Saturday, June 5, 2010

Cook (1962)

Emory Cook's irreverently odd and inventive Cook records label did as much to further the science of sound as it did the sound of esoterica. This particular release does both. Sort of. The science is in the material. The esoteric is in the material's material.

Releases on his label were often marketed as audiophile but with an
enduring middle brow sense of hep, pep and wit. The label design - with it's stock logo framed in a block of red familiarity like a Life Magazine cover and a leisurely cursive 'compatible' beneath come together like so much typographical comfort food (and of course, there's little that says comfort like familiarity -save for the kind that breeds contempt). These visual cues synthesize effortlessly into a manila memo pad background and the draftsman like partial graph overlay could well have put the album in better company next to oscilloscopes, test equipment, tubes ,ham radios, transistors, electronic manuals and other tools of the tinkerer's trade than in a proper record collection. I don't think this was lost on Cook for a sec.

Microfusion was one of many patented tech advances Cook made to try to improve overall fidelity of records over the years. It involved pressing vinyl up from a powdered form rather than the heated globs of the good gunk. There's a great juxtaposition here of free floating circular particles amid the rigid lines of the graph that always suggested to me the process of taking that loose powder and molding it into shape. And it's all reinforced by the positioning of these three words: "New Microfusion Process" within the grid- tighter kerning, a touch of taut angularity. Test tube type . Serious. Science. Stuff.

A Double Barrel Blast poises two zonked failures at communication side by side. Side one's "The High Cost of Dying" is a taboo busting gag in which one 'Rocko' haggles with a real funeral director over the cost of burying a distant uncle. B
y album's end, the undertaker is sauced and exacerbated and negotiation breaks down. It's good stuff, too, that seems to have anticipated the Tube Bar tapes , the great Tom Scharpling Jerky Boys, Crank Yankers, etc. by several decades. The flip -"Listening in on Computer Conversations" is a bizarre, impossible to follow speculative docudrama featuring Cook's made up infinitely knowing ECTAR digital computer and the analog computer at "Ball laboratories" (a thinly veiled poke at Bell Labs). It starts off as an educational demo, morphs into a phone call between Ectar and Ball, breaks into a wacked pre-Residents bossa swing electro number 'Programmed for Love' before essentially disintegrating into a series of narrative bleeping and blorping electronic non sequiturs and climaxing with the two birthing a baby computer.

With tongue firmly in cheek, the liners point - several times - to the future collectability of this record - a curious bit of framing around a disc that has an awful lot to say about our own awkward fetishes, mores & rituals whether they concern death, technological innovation or the perpetual challenges of communication in general.

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