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The Vinyl Is the Canvas

An Oakland record-pressing plant gives new meaning to album art.

Herb Alpert's
whipped-cream-covered model, the Rolling Stones’ skintight jeans, and Nirvana’s naked pool baby can’t hold a candle to Justin Herman’s latest piece of album art. Because his can dance.

Last summer, Herman, a graphic designer and music producer, came up with designs for a pair of “phono-tropic” vinyl records for the Bay Area hip-hop group Hieroglyphics. The seven-inch singles, which he had pressed at Mark Calabro’s Oakland-based 16kHz, feature a dizzying geometric design encased in vinyl. When viewed through a phone camera’s lens, they become animated and appear to pulsate on the turntable.

The dancing discs are among the most visually stunning works pressed by Calabro’s 16kHz, which specializes in so-called picture discs. The operation is still a decidedly niche one, hatching fewer than 2,000 graphic records a week. However, for bands looking for unique merchandise, the colorful singles are a hot commodity. At a recent live show, Herman says, the merch booth sold out of the Hiero singles in minutes.

Herman is getting ready to drop another pair of dancing Hiero records this month. And Calabro is eyeing ever-more-ambitious designs—including discs that have bamboo, fabric, or even leaves inside them. A run of 500 picture discs costs $1,600, Calabro says; the Hiero seven-inches retailed for $17 each. Not that Herman is much concerned about making money on the project. “I don’t even care,” he says. “I just think they’re cool as shit.”


Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco 

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