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Marclay, Christian locked

  • Mandy-Suzanne Wong

(b San Rafael, CA, Jan 11, 1955). American sound artist, turntablist, composer, filmmaker, and visual artist. Raised in Switzerland, Marclay studied sculpture at the École Supérieure d’Art Visuel in Geneva and the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, and the Fluxus movement, the use of found objects became a formative principle of Marclay’s work. He has collaborated with Christian Wolff, Otomo Yoshihide, Sonic Youth, and John Zorn, among others.

In the mid-1970s, Marclay used turntables as improvising musical instruments, apparently inventing Turntablism. Like hip-hop DJs of the same era, though their work proceeded independently, Marclay developed performance techniques such as scratching and mixing. He believes his use of turntables to be similar to Duchamp’s methods: using found objects to create new art, by putting one’s own stamp on the objects and exhibiting them.

Throughout his career, he has embraced the residual noises produced by recording media, especially the hisses and pops of vinyl records. His work emphasizes the fact that when 20th- and 21st-century listeners experience music, oftentimes they are listening not only to the music but to the medium: the record, CD, or tape on which the music is recorded. For Marclay, these media have expressive capabilities all their own. In a turntable performance alongside punk guitarist Kurt Henry, Marclay used the sounds of skipping LP records to create percussive effects. For a solo work, Recycled Records (1980–6), he cut records into pieces, reassembled them, then used them in turntable performances. The deliberate damage to the records distorted the sound of the recorded music, foregrounding not the music but the injured record itself. Marclay prefers his creative process, and thus the records’ deterioration, to be apparent to his audience, as in Footsteps (1989). In this piece, he recorded the sounds of footsteps on LPs, which he then spread over a gallery floor. After encouraging visitors to walk on the records, Marclay repackaged and sold them.

Marclay’s work underscores the materiality of music in Western cultures. Once music is recorded, it becomes a commodity: collectable, recyclable, disposable. In sculptures such as Endless Column (1988) and Tape Fall (1989), which were, respectively, piles of LPs and magnetic tape, Marclay demonstrated that the hoarding of music encouraged in commodity cultures results in the silencing of the music. Contrastingly, destruction was a form of creation in Guitar Drag (2000), in which Marclay dragged an amplified guitar behind a pickup truck: the sound of the guitar changed as it incurred more and more damage. He silenced other instruments altogether by making them impossible to play, such as the 15-foot cymbal stands in Drumkit (1999). Generally in Marclay’s visual works, musical objects become visible critiques of contemporary aural cultures.

His recent work experiments with performing voices and bodies. In Zoom Zoom (2008), Marclay improvised a slide show of advertisements and packaging featuring onomatopoeias, on which vocalist Shelley Hirsch improvised in real time. In Prêt-à-Porter (2010), he collected articles of clothing decorated with musical notes. Models wearing this clothing served as human music stands, from which musicians read and improvised.


  • J. Gross: “Christian Marclay: Interview by Jason Gross” (1998),
  • R. Ferguson, ed.: Christian Marclay (Los Angeles, 2003)
  • D. Kahn: “Christian Marclay’s Early Years: an Interview,” Leonardo vol.13 (2003), 17–21
  • J.T. Demers: Listening Through the Noise (New York, 2010)
  • C. Barliant, ed.: Christian Marclay: Festival (New Haven, CT, 2010)