Review: Seth Cooke – Selected Works for No-Input Field Recorder (Every Contact Leaves a Trace, Apr 29)

The UK-based Seth Cooke is easily one of my favorite sound artists working in the new millennium. Such high praise is not based purely on my opinion of his work itself (which is often the case), but rather what it means, what questions it implores me to ask, what it says about this “music” thing to which I devote so much of my time. These factors are more important than ever in the case of Selected Works for No-Input Field Recorder, Cooke’s newest release that acts as a sequel of sorts to previous 3″ documents such as Four No-Input Field Recordings and SightseerSelected Works actually collects four distinct 3″-length projects, some of which were intended for individual release while others were made specifically for the set. If you’ve never heard what exactly Cooke means when he talks about “no-input field recordings,” this is an excellent place to start; unlike Sightseer, the magnifying glass is focused entirely on the inner workings of the popular Zoom H4n recorder. It’s never revealed how exactly the sounds are captured—whether it’s some electromagnetic detection apparatus, post-recording digital manipulation, some combination of the two, or something else entirely—but somehow this is the least of our concerns. Cooke states that An Agoraphobe was created as a direct follow-up to Sightseer; “rather than contrasting the inside/outside of the recorder it just contrasts different approaches to inside.” The emphasis is placed not on the unusual approach Cooke takes, nor even the strange sonic results it generates, but instead on the phenomenon of listening to something we’re not supposed to hear, accessing some dimension of transparency that perhaps doesn’t need to be accessed. We hear stagnant static hums, blasts of electronic dead-air, digital pings and pulses, but what exactly is it? The sound of an inactive device? A recorder recording nothing? The totality of Cooke’s masterful ambiguity is realized with the packaging of Selected Works: a “2GB micro SD card encased in a 4cm x 4cm x 4cm silicone moulded black concrete cube, painted with Stuart Semple’s Black 2.0. The micro SD is highly unlikely to work and cannot be recovered without destroying the cube.” Because how on Earth else would this be delivered in a physical format?

Everything and/or nothing. At once a singular and engaging electronic odyssey, a considered conceptual piece, and a satirization of the music industry’s over-reliance on physical objects. At once a useless, broken storage card of boring sonic interference, half a paperweight, and concrete dust all over your desk. Why not both?

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