Stephen Cornford - "Binatone Galaxy (Trio)" (Binatone Galaxy)
Stephen Cornford is crafty. In perusing the “works” section of his website, which showcases many of his dynamic, hand-assembled kinetic sound installations, one can surmise that as a sculptor and Research Fellow at the Sound Art Research Unit of Brookes University, Cornford’s art is truly the embodiment of his intense interests. His past installations have included works like Air Guitar, where a single wheelchair motor was used to physically revolve a guitar and amplifier in opposing directions in the air, the resulting sound being remarkably complex when considering the simplicity of the idea; and Extended Piano, where two mechanized bows played two guitar strings attached to the bass strings of an upright piano, creating a perpetual drone both hypnotic and visceral.
Binatone Galaxy is the title of Cornford’s most recent installation for 28 portable tape players containing built-in motion censors and “self-amplifying cassettes.” The cassettes are just another example of Cornford’s craftiness, housing homemade contact microphones instead of the usual spools of magnetic tape. When these homemade cassettes are amplified, they reveal the sounds of the mechanical innerworkings of the tape machines, rather than fulfilling their usual purpose of spouting whatever’s been recorded onto them. Consequently, Binatone Galaxy is a wonder, not only in its awe-inspiring sounds and visual splendor ¬– the bulky machines are suspended elegantly on blank walls – but in its transformation of the traditional sound-device/sound-player relationship into something more conceptually far-reaching.
The question remains: how does it translate as an album? The answer lies in Cornford’s approach, which included not only a desire to capture the Binatone Galaxy, but also the clusters that make up the galaxy, via recordings of small groups of three or four machines together (trios and quartets as he puts it). The first seven tracks are comprised of these more intimate sessions, recalling the “small music” of the late Rolf Julius, while sounding uniquely acoustic in origin.
And therein lies what is so intriguing about these pieces: each second, no matter how intricately textured the layers of retrograde clamor become, the work never sounds alienated from its kinetic provenance. Considering the inevitable limitations of Cornford’s process and the unpredictability of his aging cassette players, Binatone Galaxy manages to translate pretty damn well.