When Tristan Duke talked to Jack White about putting a hologram on a record, Duke told him that there wasn’t a guarantee it could be done. Record engineers were also telling Duke that it wouldn’t work.
“Though I wasn’t sure and I couldn’t guarantee, I had an intuitive feeling…I was pretty sure it was going to work, but it was untested,” Duke says.
Turns out, it could be done. Duke was right. Holograms on vinyl records are indeed possible.
Duke—founder of Infinity Light Science—worked with White, and then went on to do subsequent albums including Rush’s 2112, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the Star Wars: A New Hope 40th Anniversary Box Set. And as for Duke himself, he graduated from Naropa University in 2008, and following graduation taught photography at the school.
“I think, I increasingly realized that what I was really interested in was perception, human perception and how we see the world,” Duke says.
He explored other forms of imaging, and found laser holography.
“Holography is baffling,” Duke says.
“It’s amazing and it doesn’t seem possible, and so really in my experiments with holography, you know, I was confounded by it,” he added. “And the more I read, the less I understood in a strange way.”
Put those dictionaries away, however, because Duke knows that the hand-drawn holograms that he creates aren’t, in the truest definition of the word, actually holograms. Holograms are “a photographic recording of a wave interference pattern, and this is nothing like that,” Duke says. “But structurally it is…the way the image is composed is very similar to the structure of a hologram.”
Duke explained that holograms can be likened to distorted mirrors: Instead of light bouncing back predictably, a hologram bounces light back in a distortion that makes it look like the 3D object is there.
“Basically what I’m doing is the same thing, except just a much cruder version,” Duke says. “I’m carving tiny micro reflectors on the surface of the plate that are redirecting some of the light that’s hitting the plate in very particular, focused angles so that that light reproduces the illusion of an image, of an object there…one way to think about is it that, you know, a record is a groove that records sound, and what I’m doing is creating grooves that record light.”
The first record using “hologroove technology” was Jack White’s Lazaretto. The holograms need focused-point-source light, and when that is shone on the record the hologram appears, whether the record is spinning or not.
“The hologram is there, recorded in the surface of the vinyl and all it needs is, once its placed on the turntable, all it needs is to have that light shining from up above in order to replay the image,” Duke says.
These images include everything from the Death Star, to a TIE Fighter, and even the Millennium Falcon. Of course, you can’t jump in them and fly them around—or physically touch them either, for that matter.
“A hologram is an illusion,” Duke says. “You know, any hologram, I mean that’s actually what’s so compelling about the hologram…you have that kind of cognitive dissonance that takes place when you look at it because it’s an object that appears to be there that you logically know cannot be there. And so, that’s part of what I enjoy about the hologram, is that kind of like, yeah, that kind of paradox of its existence.”
Duke thinks that people these days tend to jump to technological answers instead of being in wonderment. At a recent dinner with Ricky Jay, Duke showed off a new optical invention and presented it as a magic trick.
“It was really great to talk to him about this, about my work kind of in the context of illusion and sleight-of-hand…it opened something up for me because I hadn’t really quite thought of my work that way particularly,” Duke says. “And there’s something kind of nice about realizing that somebody can, that you can present something as an illusion, as a magic trick if you will, and that that’s kind of like an interesting mode of presentation because it shifts people away from the like, the kind of Make Magazine-like how, or How It Was Made.“
And as for Duke, he’s interested in much more than that.
“I think what I’m drawn to about these kinds of illusions is the state of mind that it puts a person in, that cognitive dissonance again, that kind of like inscrutability of seeing something and not believing it at the same time,” Duke says. “You know, it’s like, it’s one of the cases where seeing is not believing.”