Stephen Cornford’s ‘Constant Linear Velocity’ appeared originally as an assemblage of defunct personal computer hardware, set up in various cultural nodes across Europe between 2016 and 2018. With its physical components disappearing in transit following a particularly ambitious installation at the Detritus festival in Athens last year, all that’s left is this evocative soundtrack of drive-motor whirrs, mournful beeps and circuit board whines.
Obviously the lack of its material elements – more than 100 empty computer cases, fitted with 16 customised and automated DVD drives – robs ‘Constant Linear Velocity’ of some of its melancholy tangibility. But the two tracks that remain are compelling enough, both pieces channelling sufficient detail and dynamism to work as as electroacoustic compositions in their own right.
‘Constant Linear Velocity’ (can we call it a title track?) is a low-key delight, the panoply of buzzes, chirrups and squishes creating its own mechanoid ecosystem in fine David Tudor style. ‘Eject Mechanisms & Broken Drives’, meanwhile, grunts and moans with the gripey vigour of a malware-infected toilet. A headachey hum swaddles ratchety clonks and languid heaves in its grey fog, its stubbornness evoking a thousand office workers in maximum switch-it-off-and-on-again frustration.
In fact these cuts become even more enticing when viewed as jumping-off points for meditations about the hidden tangibility of our networked society. Despite its bodiless speed and protean ability to morph into words and images, data still requires a physical infrastructure in order to function properly – one that, in turn, depends upon resource extraction, globalised precariat labour and non-stop accumulation of plastic waste and other pollutants. These casings, circuit boards, USB ports and disk drives may have vanished from Cornford’s work. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be clogging up a recycling facility or waste dump somewhere, obsolete signifiers of a tech-obsessed Anthropocene that will be hanging around long after our human bodies have dissolved into the toxic muck.