Unconventional instruments, field recording and improvisation: explore the thinking and making processes of Bang the Bore's Seth Cooke...
Ahead of Labyrinthite, Triangular Trade at Arnolfini, Sam Francis talked to artist Seth Cooke about his artistic practice and translating ideas into sound…
SF: Tell us about your practice as an artist - what are the subjects that inform your work?
SC: For the last ten years, my day job has involved working a lot with maps, analytically or remotely co-ordinating activity. So I allow my artistic practice to play with that. Sometimes I amplify the process of mapping or representation, deliberately false-to-fact qualities, for example, my interpretation of Sarah Hughes' piece Architectural Model Making, recorded in Cabot Circus.
Sometimes I work with one place in order to destabilise another, for example, using a field in Gloucestershire to displace and make London ambiguous by annihilating the River Thames, as was the intention with City of London Mirror Displacement. And other times I use what I call no-input field recording, which is the practice of recording the empty channels of the recording device at specific locations – making recordings in the field, but not of the field (at least, not in any easily recognisable sense).
SF: Could you explain what ‘triangular trade’ refers to your new work, Labyrinthite?
SC: The term 'triangular trade' refers to commerce between three ports or regions. It's a means of resolving supply and demand issues arising when a country's exports aren't required in the country providing its imports, so commodities from one region are used to make payment for commodities from another region. The Transatlantic Slave Trade is by far the most famous example of this practice, to the extent that the terms have attained a virtual synonymy.
‘Triangular trade' is also the basis of my compositional technique for Labyrinthite – thematically it co-ordinates between migration, slavery and climate change and geographically, it triangulates West Africa, the Americas and England, then Liverpool, London and Bristol, followed by a trio of local reference points that ask questions about Bristol's history of monuments and migration. And there'll be other trios and triangles scattered throughout.
SF: Who else will join you for the event and what will they contribute?
SC: Madge Dresser, Associate Professor of History at UWE, will join us to present a talk on Bristol's legacy of involvement with the slave trade. I asked her to be involved because I valued her insight into the continuity of the history of slavery – how it informs our present, how it relates to modern day migration and community cohesion.
The composition will be performed a double bass ensemble featuring local musicians Dominic Lash and Joseph Kelly. Dom's one of the most sought-after players in terms of free improvisation and contemporary composition, and for his critical thinking and enthusiasm. He's provided a lot of help with the pitch organisation aspects of Triangular Trade.
And Joe is a student of composer Michael Finnissy who plays in the the bands After the Rain and Etao Shin. The last time I had them play together was for the premiere of Twelve Tapes, which was also at the Arnolfini. Dom's been part of the Bang the Bore collective for a few years, and Joe has been playing Bang the Bore events since way back in our Southampton days.
Another partner for this event is Mach Acoustics, a firm of engineers and acoustic consultants based in St. Pauls. They've donated their digital acoustic model of an iconic Bristol location that will be used in the piece. Their work has been central to realising the themes of the composition – I'm hugely grateful to them for their skill, ideas and support.
SF: There is a lot at play conceptually with this event! How does this translate into sound and what can audiences expect to hear?
SC: My work, and the output of Bang the Bore collective occupies a very small niche where free improvisation and open composition meet noise and field recording.
An audience unfamiliar with what we do can expect a tension between openness and direction in the performances – there is a score, but there will also be a level of expressive freedom and performance choices for the players.
There'll be unconventional instruments (seashells, taken from a beach in Ghana and given to me by family members specifically for this piece, in which they'll be played with violin bows) and there'll be some conventional instruments played in unconventional ways (sine waves resonating through a Ghanaian djembe).
There'll also be some pre-recorded material, including controlled use of a feedback process and no-input field recording. Those who stick around long enough might be rewarded by something they recognise too!
Tickets on sale now for Labyrinthite, Triangular Trade at Arnolfini on Friday 18 March, 8pm.