Lee Ranaldo "From Here To Infinity" (1987)

For a truly unique specimen in the art of vinyl record pressing, track down a vinyl copy of Lee Ranaldo’s 1987 solo debut album From Here To Infinity. Ranaldo is best known as co-guitarist of the long-running experimental noise-punk band Sonic Youth. He has released a number of solo albums over the years; his latest, Between The Times And The Tides, will be released March 20, 2012.

His first solo release, From Here To Infinity, was released in 1987, when Ranaldo’s usual band were hitting their stride as one of the seminal bands of the indie rock underground. Ranaldo's album was as unconventional as anything ever released by Sonic Youth, in its physical presentation as well as its sound.

Cut by famed recording engineer George “Porky” Peckham, the vinyl LP is fascinating to merely look at. It was pressed in clear vinyl and marble-colored vinyl editions, but even in the typical black color, it is like no other vinyl record you’ve ever seen. The tracks are very short – almost all of them are well under two minutes long – but each track ends with a lock groove which plays continuously until the needle is manually lifted from the turntable, so that each track can run as long as the listener allows it to. The second from last track, titled “Sav X”, is actually not a track at all; the dragon graphic from the front cover art (designed by Savage Pencil, aka Edwin Pouncey) is actually pressed into the vinyl at that place on the record. Do not attempt to place your breakable needle on that surface! Also, both sides begin with a wide swath of dead wax with no grooves, so be careful where you place the needle when the record begins to play. The needle arm on my turntable is unable to reach the last track, titled “The Open End”. The 12-inch record is meant to be played at 45 rpm, but the sticker on the disc states that it is “varispeed”, meaning that it can be listened to at any speed.

This bizarre instrumental album was undoubtedly inspired by Lou Reed’s notorious 1975 album Metal Machine Music. This is apparent not only from the use of lock grooves, but also from the sound. From Here To Infinity is composed of a similar type of atonal, dissonant noise, which often sounds even more like it was made by and for metallic machinery. This album is more interesting and rewarding than that one, however, because the noise is not as repetitive and boring, the tracks can be told apart, and there are ways to have fun with these strange noise tracks. This album will be of interest to enthusiasts of avant-garde experimentalism, and to collectors of vinyl curios; you know who you are. Personally, I find this strange record to be not only listenable, but occasionally hypnotic. There are several tracks whose lock grooves I can happily allow to continuously run for several minutes, particularly “The Slo Drone”, “Time Stands Still” and “New Groove Loop”. Also, the “varispeed” suggestion was an inspired touch, because I personally think the tracks sound cooler when played at the slower 33 rpm speed.

Another tip-off to the obvious Lou Reed influence: the dead wax at the end of Side B, which does not have a runout groove, has the text “Electricity comes from other planets” etched into it; that is a lyric from the Velvet Underground’s “Temptation Inside Your Heart”. Side A also has text carved in its groove-less dead wax, but that message is not printable on this family-friendly blog.

It seemed almost pointless to release this album in compact disc and cassette formats, but such a thing was apparently inevitable. Although the tracks are still somewhat riveting, the CD is clearly less fun than the vinyl LP. The varispeed option is obviously not available, so the tracks cannot be played at the slower (and, in my opinion, better) speed. The length of the tracks is chosen for us, as is the number of times we hear the repetition of the simulated lock groove sounds. And, of course, the CD does not have the visual asset of the “Sav X” graphic etched in vinyl. Ranaldo did insert a few new tape loops into the CD version, most noticeably for “Ouroboron”, “To Mary”, and “The Resolution”. Some of the tracks were spliced together for a segue effect. The CD ends with a four-minute track titled “King’s Ogg”. Is this an extended version of “The Open End” from the LP? I may never know. (I’ve never listened to the cassette version of the album; I assume it is the same as the CD).

Most of the CD tracks (excluding “Florida Flower” and “Hard Left”) are available on Ranaldo’s 1995 release titled East Jesus: Some Recordings 1981-1991. But, again, these tracks just don’t provide the same listening experience outside of the original creative vinyl format.

Lee Ranaldo - From Here to Infinity

Lee Ranaldo “From Here → Infinity” (vinyl) (SST 113) 1987

Track Listing:

1. Time Stands Still (2:40)
2. Destruction Site (1:17)
3. Ouroboron (0:46)
4. Slo Drone (1:10)
5. New Groove Loop (0:48)
6. Florida Flower (0:40)
7. Hard Left (0:18)
8. Fuzz/Locusts (1:04)
9. To Mary (0:40)
10. Lathe Speaks (1:39)
11. The Resolution (0:48)
12. Sav X – (not an actual recorded track, merely a graphic pressed in the vinyl)
13. The Open End (0:24)

Lee Ranaldo “From Here → Infinity” (CD) (SST 113) 1989

Track Listing:

1. Time Stands Still (3:51)
2. Destruction Site (2:17)
3. Ouroboron (1:41)
4. Slo Drone (2:25)
5. New Groove Loop (2:50)
6. Florida Flower (1:05)
7. Hard Left (1:43)
8. Fuzz/Locusts (2:06)
9. To Mary (X2) (3:26)
10. Lathe Speaks (1:58)
11. The Resolution (2:13)
12. King’s Ogg (4:15)