Practice makes perfect! Feb 2024 – hi

Hi all,

It’s been a few since I updated this blog about my Masters research so I thought I’d take a moment to write up about what I’ve been up to. My initial feeling was that I hadn’t actually done that much, Christmas happened and my partner Jake and I are trying to get to grips with a broken NHS as we navigate management of his disability. (This is defo, pint talk!) but thanks to my mentor PA Tremblay I’ve got in the habit of keeping a creative journal to keep tabs on activity and reading so I have got some stuff to say.

Landscape image of Sophie Cooper holding a trombone in her hands in front of her body. She is looking left and smiling. She is wearing a floral jumpsuit .
Sophie Cooper is a white 41 year old woman with shoulder length, light brown hair.

To pick up on where we left off, I had just made a tape loop which I submerged in sea water as a tribute to the Captain Beefheart inspired exhibition at Bury Art Museum. The tape did end up having some salt deposits on there and sounded quite crunchy as a result, but nothing too noticeable. (The loop was just me repeating the name ‘Vanda Chan’ for 7 seconds) I donated the tape to the Vanda Chan archive so it’s ended up being more of a one off art object rather than being much use for performance say. I hoped to use the tape during my set at Bury however the tape player I wanted to use wasn’t playing and I ended up doing more of an improv set. Beefheart may have been proud.

It did get me thinking though. Creating visual art / art objects is all well and good but I’m often overwhelmed by an excess of stuff that amasses as a result. (I honestly think that’s one of the biggest reasons I was drawn to playing music rather than making art at school, which I was probably instinctively better at, I really had to work for music.) One of the emotions I felt when handing over the tape to the archive was relief, one less thing to worry about. Now I’m writing electro-acoustic music the temptation to buy more equipment is often there but that’s expensive and from a sustainability point of view, we don’t need to keep getting new things. I believe that it’s really important to look around and see what’s already at my disposal. This notion of recycling was at the core of my recent outdoor billboard piece displayed on the wall of Ebor Studio which I called A/B. One of my hobbies in recent years is knitting so this coupled with my regular supply of second-hand tapes I’ve got coming in came together. Rather than buying new what would happen with all this forgotten music I’ve got if I knitted it together?

A/B was made slowly over the course of 6 months in a basic pattern (below) and I lost count of the amount of tapes I used for it. I’ve kept the cases to use for future tape loops. These photos were all taken by Maryanne Royle who captured the before and after 5 weeks stages. We were all very surprised by how well it stayed up considering it lived through two major storms during a winter in Rochdale! Thanks to Lindsay James for constructing the waterproof orange backing and Kara Lyons for engineering how to get it up on the wall.

Blurb: “A/B is a hand knitted work consisting of several discarded cassette tapes mostly sourced from the Morrisons car park in Todmorden. Sophie Cooper wants the viewer to appreciate discarded sound in a new visual and nostalgic context with the Littleborough air breathing fresh movement into the recycled material. Where are your old tapes now?”

Pattern: using knitting needles size 10mm cast on 32 sts work in RS K and WS K until work measures 110cm. Cast off all sts. Repeat pattern until work measures 230cm across then knit pieces together.

In January I gave a mini presentation about my research to other students in the university’s CeReNeM department where I included information about A/B. Bryn Harrison asked me about if I’d thought about recycling sounds as well as physical materials which up until that point I hadn’t. The tapes I’d used were totally random, I was quite throwaway about the music on them (they were literally given to me in a binbag) but also, I tend to be quite anti-documentation and preservation in general (more pint chat!) I didn’t care about the music on them. I was interested in the sound on there from a point of view of how the process I was putting it through would change the physicality of the tape, would this create interesting textures and timbre when recorded on top, for example. I couldn’t stop thinking about what Bryn had asked though and as someone who has a history of working with tape loops it made sense to think about recycling, repetition and where this exists in my past experiences. I’m a trombone player, I use to play in various brass bands as a young un and so my mind immediately went to hymns which are totally based on ideas of reusing, recycling etc: same tune, different words in each verse style. I started to do a bit of online research and came across YouTube videos of the Hebden Bridge brass band. I had a look through their repertoire online and came across a piece called Abide with Me which I had no former knowledge of, but I’ve since discovered it’s sang before every FA Cup and has been since 1927! I just liked the way the tuba player hit a really nice low note on the recording I found… link to original video on YouTube.

Anyway, I decided to experiment with this piece by sampling it and turning it into a long tape loop in my studio and had a great time playing with the tape texture as it ran under the lavalier mics I have. I wondered about doing this in a concert setting. I’ve tried to play with tape loops live before, even at the Beefheart gig, but with varying results due to the unpredictability of the instrument. My newfound understanding that a hymn is the ultimate loop made me realise I could get away with using a straight up version of the song which would still give me a repetitive backdrop to perform trombone along to. I was obsessing about DJ Screw in my last blog entry and I could see the influence from Screw forming and making connections between his 3 in the morning, slowed down freestyles and my own approach to recomposing this existing material.

Handdrawn image of a cassette tape loop which goes around a water bottle.

I know where this piece is going next but won’t go into it here because this blog is for documenting the past but I will say if anyone has a knackered old brass instrument they aren’t using and would like to pass on to me please get in touch.

I think that’s about it for now. Thanks for reading and please feel free to send me a message if you fancy talking about any of this stuff or can recommend anything that could be useful to read.

All the very best to you,

Sof

Reading:

Listening through the noise – Demers

Audio Culture – editing by Cox and Warner

Background Noise, perspectives on Sound Art – LaBelle

DJ Screw, a Life in Slow Revolution – Walker

Listening:

Lil B – 6 Kiss

Bye Bye – Kim Gordon

Records – Christian Marclay

Last Wolf – Philip Davenport

Trilogie de la Mort – Eliane Radigue

I am Kurdish – Mohammad Syfkhan

Significant Live performances:

Hervé Birolini – Des Eclairs at Electric Spring festival

Weston Olencki performing Sam Salem at Electric Spring