Intercession. SETH COOKE
(Impulsive Habitat 2013)
Review by Caity Kerr
From the artist’s online notes:
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Composed of recordings made – with permission – in and around West Yorkshire Police Headquarters; in the telephony equipment rooms; electronic alarm sounds; mobile phone interference; and various other drone phenomena – all sounds produced by the equipment that mediates emergency calls and other requests for aid. This is the sound of the devices that intercede for us and the machines that help maintain them, not the emergency calls themselves. No restricted or sensitive information or money gained from taxation was used in creating this composition.
“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
The quotations are interesting because any text, sacred or secular, despite what the high priests will tell you, is open to numerous interpretations. And of course a good verse or two from the Bible affords gravitas. Biblical exegesis then takes us to literary interpretation, theory and critique which takes us on to the narrativity of this type of sound work and how we might begin to interpret what we’re listening to.
Obviously you have to listen to the work rather than read what I have to say about it, but it’s an intriguing piece and not difficult listening in terms of what unfolds – these are recordings of machines after all, from the sound of them relatively unprocessed. And there’s a fine flexible concept behind the work which offers numerous possibilities for developing the work and relating it to other media and communicative structures.
What is interesting here, and this stands for almost all of the work that goes under the name ‘field recording’ nowadays, is less what the artists did to make the work and the concept behind it, though this is essential in my view*, and more what you’re going to do with it at the other end – esthesis over poiesis. Listening to field recordings on a cd can be demanding. A work like Intercession would work well as some sort of element in a radio piece or a piece dealing with wider broad- (or narrow-) casting issues. It would also be an interesting piece to play in a social setting, allowing people to listen communally and comment or discuss afterwards, as you might do with friends at home looking at home movies or a slideshow (in the ‘olden days’). This apparently regressive step, because it focuses on people rather than devices, is to my mind in fact very pro-gressive and is the best way forward for what is being called ‘field recording’ nowadays, making new work more accessible and widening the debate on the artistic merit (if any) that these works might have. Otherwise we risk ending up with a 19th century gentleman’s club of conceited, opinionated and rather ridiculous sound collectors.
*essential that artists knows what they’re about – even if they don’t know what they’re about, they need to know that.