Christian Marclay (born 1955) is a visual artist and composer based in New York. Marclay is a former lecturer of video collage and sound at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland where he conducted a summer workshop.
Marclay's work explores connections between sound, photography, video, and film. A pioneer of using gramaphone records and turntables as musical instruments to create sound collage, critic Thom Jurek describes Marclay as perhaps the "unwitting inventor of turntablism." His own use of turntables and records, beginning in the mid-1970s, was developed independently of hip hop's use of the instrument, and though not well-known to mainstream audiences, Marclay has nonetheless been described as "the most influential [turntable] figure outside hip hop."
Marclay studied at the Massachusetts College of Art, and was notably interested in Joseph Beuys and the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and '70s.
Drawn to the energy of punk rock, Marclay began creating songs, singing to music on pre-recorded backing tapes. Unable to recruit a drummer for his 1979 performances with guitarist Kurt Henry, Marclay used the regular rhythms of a skipping LP record as a percussion instrument. These duos with Henry might be the first time a musician used records and turntables as interactive, improvising musical instruments.
Marclay sometimes manipulates or damages records to produce continuous loops and skips, and has said he generally prefers inexpensive used records purchased at thrift shops, as of 1998, never having paid more than US$1 for a record, as opposed to other turntablists who often seek out specific recordings. Marclay has occasionally cut and re-joined different LP records; when played on a turntable, these re-assembled records will combine snippets of different music in quick succession along with clicks or pops from the seams, and when the original LPs were made of differently-colored vinyl, the reassembled LPs can themselves be objects d'art.
Some of Marclay's musical pieces are carefully recorded and edited plunderphonics-style; he is also active in free improvisation. He was filmed performing a duo with erikM for the documentary Scratch. His scene didn't make the final cut, but is included on the DVD extras.
Thom Jurek writes "many intellectuals have made wild pronouncements about Marclay and his art — and it is art, make no mistake — writing all sorts of blather about how he strips the adult century bare by his cutting up of vinyl records and pasting them together with parts from other vinyl records, they never seem to mention that these sound collages of his are charming, very human, and quite often intentionally hilarious."
Marclay has performed and recorded both solo and in collaboration with many musicians, including John Zorn, William Hooker, Elliott Sharp, Otomo Yoshihide, Butch Morris; he has also performed with the group Sonic Youth, and in other projects with Sonic Youth's members.