Ted Riederer calls from 24th Street in Manhattan, which reminds him that his Never Records project deviates from the high-end contemporary art galleries surrounding him. The project, which makes its full-size U.S. debut in New Orleans in October, recreates a record store experience, with Riederer recording and pressing vinyl records for artists performing on site. The installation not only becomes a love letter to the record store, but a gallery and a shared space for artists, onlookers and music fans, including Riederer, whose role as engineer helming a vinyl-cutting lathe creates a symbiotic performance art between Riederer and the performers.
"People are making art on my platform," he says. "I'm fiercely protective of that idea."
Riederer helped open a "record shop" in a shuttered Tower Records in New York as part of an installation there in 2010, with more than 40 artists and musicians, including The Ramones' artist Arturo Vega and Exene Cervenka from X. Never Records launched in The 2010 Liverpool Biennial, and also created residences in London and Derry, Northern Ireland.
"It's really important I'm the guy talking to everybody and showing them how the lathe works, and how wonderfully chemical it is to have these organic wave patterns cut into vinyl — I'll have a microscope to show everybody that," he says. "Without sounding aphoristic and cheesy, my goal is to re-enchant the world with it, the whole idea that all vinyl is just waves. I think that's the most amazing thing. It's the stuff of eardrums and heartbeats and fingerprints and all that wonderful stuff. I don't consider it an old technology or a new technology. I consider it a natural force, or an elemental thing."
Riederer records the performer (whether a punk or brass band or spoken word artist) and cuts two copies: one for the performer, and one for the record store.
"I'm not really a vinyl snob, and I love digital downloads and making sessions available digitally and letting (artists) do whatever they want with it as part of the whole 'open-source' part of the project," he says. "What I care about is the actual vinyl we cut. ... I have this object we both created together. It becomes a relic or ephemera of this socially active moment."
Riederer fell in love with record store culture as a teenager growing up near Washington, D.C., after his mother was admitted to a mental hospital when he was 16. Skip Groff's Yesterday and Today record store in Maryland, where punk label Dischord Records got its legs (Fugazi's Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto were early mentors for Ted), became Riederer's holy place — a school, a church and a social scene.
"When I first went there it was really like an outsider experience, and I wanted to be inside," he says. "All it takes with a record store is expressing an earnestness or an interest — in my particular case, collecting a certain style of music. All of a sudden I accrued all this knowledge, and a year later I was the guy who collected this one thing — me and my crew, little mod kids, into The Jam and The Clash, collecting everything to do with that."
Dischord regular and cover artist Jason Farrell also designed the Never Records logo, and Arturo Vego, who designed the iconic Ramones T-shirt, will design the New Orleans edition of the Never Records T-shirt.
"We'll probably do some in-store screenprinting and we'll knock them out for free," Riederer says. "You know, all that D.C. punk rock positivity stuff."
The "store" will look like one, though obviously a little more abstract — signs in the window advertising Never Records, the cash register smothered in stickers, "fake" record sleeves and posters, and record bins stuffed with LPs recorded at previous installations (though with a section reserved for the New Orleans sessions). Visitors can listen to the local recordings and library of past recordings.
"I liked that air of inscrutability," he says. "It's not really important that it's real or fake to me. What's important is that people have this experience."
Gallery owner Jonathan Ferrara donated use of his former gallery space on Carondelet Street to serve as the installation site, free of the restrictions of a museum or larger gallery space. "It can be whatever it wants to be without being a part of an institutional framework," Ferrara says. "We can have punk rock concerts until midnight."
Over the last two years, Ferrara has helped raise money and received support from the Downtown Development District, the Arts Council of New Orleans and Abita Brewery to get Never Records in New Orleans. He says the project serves as an archive that distills and captures the city's silver lining, and it will show the national and international arts scenes what New Orleans can do.
"To make an archive of where we are right now, it's kind of serendipitous," Ferrara says. "What better time to take an archival snapshot of where we are right now?"
Riederer, however, did receive a critical email from a man who says Never Records overlooks the musicality and artistry of studio engineering.
"No one has ever in the 600 musicians and performers that have come through Never Records had that voice," Riederer says. "I said, 'Hey, man, I appreciate your opinion. Why don't you come into the store and read your critique and we'll cut it to vinyl.'"