3D printers have been used to make guns, facial prostheses, catwalk clothing and even Guardian journalists in recent months. Now you can add music to the list.
Bloc Party's Kele Okereke has teamed up with singer/songwriter Bobbie Gordon to release a new track – Down Boy – as a 3D-printed record. The limited-edition single will be sold from a pop-up shop in London in December, complete with a choice of four sleeves created by designer Kate Moross.
The project is backed by Bacardi, with proceeds going to British music charity Nordoff Robbins. The technology comes from American researcher Amanda Ghassaei, based on a technique she developed in 2012 for converting digital music files into 3D-printable records.
The downside for audiophiles (although possibly an additional selling point for indie enthusiasts) is that the record contains a single mono channel rather than stereo. Ghassaei's technique involves depositing white, UV-cured resin in thin layers, creating wider, deeper grooves than traditional vinyl.
In a blog post last year, she described how the process worked for her initial prototypes:
"These records were printed on an Objet Connex500 resin printer to a precision of 600dpi with 16 micron z axis resolution. The 3D modeling in this project was far too complex for traditional drafting-style CAD techniques, so I wrote a program to do this conversion automatically. It works by importing raw audio data, performing some calculations to generate the geometry of a 12" record, and eventually exporting this geometry straight to a 3D printable file format."
Okereke's collaboration with Gordon is part of the Bacardi Beginnings project, where the alcohol brand pairs established and emerging musicians and adds technological twists. Previously, Rudimental and Bipolar Sunshine wrote, recorded and released a track in a day, while Toddla T and Roses Gabor ran a remix contest.
3D-printed records aren't likely to make a significant commercial impact in the UK, although vinyl itself is seeing a revival, on course for 700,000 LP sales in 2013 according to industry body the BPI, which would be the biggest year for the format since 2001.