Cent Mille

This sound work is about what records are made of and how they are made. Its point of departure is the study of shellac, a natural resin secreted by microscopic insects in the forests of India and Thailand, and for over half the history of commercial sound reproduction, one of the key ingredients of the 78 rpm disc, until the extremely polluting vinyl took over.

Over Winter 2022 I went to India to record the different cultivation and production processes of lac. Over two months I travelled from Kolkata to the province of Jharkhand to meet local lac cultivators, farmers and scientists, documenting along the way the process in image and sound. The sound recordings are a mise-en- abyme of lac production, and also the prime material for a series of micro-compositions that I am currently working on. The format of the disc dictates the length of the composition. These two minute electro-acoustic works will later be pressed to shellac based discs, using one of the many different formulas known for producing 78rpm records. Record companies kept their ‘recipes’ a closely guarded secret, this was mostly due to the very unreliable supply of shellac, victim to poor harvests, and war.

Duncan Miller of Vulcan Records   in Sheffield is helping me make these records. The unacknowledged workers, human, insect and machine, intertwine with the glitches, scratches, lumps and air bubbles, to become part of the piece.

You can see some fabrication trials and errors in the pictures below. And a selection of photos following the lac cultivation and production process in Jharkhand taken by Jean-Philippe Renoult.

The research trip to India was made possible through the Institut Français (Lauréate des Résidences Sur Mesure, 2020) and the shellac record production is funded by the Individual Creative Assistance programme (Projet soutenu par le ministère de la Culture – Direction régionale des affaires culturelles d’ile-de-France)