the flap-o-phone

photo by Nic Collins

The flap-o-phone is a record player made out of cardboard. Three flaps of cardboard, a narrow-tipped nail, and a pen can play a 78 rpm record!

Here’s my video demo which appears on the DVD of Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins. I wrote and took extensive photos for flap-o-phone construction and assembly instructions published in eContact! so you can construct your own flap-o-phone that plays 10-inch disks.

Live, I play the flap-o-phone – now strapped to my laptop with blue painter’s tape – by juxtaposing a low-fidelity record with nearby environmental sound, listening for common elements and contrasts.

I don’t always play the record straight through, instead varying the speed and direction as well as pausing to fragment the recording into an improvised commentary. Two live, unedited performances:

Blue Evening (a flap-o-phone nocturne)

Ravel’s Bolero on the flap-o-phone: Live on WFMU – May 17, 2010

flap-o-phone triptych

I have been modifying, sabotaging, and improvising with turntables and thrift-store record players since the early 1990s. I found out about the CardTalk record player in the 2006 documentary The Tailenders; encouraged the following summer by Marina Rosenfeld, I began building a “best guess” prototype.

Information on the CardTalk was scarce. Depending on which source you accept, the CardTalk was devised in the 1940s or 1950s and deployed in the mid-1960s by Christian missionary Joy Ridderhof and her associates at Gospel Recordings (later known as GRN, Global Recordings Network).

Though long obsolete, I had no luck finding a CardTalk in a thrift store or on eBay. With only a small thumbnail image to guide me, I scrounged cardboard, nails, and ball point pens and began building.

earlier version of the flap-o-phoneSoon, I found bigger photos and crude plans on neatscience, a DIY science site by Dan Keith, a high school science teacher at Williamston Middle School; I made multiple modifications and improvements (mounting, record spindle, needle housing, etc.) to Keith’s plans. Christened the flap-o-phone by Jeremy Hoevenaar, I play the instrument in live performances and public interventions.

In spring 2010, artist Steve Roden unearthed a similar paper-based record player from the mid-1950s. Box vox, an addictive site devoted to packaging, has a summary of CardTalk-type patents. The excellent blog, I’m learning to share!, has an extensive post (with photos!) about the CardTalk, too. Roden sagely comments in his post “…all “new” ideas aren’t necessarily new at all, and if you think you got there first, you probably got there third or fourth…”

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