AMN Reviews: Laura Cocks – field anatomies (2022; Carrier Records)

Laura Cocks has a singular relationship with flutes. While their work as a leader of the TAK Ensemble is suggestive of this notion (as are their recordings with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, and Wet Ink Ensemble), field anatomies takes this connection to whole new levels.

These five long-form works, each between 8 and 25 minutes, were composed by David Bird, Bethany Younge, Jessie Cox, DM R, and Joan Arnau Pàimes, respectively. The Bird and Younge pieces were specifically written for Cocks. Each offering explores a sonic landscape through one or more flute lines, and often these instruments and the performer are pushed to their physical extremes.

As an example, Atolls from Bird includes 30 piccolos interspersed by vocalizations from Cocks. She employs long-held chords, percussive clacking with keys, and discordant textures. There is little in terms of a traditional melody – the themes are brief, jagged, and harsh though occasionally fluttering and swooping. In terms of density, the piece varies from single piccolo to overwhelming layers. Around the two-thirds mark Atolls gets even more extreme with Cocks employing wails, cries, and short screams along with looping rhythms and blasts that resemble test patterns. The sheer emotionality of this combination is hard to describe in words. It is beyond disconcerting.

Oxygen and Reality by Younge opens with Cocks blowing, breathing, and speaking through the flute. What follows is a complex set of overlapping extended techniques constituting processed sound art. The liner notes indicate that some of the sounds were produced by attaching balloons to the instruments. Regardless, it is electroacoustic and spectral in nature, exploring the relationship between air, breathing, and what happens when there is not enough of the former for the latter.

Cox’s Spiritus, for solo flute and vocalizations, takes things down a notch with a more introspective approach. Cocks coaxes airy tones out of her instrument while humming in the background. The piece is soft and textural while retaining a sense of foreboding. You’ll See Me Return to the City of Fury from DM R employs glissando flute and electronics. Cocks “slides” between notes in a haunting fashion, with the electronics providing gurgles and waves. Harsher staccato passages emerge from time to time accompanied by rolling and pulsing effects in the background.

Produktionsmittel I from Pàmies is similar to Atolls in that it is long and covers a wide range of colors and textures. The intent behind the piece is to represent the individual’s struggle to cope with our modern socio-economic systems. In addition to amplified flute, the score provides the performer with aluminum foil and a glass bottle. Intentionally given more instructions than can be followed, the performer is in a constant state of overload and compelled to improvise through this scenario (hopefully without shutting down into a catatonic state). Cocks navigates the frenetic score with blowing, mouth noises, clicks, pops, and snaps, at times groaning through the flute. Accompanying them in the background is a set of electronics that often probes ear-piercing registers.

Needless to say, this is a very experimental album, but one in which the sheer intellect and poise of the composers and performer shine through. Cocks’ technical prowess is second to none, and she plays with devastating fervor. If experimentalism is to go where no one has gone before, then mission accomplished. One of the more unique and compelling releases in quite some time.

Carrier Records will release field anatomies on February 22.