Somewhere in a mangled, mislabeled and likely dust-covered box in the back of an overloaded closet lies an audio document of one’s formative years. Be it recordings of friends awkward conversations, early attempts at songwriting or fragments of songs pulled from the radio or television, these aural relics often serve as a source of unerring awkwardness and inchoate artistry often better left to the moments in which they were laid to tape. Especially in the case of those who came of age in the pre-internet/pre-iPhone/pre-social media world of the ‘80s and ‘90s, tapes were the best form of audio documentation of thoughts, ideas and all sorts of other cringe-worthy instances of wide-eyed idealism. Bottom line: these recordings are not often the go-to source material for a debut album.

But in the case of North Carolina-based experimental musician Zach Cooper, the early tape fragments and recordings that make up the twelve sound collages on his full-length debut, The Sentence, show an early creative brilliance rarely found on your average teenage 90-minute TDK. By mixing these early recordings with compositional skills further honed during his studies at the University of Vermont with the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, Cooper manages a sort of meta-commentary on his own creative evolution. In these sound collages, time and space cease to matter, each overlapping one another to create something at once nostalgic and entirely in the moment.

In Cooper’s words, the recordings assembled here allow for an examination of the “common musical threads in [his] life,” affording him, “hints to understanding [his] real life…more than any specific mood or musical taste.” Heavily immersed in a lifestyle of meditation and introspective spiritualism, Cooper’s approach here is at once a reconciliation of who he was and how he came to be, as well as an attempt to create an inner peace through harmonic unity and reconciliation across the whole of his artistic development. By examining each facet of his creative evolution concurrently, he’s able to draw upon thematic and aesthetic through-lines that help create a more vivid, vibrant picture of the artistic mind.

Through the seamless incorporation of these chronologically disparate elements, Cooper manages an aural hypnosis here that refuses to be pigeonholed into one specific sonic element over another. Rather than requiring one’s full attention, the music of The Sentence allows for introspective contemplation as it swirls about through a series of drones, acoustic guitar fragments and random chatter. Where this could easily turn into something oppressive or, worse, claustrophobic, Cooper’s use and understanding of space helps further the contemplative nature of the music, ensuring a sense of calm and relaxation to creep in.

Lacking any sort of immediately recognizable themes or melodic motifs, The Sentence instead focuses on mood and tone shaping to bring on within the mind of the listener the requisite mental tranquility to fully absorb the hypnotic elements of these sound fragments. While sudden bursts appear throughout (atonal guitar, televised gunshots, random chatter), these moments prove fleeting and ultimately serve to reestablish focus and consciousness of center that is then again allowed to wander. Best experienced in headphones and with an open mind, The Sentence is a fascinating, beguiling aural biography that finds its creator moving from lo-fi, nylon string guitar noodling to gorgeous chamber orchestra compositions simultaneously. Unlike virtually anything else, Zach Cooper’s The Sentence offers a unique approach to not only experimental music on the decidedly more accessible end of the spectrum, but also a wholly unique way of exploring one’s own creative and artistic growth with startlingly gorgeous, often brilliant, results.

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