us what is music (i.e., the clean
playback) and what is "noise" (scratching, skipping). So I found that
control signal, marked "mute" and I simply flipped that pin off the chip so
that it could no longer mute anything. And that opened the door to the
world of the CD: you could hear anything that the CD-player was doing at
time. Later I got in deeper and started to turning in and off the motor and
sled, slow it down, make things go backwards, typical screw-up things.
----- Original Message -----
From: Kim Flint <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, April 14, 1999 2:42 AM
Subject: Re: error correction
> I played around with this idea once. I think I even mentioned it on the
> list a long time ago, since it's an interesting way to get some crazy
> loops. With a little experimentation, you can get some really nutty
> to come out of a cd player. My favorite from those days was a bad heavy
> metal band* cd that I painted lines on with white-out. Then I scraped
> of the white-out off so it was fairly spotty. I think it was an iterative
> thing, really. I painted a bunch on, played it, didn't like it, scrape
> off, play again, etc, until I got a good result. For me, the cd player
> would randomly skip around the disc, getting stuck in tight loops over
> of audio for a while and then skipping randomly again. Sometimes it would
> actually play a stretch for a little while before skipping off again.
> Ofentimes I'd have to press buttons on the front to break it out of a
> if it stuck too long. The result sounded like some wild industrial music.
> Intense, percussive loops would form over little stretches of bad-metal
> sound, and suddenly switch to a different bad-metal loop. Great fun.
> A guy I knew then who did this weird college radio show suggested
> microwaving the cds. I guess it makes lots of sparks before the plastic
> around the disk shatters, leaving spider webs of lines all over the cd
> surface. Probably that wreaks havoc on the poor cd laser. Never tried
> one, as I would surely starve to death if I blew up the microwave.
> I don't imagine it's easy to disable error correction in the player.
> Different manufacturers probably use different error correction
> so I would guess the results differ from machine to machine. However,
> correction is only meant to handle bits of dust and small scratches, so
> serious damage to the cd should completely overwhelm it. I don't know how
> the guy would get pitch and timbre changes, but I'm sure you could get
> sorts of crazy stuff if you experimented with different cds and
> cd-mutilation techniques.
> I say, just grab some crappy cd's and go for it! If you destroy your cd
> player or any other home appliances in the process, please don't blame
> *Meliah Rage, remember them? no? They were much better after I finished
> with them. ;-)
> Kim Flint | Looper's Delight
> firstname.lastname@example.org | http://www.annihilist.com/loop/loop.html
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