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Tyler Potts and his record lathe. (KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman)

Tyler Potts and his record lathe. (KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman)


Recording Memories At Seattle Center

Marcie Sillman

Seattle Center's 50th anniversary celebration continues this summer. You can attend lectures and performances and watch the Center's redesign unfold.

But no anniversary is complete without a time capsule. As befits a golden anniversary, this capsule reaches back into the past. It uses World's Fair–era technology to leave a message for the future.


It's easy to walk right by the makeshift recording studio at Seattle Center. From the outside, all you see is a big blue shipping container, the kind you'd find on the docks at the Port of Seattle.

Inside the box, it's a different story.

The space is dominated by a large machine, kind of a cross between an old reel–to–reel tape deck and an early 20th century gramophone. It's a record lathe, a contraption used to etch audio signals onto discs.

Potts: "This kind of technology was around during the World's Fair, where you could come by and cut a record and send it to your grandma, let's say."

That's artist Tyler Potts, the mastermind behind a project he calls "Put the Needle on the Record." Potts is recording people's stories and memories onto what look like old long playing albums. They're actually recycled laser discs, and Potts uses his record lathe to etch the audio signals onto them. Potts pulls one out of a plain cardboard sleeve and puts it on the spinning turntable.

Potts: "Then we move our arm over, a big arm that has a threaded rod on it that will move the stylus from the outside of the record to the inside, as we record."

You play the finished recording on a standard record player. Potts has one set up, right next to the lathe.

Potts: "We're going to take record number one. OK."

Recording: "Hi, my name is Laura Korofkin Rebak and I was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1960."

Potts says people come in to his shipping crate to record anything they'd like to leave for the future.

Potts: "It's open format. All I'm doing is supplying the idea and the place for people to fill 12 minutes of recording time with whatever they wish."

Recording: "And I will never forget the summer of 1969, when my father packed up our whole family and took a drive up the West Coast and eventually came to Seattle to see the city and the Space Needle — "

More than 100 people like this woman have stopped by the recording booth. Some share stories, but many people want to play their music. That's fine with Tyler Potts, with one caveat:

Potts: "You can't just come play a song off your computer. You have to sing along, or do something that's a performance."

Potts is fond of recording number 50, side B. It was made by a guy named Jeff Cole.

Cole: "So the song is called 'Blue Hawaii.'"

This singer found an old recording of "Blue Hawaii" among a stash of LPs that were originally purchased at the 1962 World's Fair. Tyler Potts loves the idea of leaving this iteration of the song for somebody to find 50 years from now.

He hasn't figured out yet where he'll put his audio time capsule. For now Potts is happy simply for people to come in and put their thoughts onto his records.

Potts: "I'm just continually amazed that when you just let people do whatever they want, the wide variety of things you can get."

Tyler Potts is at his recording booth, behind the Intiman Playhouse, every weekend, or by appointment, through mid–October. I'm Marcie Sillman, KUOW News.

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