The locked groove begins in the realm of practical use, a technic of utilitarian function meant to safeguard via a closed pathway, preventing the stylus from drifting after a side of a record has finished. This particular strategy of containment, a preventative measure against damaging and transgressive wanderings, marks a site of desire for the medium’s preservation which manifests as a mechanism of capture. When the record’s content concludes, its form remains. The closed circuit of an infinite loop, the negative space of the locked groove inexorably returns us to the purely material, an eternal recurrence of capital’s temporality, closing the experience of the record by exposing its limits and declaring its finitude. It halts reverie and announces necessity, demanding our interaction once again with mundanity. The hiccupping pop of the locked groove is culturally ubiquitous as the melancholic soundtrack of endings finally arrived. Left unattended too long, the locked groove becomes the sonic register of anxious suspense. A sonic remainder, it arcs towards the unheimlich, each spin an increasing reminder of a missing intervention, of a welcome overstayed, an endless ending already reached. The locked groove, however, does not simply indicate the conclusion of a record as it simultaneously exists as a break in the certitude of finality, declaring an ending without ever stopping its perambulations. The locked groove holds a unique position, signaling both a residual and emergent spacetime, caught up in a holding pattern that demands a change, reliant upon our intervention in historical time, a reminder that something inevitably comes next and that we can decide the content of the subsequent movement. It awaits and anticipates. Even as it holds on to all that came before, the one-and-a-half second repetition issues forth a call to overturn or to replace or to begin again (once more from the top), beckoning for the next revolution and its eventual resolution. The interregnum of the locked groove is a contested moment, an immanent interruption on the margins. The in-between has within it the yet-to-come, that unmappable locale wherein the possibility of utopia continually resides in the assured promise that the next time will be different. The locked groove links us to a process, the ritual of engagement and tactile manipulation of the mechanics of our listening. It marks the point at which the record requests our return. It is an audible caesura that draws us back to the turntable to once more confront a silence and to once more ponder how we may, however briefly, make it otherwise.
Clinton Bryce Williamson is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature. His dissertation, Nebulous Figures: A Cultural History of an American Riotocracy, 1848-1929, explores the ways in which a so-called lumpenproletariat crafted refusals to work as strategies for restaging value and assembling improvisatory commons in America during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Assembling a broad, multi-genre cultural archive, it argues that representations of and from those living on the margins of the wage modeled potential worlds rooted in wage labor’s absence.
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Clinton Bryce Williamson; Locked Groove. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 September 2021; 33 (3): 40. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2021.33.3.40
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