Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cook Road Recordings (1952)

With its genre bending coverage of dynamic field recorded environmental sounds (earthquakes, oceans, ionosphere!), binaural classical, folk, spoken word (including a Buckminster Fuller I have yet to see in the flesh), guitar recs by Bonfa & Montoya and, perhaps most notably today, a stunning & invaluable string of location recordings throughout the Caribbean, Cook seemed to map a trajectory not dissimilar from Moe Asch's Folkways.

On closer look, though, the whole venture seemed to be coming from a gearhead inventor's affection for sound innovation rather than the Weltanschauung of the post war Popular Front. As far as I can tell, Cook wasn't singing out, he was making the World's Fair scene and showing off his tech wares which over time included amplifiers, the "microfusion" process (see pevious post), true double grooved binaural recordings and microphones. Realizing a stronger interest in his demo discs than his machines, he proceeded to issue some 150+ lps, 10s and 45s over a 14 year period beginning in 1952 from his Stamford, Connecticut based Cook Laboratories and pressing plant.

The limited edition Cook Road Recordings series has long been a source of personal fascination. The wandering off the beaten path vibe and all that the open, unobstructed road connotes comes through on the label's tableau of windblown trees, brush and telephone line vistas . The opposing 'R' logo looks rather like it could have been an automotive emblem; the brisk hand drawn 'Road Recordings' beneath is hurried and casual. These same stock images-rendered in southwestern hued watercolor-were almost exclusively used for the series' covers as well. The liners were often laid out in a serif typewriter font - lines underlined for emphasis - that lent the series a sense of urgent dispatch like a letter from the road.

The Road series included numerous exceptional wild microphone recordings, often with pulpish titles & subtitles, like Tiroro-"Best Drummer in Haiti", Mexican Firecrackers (truly one of the great field recording sides of all time), The Blind Troubadour of Oaxaca: The Romantic Voice of Alonzo Cruz and His Guitar and this great slice of Delta blues by K.C. Douglas featuring his legendary song "Mercury Blues" - A Deadbeat Guitar and the Mississippi Blues: Street Corner Blues 'Bout Women And Automobiles.

Have you never dreamed of driving the length of the Americas? Hopping a boat to the neighboring islands? Over beers in a dicey East Orange blues club in the late 80s, with newly minted drivers' licenses, a friend and I used to talk at length about the possibility. It was doable, we'd both agreed. Records from this series take me back to that place. The world was accessible.

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