Photo by Lisa Alexander, Courtesy of PICA

Part coming-of-age story, part ruminative homily on the phonographic record, Robin Deacon’s Vinyl Equations is an obsessive and frequently deviating discourse on finding meaning and identity in a record’s hidden grooves.

Deacon stood for the majority of the performance on one side of the stage, behind a cluttered desk with: a single record player, mixer, lamps, cords, notes, and a mounting stack of records. On the other side of the stage was an IKEA bookshelf filled with more records. It looked like basically every single, young man’s apartment. A camera filmed the record player, and projected its image onto the large screen behind the stage.

Deacon opened the presentation with a kind of interpretive dance to Joy Division’s “Transmission.” Then he shared—with laconic delivery and droll English humor—his discovery of the enigmatic Manchurian band. He recounted his adolescent "fear" of Joy Division and his apprehension as to “what was being transmitted,” further compounded upon discovering the hidden message scratched into the dead wax of the 12-inch record: “I’ve seen the real atrocities.”

Photo by Lisa Alexander, Courtesy of PICA

After attempting to equate the false start of Syd Barrett’s “If it’s in You” to Nina Simone’s quiet and pensive introduction of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” Deacon then opened a brand-new, sealed copy of Simone’s Black Gold album and—right there on the screen and amplified for all of us to witness—thoroughly defiled it with sandpaper, eliciting audible gasps from the audience. Deacon then attempted to connect Isaac Hayes’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” to a recording of Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes, offering it as a journey “from the soulful to the soulless.”

One of the few genuinely touching moments was when Deacon spoke about tracking down a rare record of Caribbean folk songs, in which his mother was one of the singers. He showed us his copy of the record, as if to prove it existed, but rather than letting us hear the singers, Deacon instead (curiously) played an instrumental Beach Boys record. He returned to the center of the stage and belted out the words to “Wouldn’t it Be Nice?” in the style of a bad Johnny Rotten-does-Brian Wilson impression.

The show concluded with Deacon neatly buzz-sawing The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in half, placing the two halves on the turntable, and playing the result—which was predictably cacophonous.

To what end all of this served, I couldn’t tell you. I’m still smarting over what he did to the Nina Simone record.

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