Seth Cooke: Sightseer (t25), 3″ cdr
Grisha Shakhnes: Distance and Decay (t24), CD
Two fine releases from Kostis Kilymis’ revitalised Organized Music from Thessaloniki label.
The first, Seth Cooke’s Sightseer, is a selection of electrical scrimmages and enigmatic field recordings, made over the past three years and issued on a bijou 3-inch CDR package.
It’s good stuff, nine short recordings that make for a freewheeling collage of hissy noise, barely-heard conversations and mechanical rumbles.
On Santa Barbara Christian Field Recording Association, for example, Cooke weaves a disconcerting tapestry of noise, different frequencies jostling for attention like penguins squabbling on an ice floe.
These waves of static often mask tantalising sounds, messages from the aether, as on Cape Coast Seashell Bowed on Minster-on-Sea Shore. Window Shopping sees the sonic detritus of everyday life rendered opaque and mysterious, the patina of random conversations, traffic noise, whirrs and clunks of machinery suddenly punctuated by a series of loud clunks, as if gigantic billiard balls are being crashed together.
I can’t quite make out whether these pieces are a comment on surveillance – are we following a terrorist, or spying on our own citizens? – or a reflection on the impossibility of capturing one’s experiences of a place, like over-exposed holiday snaps. It’s an interesting tension. As Cooke’s citation (from Andrei Codrescu) states: “Terrorists travel with only one thing in mind, just like the tourist, and the specifics of places escape them both.”
Meanwhile underneath the beach, the catacombs. Grisha Shakhnes’ Distance and Decay takes us deep down, through layers of murk to eldritch, cobwebby depths with four long cassette manipulations.
It is his second outing under his own name, following 2013’s leave/trace on Jason Lescallet’s Glistening Examples imprint, (and after an impressive run of releases as Mites) and it’s another goodie. Shakhnes’ technique of wrangling his cassettes worsens the already grubby quality of the sound sources, resulting in thick layers of sonic gloom.
So Close to Home is a mantra of ominous clanks and rumbles, like the roars of a vast unstoppable machine. In Concrete chunks of minimal organ music unleash melodramatic, liturgical drones before being overtaken by a shimmering, terrifying swarm, the cries of a thousand giant crows as they descend to pluck out your eyes.
Time seems to stand still in these numbed pieces, their sharp edges worn down by repeated dubbing and manipulation, evoking a kind of exhausted dream state, a traumatised anomie.
As on the Seth Cooke release, occasionally recognisable sounds rise from the swamp. A fragment of melody, vocals and violin, Egyptian perhaps, on Air. Some horns, perhaps an orchestra on Slow Life, its plangent tones drifting out as the piece closes.
They are like messages from the past. We are hearing the voices of the lost, their ways of life long gone, these ghostly emanations the only proof they ever existed.