“Boring Embroidery” is the third and likely final instalment in a series of duo improvisations for piano and electronics from Consumer Waste curators Stephen Cornford and Samuel Rodgers. The five pieces collected here are all quite sparse and economical, with each sound given time and space to imprint itself on the listener. However, the album is far from a procession of discrete unrelated noises, demonstrating a deep consideration of harmonic and rhythmic structure. It seems as though dissonance is used as another way of isolating individual sounds from one another, giving them room to breathe, and the effect is rarely abrasive; rather, a quiet tension pervades each of the tracks, soliciting an intense and attentive form of listening. Boredom is quite the opposite of “Boring Embroidery”’s effect.
One could think about this music in expressly political terms, its call to slow and patient attention an act of resistance in a culture that privileges immediacy and sensory overload. Or it could be considered an exercise in an alternative mode of listening that bears its own relation to time and space, breaking the myth which assumes that there is only one way in which the brain can process auditory phenomena. At any rate, it seems clear that listening to “Boring Embroidery” demands a certain kind of work, a cognitive effort that involves stitching together a set of relations between fragmented parts to form the contingent impression of a design. Okay, enough of the bad sewing metaphors. But one could argue that it is precisely in the exercise of this effort that the pleasure of “Boring Embroidery” resides, rather than in some form of emotional expression or somatic affect. I enjoy this work of tentatively joining the dots, sussing out implied harmonies and rhythmic phrases, building a picture or an idea that is each time different, yet nonetheless always somehow rooted in what I hear.
I’ll share one such picture with you: there is some fantastic piano playing on this record, playing that speaks a language drawn from the distinguished history of the piano in avant-garde music, yet remains fully engaged and immersed in the situation that it is in now, conversing with various finely-controlled squawks and swells of feedback and other electronic noises. Perhaps Cornford and Rodgers would be uncomfortable with the description of “Boring Embroidery” as a ‘piano record’, preferring rather to think of the sounds generated by this instrument as simply sounds, without all the attendant semantic and historical baggage; perhaps this baggage is only the product of the piano’s convenient ubiquity in twentieth-century Western music. But this is only one way of joining the dots. So while on the one hand it could be considered a shame that the artists have decided to leave this particular format behind — Cornford in particular seems to have moved on to more sculptural outcomes as far as his own practice is concerned — the music left behind on record continues to generate new ideas; the possible configurations of its elements, which extend far beyond the purely audible, remain far from exhausted, a lasting advantage of this format called the audio recording. With such rich material to play with, who could ever get bored?