Obsolescence as audio art
Binatone Galaxy is an installation for used cassette players that looks on their obsolescence not as an ending, but as an opportunity to reconsider their functional potential. Superseded by digital audio players as recording and playback devices, cassette players become, in this work, instruments in their own right.
The piece takes irreverent delight in disposing of the prerecorded tape inside a cassette and replacing it with a microphone that amplifies the rhythmic and resonant properties of these once ubiquitous audio shells. Instead of hearing sound recorded on magnetic tape, the listener hears the sound of the two plastic spools rotating, the machine’s motor-hum, and the sound of the crude, sibilant amplifier.
The work is the clearest expression yet of Cornford’s continuing fascination with the audible mechanics of physical playback technologies, which has previously seen him prepare the platters of turntables to create twelve-inch kinetic sculptures and compose work using only the sounds of reel-to-reel machines being dismantled. Here, in Binatone Galaxy, the plastic casing that carried the medium for a generation’s favourite recordings is brought to the centre of attention, revealing the acoustics of the cassette and the voices of the machines themselves.
Binatone Galaxy will be exhibited as part of Sound Art: Sound as a Medium of Fine Art at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany between March and August 2012.
Audio: Binatone Galaxy (trio) (2011). Image: A close-up of the hacked and retrofitted cassette tape mechanism used in Cornford's installation. Image by: Stephen Cornford.