Stephen Cornford & Samuel Rodgers · Zinc [extracts]

Stephen Cornford & Samuel Rodgers · Zinc [extracts]


This morning, at 5AM, I drove to work in icy cold, pitch black conditions (minus six apparently) and I listened to the 3" CDr I tried to play last night, and have been playing again this evening – a CD of three pieces by the UK-based duo of Samuel Rodgers and Stephen Cornford newly released on their Consumer Waste imprint. Some music really seems suited for early morning drives in the desolate cold…

The disc, which is entitled Zinc [extracts] contains three short pieces that were recorded ont he same day back in April 2009 that the duo recorded their full length disc Turned Moment, weighting that appeared on Another Timbre, and which I reviewed, with a few small concerns here. The pieces on this new disc suggest they are small extracts taken from the recording sessions that weren’t used on the final album. I must say, that having listened a lot to these shorter tracks the last few days that I much prefer this new, more brief release. My criticism of the full length album was that it all felt a little too pretty, and yet seemed to lack a little substance, relying on droning sounds and extended tonal sections to create atmosphere but not really feeling quite urgent enough. Zinc [extracts] seems to overcome this completely. There are three pieces, the first weighing in at just two and a half minutes, the second a little short of seven and the final, and most impressive piece almost exactly ten.

Throughout the disc, the same basic structures of the full length disc are in place, Cornford using feedback pulled from an exposed old piano frame, and Rodgers providing smaller, incidental, often percussive sounds from his prepared piano. On the first of the three pieces here, it is precisely this arrangement that we hear, with Rodgers really hammering occasional dampened thumps from inside the piano into Cornford’s glowing tones. The track ends as fast as it begins, and maybe that’s why it works so well here, it has an impact that makes you sit up and pay attention rather than sink down and wallow.

The second piece flows straight out of the first thanks to a cute piece of editing, but slows things a little, retaining a similar structure, with Cornford providing a bed for Rodgers’ pointilistic interventions. the real beauty comes in the final track of the disc though, which takes up a little more than half of the running time. Here the beauty is just undeniably captivating, but also the sense of urgency and a real tension comes to the fore. Cornford breaks up his sounds into smaller bursts, some of them very slight, barely audible slithers of tone, but some of them also heavy, burning pulses of feedback that form brief but powerful clouds. Rodgers begins by pounding some huge dramatic notes into these swells, but then suddenly shifts gears, letting just a very gentle scratchy rattle hold an understated place as Cornford slips into restrained mode alongside, allowing just soft tones to float around it. More small percussive sounds, again protesting against their own significance, but this time closer to a microphone and so taking on a different texture in the music again sit in the foreground as Cornford brings heavier tones into play again, still only briefly, until the track trickles to a gorgeous ending as the faintest of scratching and humming slowly dissolves away.

The brevity of these pieces then make them feel like small gems, not all that much happens in each track and so each incident we hear feels more significant, each change in tone feels like it carries weight, each strike at the piano feels important. Maybe its just me adding weight to these sounds, maybe its just the shorter length of the tracks giving this impression, but Zinc [extracts] feels a more significant and powerful work for me than the longer release that came from the same sessions. Lovely stuff, available in an edition of only 100 copies.

Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear, November 2010

A delightful jewel, this 3" collaboration between Cornford (piano feedback) and Rodgers (piano, objects). Three cuts, about three, seven and ten minutes, forming a very lovely and full suite, the feedback imparting a strong but not too obtrusive scrim in which the tingling and buzzing sounds created inside the piano by Rodgers become embedded, slip out, catch again further on. The elements are delicately distributed but are themselves quite vibrant and tangy, making for a wonderful yin/yang, tickling the ear while stopping just short of scraping it. Put it this way: without entering his particular melodic territory, it’s the kind of music I could imagine Tilbury creating, high praise indeed. Get it while it lasts – at 100 copies it may not be for long.

I am happy to return to the music of occasional collaborators Samuel Rodgers and Stephen Cornford, as the well they draw from for their 2010 release Zinc [extracts] is far from dry.

In what was my first spontaneously written review for crow, a short consideration of the duo’s release on Another Timbre, Turned Moment, weighting, I made reference to the process of their work for piano and piano feedback being akin to the duo of the underrated pianist Gabriel Paiuk and Jason Kahn (on the beautiful Cut Records release, Breathings), as well as to the Marcus Schmickler/John Tilbury piano alterations heard on Variety. There is also, on a grander scale, Cor Fuhler’s role as sonic saboteur (again, to the long-suffering Tilbury) on the jaw-dropping MIMEO release, The Hands of Caravaggio. All of these pairings involve a pianist sounding keyboard and innerklavier resonances, filtered through transforming electronics.

Cage famously said ideas are one thing and what happens is another. The process, as sculptor Stephen Cornford sets Zinc into motion, is to jolt his piano works with the aperiodic, aleatory and unstable influences of Rodgers’ electronic tweaking. The result is far from chaotic or merely of interest for its concept. The piano, treated as such by two musicians with acute ears and empathic hands, is tactile, sensuous music.

If you view photos of Cornford’s constructions for piano, turntables and guitars, it is clear sound sculpture can refer to more than a precious placeholder to describe fuzzy, inchoate music. Cornford’s kinetic creations whirl, vibrate and move in space, sending waves and plies of timbre and overtones into the air. On Zinc [extracts], the duo adhere to a more restricted palette, largely extracting and mining the rattle and thrum from the grand piano, with a steady dose of sustain. The first word I jotted down following a few listens to Zinc [extracts] was sustain. Cornford and Rodgers make music with a feeling of vitality and sustain – it is music that rises and spirals upward, even when sounding, as happens on the second track, the bent blues note.

I will mention in closing that Zinc [extracts] is music culled from the same sessions that yielded Turned Moment, weighting. The music here is in no wise leftovers or afterthoughts. I have spent time with both, and Zinc [extracts] owns a qualitatively different feel, a concision and concentration of elements that merit a separate release. The sustain of the piano’s sublime frequencies and feedback gather in the air, something like the idea of massed cicadas, or an electric storm brewing. Cornford and Rodgers are sculptors, lend an ear.