New York glyptic. SCOTT SHERK
Review by Chris Whitehead
On the cover of Scott Sherk’s New York Glyptic, sound artist Annea Lockwood describes how the work has awakened in her the ability to walk through the city with fresh ears. She has an advantage here because the only New York I know is the version absorbed from 70s and 80s TV cop shows and Woody Allen films. The sort of films that start with an aerial view of the sea, the Statue of Liberty and then the city beyond with its mythical skyscrapers around the green oasis of Central Park.
Then once the titles have finished rolling, we are suddenly on the street: Yellow cabs, police cars, endless traffic and people speaking in a plethora of dialects and languages. Something is always on the edge of happening and there is a charge in the air. A tension hangs there that could go either way. This is the New York of Taxi Driver, Bad Lieutenant and When Harry Met Sally.
The only photograph on the front of this characteristically well presented 3Leaves release shows a variety of people from the legs down standing on a metal grill. Their footwear indicates a mixed grouping. The metal grill accentuates the liminality of the city. They are not on solid ground. Whatever is beneath could rise up. A dropped key or coin would certainly be lost. This is Scott Sherk’s New York: A permeable membrane through which things ebb and flow.
Sherk approaches sound in a physical way, like a sculptor. He describes breaking pieces off, often revealing new shapes and textures underneath. Glyptics are carved stones, so the allusion is particularly apt. I would argue that he also interacts with the raw material like a painter, throwing washes of colour and texture across the canvas to blur the focus in an impressionistic way, yet never losing the core image.
To begin with we hear traffic noise, the very things Sherk couldn’t hear past when he first began recording the city. Sirens, cars, footsteps and voices: Then a synthetic sheen of processed sound washes through and over the street’s tumult. These metallic vapours act like a bridge, perhaps a wormhole through the time and space of New York’s soul, and we are transported to another vignette, another living, breathing soundscape. A skateboard trundles by. They’re playing basketball here. Maybe on a hard court fenced off with wire netting: Graffiti and children’s voices. We visit new scenes, new people and new localities throughout.
The whole thing dissolves again into processed sheets of drifting, ringing tones like the glint of sunlight reflected in the gleaming glass windows of tall buildings. Visually New York is a city of angles and concrete, metal and glass. Hard materials that in themselves seem alienating, but the human city, the people, their lives and their stories are another layer, another system. In fact in this sense every city is an interaction of systems. New York Glyptic allows this flow between layers and systems, hardness and humanity to become an aural entity.
As the forty minute composition progresses the synthetic tones that permeate the piece gradually become more complex, more insistent and eventually that is all there is. As if all the television transmissions, all the mobile phone signals and all the digital information trails in the air are coalescing into a palpable sonic cloud. It chatters and bleeps away with its various signals and pulses.
For me this works as a warning of the constant tension between ourselves and the threat of the dehumanising urban environment. However this is an extremely stimulating, enjoyable, warm sound work with many musical elements and a beautiful compositional focus. The sound sketches of the various localities touched here are vibrant and colourful. From hearing Glyptic I would guess Scott Sherk loves New York.