The 3D Printed RecordBy James Baines
Music is as invisible as money these days, and by that, I mean we’re careless with it. I still bitterly mourn the death of my first MP3 player like a widower left with the debts of the deceased.
Do you think record companies can be using your work as a template for pressings in the future?
Writing the code required a fair amount of knowledge about audio, signal analysis, 3D modeling, vector cutting formats, and even some trigonometry, but anyone can download my code and run it without any understanding of these concepts. I've broken down both the 3D printed and laser cut record projects into ten steps so anyone with sufficient motivation can do it themselves, no engineering degree required!
Some of the materials, especially grainy/inconsistent materials like paper and wood, limit the precision of the audio that's cut into them, but I don't see any reason why the more homogenous materials (acrylic and resin) couldn't sound comparable to vinyl. For now, the limitation is really in the precision of the machines. The grooves on my 3D printed and laser cut records push the machines to their maximum tolerances, but currently, this leaves them about one or two orders of magnitude (10-100x) larger than typical vinyl microgrooves. So, for now, the only way to improve the quality of the sound is to increase the resolution of the machines.
At the moment, not quite. The models are easy enough to make, but currently, there are no printers priced for personal use that are capable of printing them. There are some online fabrication services that can theoretically print a record, but there are still huge obstacles to getting a print like this made; currently, a 3D model of a record with only five minutes of audio on it requires about 1.5GB of storage space, so generating, moving, and processing a file like that poses a fun set of technological challenges. I've crashed a ton of computers during the 3D printing pre-processing phase—where a 3D model is converted into hundreds of horizontal slices so it can be printed layer by layer. As this technology moves forward, we'll see more precise machines come down in price and even become accessible to individuals and small businesses. New 3D printing file formats that can pack data more efficiently are in the works as well.
3D printing is pretty amazing. I've been using these machines for a while now, but it still feels like magic to be able to model something on the computer and then hold it in my hands later that same afternoon. For me, the most exciting feature of this technology is how much room there is for customization. There is no other process that can generate completely customizable, complex objects as easily as 3D printing and other forms of digital fabrication. I think it's entirely possibly to create a 3D printed music video, I've already seen some interesting work using 3D printing for stop motion animation!
Hah, yeah I've had a ton of requests for records, even been hearing from some independent record labels about doing limited releases, but this is obviously more work than I could possibly complete by myself. For now, I've tried to keep the process as accessible as possible to encourage people to make their own if they're really interested in the project, and I'm also looking into ways for anyone to have these things made through online fabrication services.
Sweet. Thanks Amanda!
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