Introduction: How to Make a Record Without Prior Acoustic Information

We present a method to produce analog records with a standard vector graphics software (i.e. Adobe Illustrator) and two different types of cutting machines: laser cutter, and paper cutter. It is a part of  "cutting record - a record without (or with) prior acoustic information" at IAMAS.

The method enables us to engrave wave forms on a surface of diverse materials such as paper, wood, acrylic, and leather without prior acoustic information (i.e. digital audio data). The results could be played with standard record players. We present the method with its technical specification and explain our initial trials with examples. The work examines the role of musical reproduction in the age of personal fabrication.

We've uploaded some of our initial trials to the Thingiverse as well as the Vimeo.  

Cutting a record with a Laser cutter:

Cutting a record with a Paper cutter:

Special thanks to Yuki Kimpara, Iori Iwashima, Satoe Doi, and Daichi Ando for their help with this project.

Here's a video that gives a whole process of the method as a form of performance.

Step 1: Background

“I have suggested to change the gramophone from a reproductive instrument to a productive one, so that on a record without prior acoustic information, the acoustic information, the acoustic phenomenon itself originates by engraving the necessary Ritchriftreihen (etched grooves).”  László Moholy-Nagy, 1923.

In 1923, László Moholy-Nagy, master at the bauhaus, proposed to produce a record without prior acoustic information. It is not clear whether he succeeded or not to achieve the anticipated results, however, the coming practitioners followed his notion with a knife to form different rhythmic patterns on the surface of record (Thomas Brinkmann, Klick, 2000), or with a second hole to rotate the record off center to induce variations in pitch and speed (Non, Pegan Muzak, 1978). You could read more stories at Philip Samartzis's Surface Noize. In this instructables, we propose an alternative method, which legitimately follows the notion with a help of vector graphics software and current cutting machines.

Analog records have its origin in 1858, the invention of Phonoautograph by Leon Scott. At the moment the device only could transform the vibration of sound into graphical forms, however, after over a century, researchers renewed the history of earliest audio recording by decoding the sound from its graphical forms (more information at Archaeologist of Sound by Ron Cowen). In 1878, Frank Lambert made the talking clock, the first machine, which could play back the inscribed sound into lead with its own mechanism. After few months, Thomas Edison made the Phonograph, which record and reproduce (mainly) voices with a vertically vibrated stylus and a tin foil on a cylinder. In 1887, Emile Berliner proposed the Gramophone to record sounds on a disc. The Gramophone used a flat disk rotated on a horizontal plate as a recording surface. In its recording, a vibration of air according to time (i.e. sound) is converted into a horizontal vibration of stylus to etch a groove into the rotated surface. In play back, the procedure works in a reverse order. The stylus moves along the groove and the vibration is mechanically / electronically amplified to produce a monophonic sound (Figure). The mechanism also allowed multiple duplications with casting technique.

After the Gramophone, the basic mechanism of record continued for a century with several inventions and experiments. For example, the change of diameters and rotational speeds, the appearance of  45/45 stereophonic recording in 1950's, and a laser turntable in 1980's. Diverse materials were tested for the disc include not only standard shellac and vinyl but also other experimental stuff such as rice cake in 1920's, chocolate, or ice. In the late 1960's to 1970's, Dubplate was come from a reggae music scene. It uses an acetate disc, a recordable fragile disc originally invented for testing purpose with cutting machine. They used the disc to produce an original version (i.e. mixing) for their sound system. The culture of making a unique record has been continued since then such as a building of hand made cutting machine on a CD, or 3D Printed Record.

Step 2: What You Need

Materials: Paper, Acrylic, Wood, etc.  *with paper cutter, we only could use paper.

Hardware: a. Laser cutter (e.g. Universal VLS 2.30), b. Paper cutter (e.g. Silhouette), scissors, and cutter.

Software: Vector graphics application (e.g. Adobe Illustrator).

Step 3: Drawing a Wave Form

In our method, we follow the invention of Berliner's gramophone. Instead of using a vibration and a stylus, we use a computational vector line and a laser beam/cutter blade, to etch a groove on a flat surface. The resulted groove could be played as a monophonic record in a same manner as its ancestor. We firstly introduce a way to use a locked groove (i.e. a concentric circle), instead of the standard spiral groove. With the groove, we could approximately have a range of time from 1.8 seconds in 33RPM (60 sec / 33.3) to 1.3 seconds in 45 RPM (60 sec / 45).  

We basically use a standard vector graphics application (i.e. Adobe Illustrator) to make the locked groove. With Illustrator, we draw a circle at first (Figure), divide it into a collection of arcs with the scissors tool(Figure). Then, we apply the Smooth zigzag effect (Filters > Distort > Zig Zag) for each arc (Figure). The size of zigzag defines the amplitude (i.e. volume) of the wave form. We recommend to set the size between 0.5pt and 0.05pt.

We already have a fixed range of time (1.8sec in 33rpm, 1.3sec in 45rpm), therefore, we could calculate a desired frequency (Y vibration in second)  by dividing the circle into X parts and apply Z numbers of ridge for each arcwith following function.

Z = Y * 1.8 (or 1.3) / X

We could have a beat, if we apply the zigzag effect into every other arc (e.g. 3/4 beats in 6 divisions, 4/4 in 8 divisions, 8/8 beats in 16 divisions)(Figure > 4/4). 

We also could make a spiral groove with the spiral tool (Figure). In this case, we need to set the direction of the spiral in counterclockwise.

Step 4: Mastering the Wave Form

Next, we need to have a mastering for the wave form. Instead of standard analog record, we do the whole process in a graphical way (that's why we call our method as "a record without prior acoustic information").

Here is the process.

1. Change the width of stroke into 0.01pt for engraving (Figure). 

2. Expand Appearance to realize the zigzag effect (Object > Expand Appearance) (Figure).

3. Connect the arcs into a wave form (Connect anchor points of the arcs with Direct selection Tools) (Figure)

4. Draw a periphery circle to satisfy a desired size of record (7inch=177.8mm, 10inch=254mm, or 12inch=304.8mm).

5. Make a hole in the center (7.24mm in diameter).

6. Adjust the diameter of the wave form (i.e. zigzag effected circle) to fit it into a form of record (Figure).

7. Add other information (e.g. title, name) within the circle. 

8. Differentiate the peripheral circle and the hole for cut, and the wave form and other information for engrave with different colors (e.g. red for cut, blue for etch) (Figure).

Step 5: Cutting a Record

To make a playable record with the wave form, we could use two different types of cutting machines: Laser cutter (e.g. Universal VLS 2.30) and Paper cutter (e.g. Silhouette). Before the cutting, we need to adjust the machines (i.e. speed and power in Laser cutter, blade length in paper cutter) in relation with the materials.

*Laser cutter is a device to engrave or cut images on a material with a laser beam. To compare with it to office printers, instead of printing the image with substantial ink or toner, it could produce the image without physical contact. Because of its principle to burn away a surface of material, it is difficult to treat some materials such as vinyl which produce poisonous gas or metals with reflective surface. Beside that, it could be used with diverse materials such as paper, wood, acrylic, and leather. Normally, a laser cutter provides two modes: raster, and vector. In raster, the laser beam horizontally scans  (i.e. burn) the surface based on a bitmap or painted data. In vector, the laser beam outlines on the surface to make a continuous line for engrave and cut based on a vector data. In our method, we mainly used the vector to engrave the wave form (Figure).

*Paper cutter uses a thin cutter blade in place of a laser beam to engrave or cut an image. It works in a similar way to laser cutter. Based on its structure to rotate the blade on the surface, it only could treat vector data with thin materials such as paper, adhesive vinyl, or film. Normally, the cost of a paper cutter is about one hundredth of a laser cutter (e.g. $200 vs $20,000) (Figure).

After the adjustment, we could cut a record almost in the same way as printing a paper with an office printer. In both machine, it approximately takes 3 to 5 min in the case of a locked groove. With paper cutter, you also need to cut the paper with scissors, and make a hole with a cutter (Figure). 

Step 6: Playing the Record

After the cutting, we just need to put the record on our turntable and put a needle on it. With some turntables, we might need to put  scotch tape on the back side to prevent a slip. 

Again, here is the sound of the record from Laser cutter, and Paper cutter.

Laser cutter:

Paper cutter:

The whole process is a part of  "cutting record - a record without (or with) prior acoustic information". The project is working in progress . We have a few videos on YouTube and Vimeo, and just made a first release of our record "beats - a record without prior acoustic information" on Thingiverse. As a next step, we plan to explain "How to make a record with prior acoustic information (yes, we could make a record from our audio files). If you have any interests in our work, please leave us comments!


jtmoffatt2013 (author)2013-03-03

How would one be able to generate a vector waveform from an audio file? Is there a program to do this? I really liked this instructable, and I hope to see the next step soon!

mtuxun (author)jtmoffatt20132015-08-28

A little late but a processing sketch do that here:

jojporg (author)jtmoffatt20132013-03-04

Thanks for your interest! We're preparing for next one. Hopefully, it will come on next week. Please wait for a while!

a.penaloza14 (author)2014-08-26

Sir jojporg, what paper did you use?

jojporg (author)a.penaloza142014-08-26

thank you for the question. we basically use a thick paper around 0.25mm (≒0.01inch) . Hope it works!

vincent7520 (author)2014-04-16

Congrats !!!…

Only on Instructables can one find people as crazy as re-inventing an century old invention.

You amaze me !…

So congrats and congrats again !!!…

jojporg (author)vincent75202014-04-16

Thanks! If you have any further questions, please let me know.

jojporg (author)2013-08-27

Those who still kindly have a interest with this instructables, here is a step-by-step instruction. Please enjoy and make your own!

How to make a record without prior acoustic information
JO Kazuhiro, KIMPARA Yuki, IAMAS

jojporg (author)2013-05-10

Here we are. We finally publish our next! Laser Cut Record (version) . If you'd like to know How to make a record "with" prior acoustic information, please take a look. The last step "Another Way to Make Your Own Without Coding" should be fun to read for who like this instructables.

rimar2000 (author)2013-03-01

Jogporg, for almost 40 years I have an idea I tried to implement, but for lack of resources and dedication could never achieve. I'll mention this because you've done remarkable things with sound and a 3D printer.

My idea points to child / adolescent market, and it is to make plastic "talking strips" to adhere to binders, books, toys, etc.. I think if done fairly well and good trade promotion can be a bestseller.

The tapes would be a few inches long, straight, not curved. They could even be variable length and wide, and lead on the surface analogically recorded a brief message, lengthwise. For example "Hello Darling", "JOE", "I love you", "Good Morning", etc.. The tapes could even be manufactured on demand, previously developed the apparatus capable of doing, it would not be very difficult to develop. Imagine a small stand where a girl says her name into the microphone, and after a few seconds you have on your hands, for a dollar or so, the tape to paste into your things. Obviously that could combine both: a tape stock with generic messages, and other by demand.

To record the message would not be groove, but the entire exposed surface of the tape. Recorded message would analogically, vertically, it is to say perpendicular to its plane, in contradistinction to "normal" vinyl mono records.

To play it you would have to pass more or less quickly the nail surface, or a credit card, a piece of paper, etc. The idea can be extended to the roads, but that is a little more difficult. Imagine that when approaching a dangerous curve, besides the visible signs on the sides of the road, you hear your car says "Caution, dangerous curve."

Think about it and tell me what you think. I'm convinced it would be a success. If you develop and you do well, remember this retired in the third world, and the first million dollars you earn, set aside a hundred to send it.

Phil Cyr (author)rimar20002013-03-02

Sounds fun, I like it.

rimar2000 (author)Phil Cyr2013-03-02

Thanks! Glad you think like me. I can see billions of these "speaking strips" around the world. Children (and others!) would like them.

PhilipHand (author)rimar20002013-03-03

Are you aware of the Japanese Melody Roads? They use grooves cut into concrete to make bumps that sound like a song at a certain speed to encourage people to drive the speed limits, you could possibly find Shizuo Shinoda's research out there somewhere, he's bound to have loads of research on the translation of physical sounds through vibrations like that.

rimar2000 (author)PhilipHand2013-03-04

Yes, PhilipHand, AmandaGhassaei told me about these musical roads. It is the same principle.

kriemer (author)rimar20002013-03-03

Not to be a buzz kill but talking tapes (just Google same) have been a novelty item for many many years. The addition of a recording/vending machine might be interesting and as far as I know a new contribution to the art.

rimar2000 (author)kriemer2013-03-04

Jojporg and kriemer, I never heard of these "talking tapes". Well, my idea is not a shining one, some other persons have thought the same.

jojporg (author)rimar20002013-03-04

Dear rimar2000, all,

Thank you for your comments. It's an honor for me to hear such a nice story from a man of experience like you.

As others commented, after you idea in 40 years ago, there were several implementations. One of my friend also told me that he made a similar one (talking tapes) with CNC milling machine.

Anyhow, I'm sure I could remember you when I get success (not sure I could earn million :-)).

Treknology (author)2013-03-03

I noted that both media produced very different quality sounds. The laser-cut included the hard-edged rumble of the stepper-motor gaps in the cutting, whereas the paper-cut version had a high level of hiss from the edges of the paper fibres.

jojporg (author)Treknology2013-03-04

Wow, nice ears! Yes, we'd like to positively accept the sound of the machines and the materials as a character of our method. We're interested in the difference between the machines and materials especially stepper-motors. If you could make you own record with other laser cutter, please upload the results!

begothic (author)2013-03-02

This is excellent! I've really been wanting a record of Fallout 3, but with out a 3d printer it has seemed impossible. With this and your next instructable I'll surely have it soon!

vincent7520 (author)2013-03-01

Fantastic ! It reminds me Chopin when he played on the piano while he was traveling in the train that took him back to Warsaw for a brief moment : he started to be very ill at that time !

jojporg (author)2013-03-01

i don't know why (maybe i made a mistake) but i suddenly lost a comment from amandaghassaei, the maker of 3D printed record . so, i re-upload the comment and my reply for it.

> amandaghassaei
if you have any trouble with it, please let me know!

From: amandaghassaei
Date: Mar 1, 2013. 12:47 AM

very cool, I'm working on something similar. I've only been cutting acrylic on the laser cutter, but I've been having some trouble with parts of the wave melting the material, I still need to do a few more tests to get it right. I was curious if this is possible on paper, I'm glad to see it is! how do you plan on converting your audio to a vector path? I've been using processing. also what kind of resolution can the cameo cut? thanks!


dear amandaghassaei,

it's great to hear from you! about converting audio into a vector path, we'll describe the detail in our next instructables "how to make a record with prior acoustic information" but you could grab the essence from the youtube on our top page (in later half of the video). with cameo, you could have 508dpi (0.05mm intervals) from the spec, but in reality it's a bit less than it. thanks again for your comment. let's keep in touch!

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