Scott Sherk

          

by Matthew Crain
Maybe it’s old age. Maybe I’m going deaf. But these days each hornhonk, or hammerwhack, or Harleyrev, even each carefree kidsqueal makes my blood boil–and what a wonderful world if puking Pandora dropped dead. Autumn is the time for whispers, and thus Scott Sherk’s field recordings are a godsend because they are quiet.
A resident of Orefield, Pennsylvania, Mr. Sherk has been sculpting sound and recording sound for over 30 years. He has an impressive list of solo shows (PA; NYC; Berlin) and is represented by the Kim Foster Gallery in Manhattan. But best of all he and his wife the artist Pat Badt have a great web site (thethirdbarn.org) where you can stay quiet among their audio/visual installations and his sound works. (Don’t do like a certain music columnist and lose yourself in the drama of “State Game Box” and let the cake burn. And avoid stasisfield.com and wanderingear.com, two netlabels that feature Mr. Sherk’s downloadable pieces–they will just make you obsess about his sold-out Overheard and Rendered 2.)Birds chirping. Ice cracking. Bells echoing. Diners murmuring. Train wheels singing in the hump yard. These are some of the sounds you’ll hear on Scott Sherk’s recordings. Best is all the water: streams gurgling, fountains bubbling and babbling and splashing and splattering and spilling over, gentle surf sliding itself across smooth sand in a foamy hiss. Mr. Sherk, master of the art of microphone placement, gets an extraordinary depth to the flattest of sounds (boots crunching slushy leaves, horsehooves on cobblestones), and such fine clarity that often I couldn’t tell if the cricket I was listening to was on the tape or under my chair.

Some of his pieces are processed and edited and last only a few minutes. Listening to them is like when a small, everyday bird lands on your window sill and just when you get the sense of its markings, it flies away. Best among these are “the strange effects of wind” with its crescendo of weird, wet-sounding clicks, “fate follows in its wake” (distant shotgun blasts in a forest), and “slow night, slow angels” that showcases the creepy drone of a million bugs rubbing their legs together.

            Sherk’s longer, twenty-minute pieces such as “23 Fountains of Beverly Hills,” “New York Glyptic,” and “Icelandic Air” are excellent. They whet your hearing til it’s razor sharp, you feel freed from the idiotic blare of humans and the ceaseless “mental rutting” (M. McLuhan) of daily life, and Earth is a fascinating place to listen to (this does not include my neighbor’s asthmatic chihuahua). Listening to Mr. Sherk’s long pieces relaxes you but they are in no way “music for relaxation.” For, the sounds force you not to label them (and once labeled, ignore) but to listen to them. And as you listen you’re constantly reminded of music and how it “shapes” time or “keeps” time or is its own time that has nothing to do with clocks, and you are eager to put on a record and, say, listen to The Marriage of Figaro as a field recording. Plus, his pieces reveal a certain attitude about listening to recordings of sounds: as you listen you think, Gee, I’m lucky: this experience is unique, no one recorded it, it’s gone for good–but it was recorded, and you have only to press Play to hear it again.

 

Finally, Mr. Sherk’s pieces are not dry documents: you sense his enjoyment as he records and that he knows he’s getting something special. His pieces go over well any time, but they express the most when, say, played along with the rain.

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