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Record lathe cuts albums one at a time (pictures)

A loose underground society of record-lathe owners called the Secret Society of Lathe Trolls explores the lost art of cutting music into vinyl and plastic records.

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Amanda Kooser

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Record lathe combines art and science

This mysterious-looking device is a record lathe run by musician and record-cutter Richard Houghten. He purchased the device from a man in Germany known as Souri. Houghten completed an intensive in-person training session with Souri to learn how to operate the lathe. It consists of a record player and diamond cutter that moves across a blank vinyl or plastic record, scooping out the grooves as it goes.

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Richard Houghten preps a record

Guitar player and electro-acoustic musician Richard Houghten sets a clear plastic disc onto his record lathe. The records are cut in real-time as the music plays and have to be closely monitored for quality. Cutting multiple copies using this record lathe requires listening through the music each time as the machine does its work.

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Diamond cutter on the record lathe

The cutting head on the record lathe has two small speakers and a tiny diamond to scoop the grooves out of a record. The diamond has to be precisely aligned to cut accurate recordings. It can be used for relatively sturdy plastic discs. The plastic discs tend to be more durable than their vinyl counterparts.

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A stack of plastic records

Musician Richard Houghten holds a stack of blank clear plastic records. He uses an unusual device called a record lathe to cut individual records in real-time. He's fond of using the plastic discs because it's easy to see the grooves in the material as they are being cut. It's also a stronger material than vinyl and holds up well to many playbacks on a record player.

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Playing back as a record is cut

A discontinued model of a Technics record player sits at the heart of this record lathe. The lathe is used to cut albums into vinyl, plastic and other materials one at a time. The needle part of the player is used to listen to the record as it's being cut. A diamond cutter does the hard work of creating the grooves.

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Diamond cutter in action

The cutting head of this record lathe uses a small diamond to remove material from a plastic disc, creating a groove that will play back as music. The platter spins underneath it and the cutting head slowly moves towards the center of the disc. A heat lamp in the background warms the disc and makes it easier to cut.

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Oscilloscope tracks the music

Musician Richard Houghten's record-cutting studio looks like a sci-fi mad scientist's lab. This oscilloscope shows the sound waves of the music as he cuts it into albums using a record lathe. The lathe spins a blank disc around and carves out music grooves in real-time. The oscilloscope lets him look for irregularities or peaks in the music signal.

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Filament catcher holds the physical music

A record lathe is used to cut individual records in real-time. As the diamond cutter scoops out material, it needs to go somewhere where it won't interfere with the record-making process. A vacuum system sucks away the filament-like plastic or vinyl cuttings and collects them in this container.

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Physical representation of sound

This wad of threadlike material is created as a byproduct of using a record lathe to cut albums. It is the physical representation of the music scooped out of the disc. This one came from a clear plastic disc. A vacuum system clears it away from the disc and collects it in a container as the record is cut.

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Hearing the music

Musician Richard Houghten poses with an oscilloscope in his home studio where he records his own music and cuts albums using a record lathe. He belongs to a group known as "The Secret Society of Lathe Trolls," based on an Internet forum where record cutters share tips and knowledge. It's an underground art full of a good dose of science.

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The finished record

Musician Richard Houghten holds up a cut record carved out of a clear plastic disc using a record lathe. The lathe is used to create records from vinyl, plastic or other materials, one at a time. Houghten has even cut individual records directly from live band performances, making each one a unique piece of musical art.

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