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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Making "Tangible Biscuits" with Emory Cook

Booklet promoting Microfusion,
Cook Instruments Corp. (COOK-10-26).
From the Cook Labs records.
With albums like A Double Barrel Blast, Hellish Calypso, and Kilts on Parade, it's easy to see how Emory Cook's playful eccentricity set his record company, Cook Records, apart from the crowd. As an audiophile and pioneer of high-fidelity sound recordings, Emory Cook was focused on producing recordings that excited the listener. Cook would brave a thunderstorm on a hilltop to get a good recording of its booming majesty.

In addition to producing a unique and sonically diverse catalog, Cook patented the process of Microfusion to press his own records in a low-cost method that required a small staff and compact equipment--an ideal set-up for a small record company. With plants in Norwalk, Connecticut and Port of Spain, Trinidad, Cook was able to maintain his company's high standards of record production--right down to the building and repairing (and invention) of equipment in his in-house workshops.  In a promotional booklet advertising Cook Laboratories, Inc., a photograph of a circuit board is accompanied by the caption,"Typical function circuit board--if they don't exist we design them" (At last! 6).

Emory Cook with his Microfusion record press
(COOK-55-05). From the Cook Labs records.
The Microfusion process is based on the concept of molding records from vinyl powder instead of "fused rigid chips or biscuits" (Microfusion 1). These chips, used in the popular process of pressing records, are roughly the size of a hockey puck and extremely hard. Using a spongy “biscuit” made of vinyl powder instead of the more rigid material means the press "is not forced to rely upon high temperatures to squeeze a solid material radically across the groove of the matrix" (Microfusion 9), which apparently results in all manner of advantages to the lifespan of the equipment and the sound quality produced that are beyond my expertise as an archivist but never failed to enthuse Cook.

Cook wanted to democratize the manufacturing of records. The process was designed to be replicated anywhere and by anyone. Although it did not catch on in the commercial record industry, it continues to inspire the DIY-minded as a way to press their own records with limited resources. In a 1989 interview with Cook in Audio magazine, he explains the Microfusion process' superiority to hot extrusion: "Something that has not gone through an oven, that's been changed from a powder to a tangible biscuit that can be picked up, is bound to be better...Not just that, but you don't have to make several thousand records at a time to do it economically. You can make a hundred, a couple hundred, whatever you like."

Works Cited:
At last! A full service for audio media! Connecticut: Cook Laboratories, Inc., undated. Print.
Microfusion. Connecticut: Cook Instruments Corp., undated. Print.

Cecilia Peterson, Project Archivist
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

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