The Cook Labs records, which date from 1939-2002, document the activities of audio engineer Emory Cook and his label Cook Labs. The contents include business records, materials relating to recording artists, photographs, and production materials, as well as phonograph records, master recordings and unpublished recordings produced by or associated with the Cook Labs label. The collection also contains two interviews conducted with Emory Cook in 1990: one by Jeff Place and one by Anthony Seeger and Nicholas Spitzer. There are several physical objects relating to Cook Labs including a bag of powdered vinyl, a binaural playing arm, and a condenser microphone.
Scope and Contents note:
There are two primary components of the Cook Labs records: the records, master tapes and other audio recordings, and the related paper files.
The Cook Labs records contains about 150 of the 200 released Cook recordings, and 739 master tapes. In addition, there are 330 unpublished tapes.
The the paper files include acquisition materials; business correspondence; recording reports; various production notes on records produced; news articles both about and by Emory Cook and Cook Labs; copyright, licensing, and trademark materials; photographs, correspondence, contracts, and other materials relating to recording artists; production materials for each Cook Labs release; and other miscellany. Many contracts are signed by both Cook Labs and the artist. Correspondence is primarily between business associates.
Two interviews were done with Emory Cook in 1990: one by Jeff Place and one by Anthony Seeger and Nicholas Spitzer; both interviews are included in the Cook Labs records.
There are several physical objects relating to Cook Labs including a bag of powdered vinyl, a binaural playing arm, and a condenser microphone.
Many of the items in this list have been assigned an accession number, and like materials have been grouped together to create seven series:
Series 1: Business Papers, 1939-1990
Series 2: Recording Artists, 1949-1981, bulk 1950-1959
Series 3: Photographs, undated, 1957
Series 4: Production files, 1948-1995, bulk 1952-1963
Series 5: Objects, undated, 1908-1964
Series 6: Audio Interviews, 1990
Series 7: Audio Recordings
Emory Cook (1913-2002) is widely regarded as a highly influencial audio engineer. Born and raised in Albany, New York, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1932. After his discharge in 1934 he obtained his degree from Cornell University and began working for Western Electric in the Audio Engineering Force. During World War II, while still at Western Electric, Cook supervised the creation of a fire-controlled radar "Trainer," for which he received a Commendation from the Service.
In the late 1940's, convinced he could do better than what was on the market, Cook began experimenting with making his own audio equipment. Cook Laboratories was started in 1945 when he developed a new cutting head to be used in record production. Future development of equipment brought about the discovery that he could record frequencies as high as 20,000 hertz, more than any other recording company at the time. He cut a record of piano and organ music to demonstrate this discovery, and took it to the 1949 Audio Fair in New York. When he demonstrated the record with the hopes to sell the recording equipment, he found that people were much more interested in buying the record itself. Shortly after, Sounds of Our Times, later called Cook Records, was born.
Cook Records collected many different sounds and was mostly aimed at the devoted high-fidelity listener. Cook believed that hearing was a sense often overlooked by people, and he wanted listeners of his albums to be able to hear things they might otherwise miss. In a New Yorker profile by Daniel Lang in 1956, Cook claimed that hearing was "always being kicked aside in favor of sight… There's a time and a place for everything, and that includes sound." In order to encourage listening, he put out many albums full of everyday sounds, such as Voice of the Sea, an album of noises of the ocean and Eye of the Storm, recorded during a thunderstorm. One of the most successful albums was Rail Dynamics, an album of steam trains pulling in and out of a station.
Cook Records also produced traditional music albums from its plant in Stamford, Connecticut. The label produced everything from organ music to folk, flamenco guitar, calypso and steel band. Cook had little interest in name musicians and instead searched high and low for anything he thought might be an interesting contribution to his label. He even invited listeners to send in their favorite sounds, some of which he eventually recorded.
Cook had such a large interest in Calypso music that he set up a second pressing plant in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. There he pressed calypso and steel band music for both a Trinidadian and American audience, and most albums sold well in both countries.
In addition to the wide range of music Cook recorded, he was also an inventor. It was Cook who first came up with the idea of pressing records with powdered, rather than solid, vinyl, a technique he dubbed "microfusion." This technique not only saved money, but cut out many of the traditional crackles and pops associated with records.
He also developed the binaural system of recording and playing records, which he thought was superior to the more commonly used stereo method. Binaural was more precise than stereo, and it required placing two microphones six inches apart, approximately the space between two ears, during the recording. It was then played back with a special two-needle playing arm. Binaural recordings were thought by Cook to best duplicate the original sound.
Emory Cook died at the age of 89 in 2002 after a long hospitalization.
Shared Stewardship of Collections:
The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage acknowledges and respects the right of artists, performers, Folklife Festival participants, community-based scholars, and knowledge-keepers to collaboratively steward representations of themselves and their intangible cultural heritage in media produced, curated, and distributed by the Center. Making this collection accessible to the public is an ongoing process grounded in the Center's commitment to connecting living people and cultures to the materials this collection represents. To view the Center's full shared stewardship policy, which defines our protocols for addressing collections-related inquiries and concerns, please visit https://doi.org/10.25573/data.21771155.
COOK RECORDINGS - NUMERICAL LISTING:
001 20,000 Cycle Demo (1949) COOK00001
002 Night Rain and Surf COOK00002
003 Specimen Heart Beats COOK00003
004 Katydids, Frogs and Forrest Birds
E101 Grenada Stories and Songs (1957-58) COOK00101
E102 Amazon Sound: Yacu River Tribes (Rituals and Rites) (1954) COOK00102
E103 Music of St. Lucia (1953) COOK00103
E104 Rada (1958) COOK00104
E105 JOSE RAMON FORTUNE AND OLGA MAYNARD Nancy Stories (1956) COOK00105
106 Afro-West Indian Cultural Practices (1957-58) COOK00106
107 ESCOLA DE SAMBA DE BRAZIL The Boli, The Cocolute, and Brazil (1957-58) COOK00107
901 Steelband Jump Up Boys Town, Tropical Harmony, Silvertone COOK00901
904 THE ESSO STEEL BAND Esso Steelband of Bermuda (1958) COOK0904
906 LORD MELODY Lord Melody Sings Calypso (1958-59) COOK00906
911 TOM CHARLES AND HIS SYNCOPATER ORCHESTRA Fete for So! (1959) COOK00911
914 LORD MELODY Again! Lord Melody Sings Calypso (1957-58) COOK00914
916 Calypso Cross Section Young Killer, The Mighty Bomber, Small Island Pride, The Mighty Wrangler (1957-58) COOK00916
920 THE MIGHTY SPARROW King Sparrow's Calypso Carnival (1959) COOK00920
927 LORD MELODY Calypso through the Looking Glass (1959) COOK00927
928 CLARENCE CURVAN His Drums, His Orchestra COOK00928
930 Belly to Belly Clarence Curvan, Johnny Gomez, Tom Charles, Fitz Vaughn Bryan (1960-61) COOK00930
931 LORD MELODY Lord Melody, 1962 COOK0931
1000 TITUS MOODY DDDs of Binaural (1952) COOK01000
1011 The Christmas Music Box (1950) COOK01011
1012 Music Boxes of Long Ago (1950) COOK01012
1013 CHARLIE MAGNANTE Accordion Pops Concert (1954-55) COOK01013
1014 CHARLIE MAGNANTE AND LaVERGNE SMITH His and Hers (1954-55) COOK01014
1020 SAM ESKIN Sam Eskin's Songs of All Time COOK01020
1021 GROUPE MI-O Un Ti Bo (1958) COOK01021
1022 LAVINIA WILLIAMS' GROUPE FOLKLORIQUE Haiti Confidential (1958) COOK01022
1023 The Ramayana (Hindu Ceremony) (1961) COOK01023
10120 Music Boxes, Carousels, and Hand Organs (01012 and 05010) (1950-53) COOK10120
10248 The Voice of Mexico Gustavo Zepoli, Trio Leones (01024 and 01080) (1954) COOK10248
10251 SEAN McGONIGAL AND ST. COLUMCILLE'S UNITED GAELIC PIPE BAND Kilts on Parade (01025 plus solos) (1950-53) COOK10251
10271 CARLOS MONTOYA AND THE JOSE GRECO TROUPE Fiesta Flamenca (selections from 01027 and 01028) (1952) COOK10271
10289 CARLOS MONTOYA Montoya (selections from 01028 plus) (1952) COOK10289
10301 EDWARD AND JOSEPH VITO The Harp (selections from 01030 and 01031 plus) (1951-54) COOK10301
10326 Cafe Continental Ruth Welcome, Dick Marta, and Anita Ast (selections from 01026 and 01032) (1951-52) COOK10326
10350 Nickelodion and Calliope (selections from 01035 and 05010) (1950-53) COOK10350
10500 REGINALD FOORT The Theater Organ COOK10500
10501 MICHAEL CHESHIRE Pipe Organ in the Mosque (selections from 01050 and 01051) (1952) COOK10501
10523 REGINALD FOORT Percussion and Pedal (selections from 01052 and 01053) (1952) COOK10523
10545 REGINALD FOORT The Organ at Symphony Hall (01054 plus) (1954) COOK10545
10579 REGINALD FOORT Foort Pops (selections from 01057 and 01058) (1956) COOK10579
10646 NEW ORCHESTRAL SOCIETY OF BOSTON Tempo Vivace: Symphonic Masterpieces of Dance & Theater (selections from 01064 and 01066) (1955-56) COOK010646
10657 NEW ORCHESTRAL SOCIETY OF BOSTON Two Classical Symphonies: Mozart Symphony No. 40, Beethoven Symphony No. 5 (01065 and 01067) (1955) COOK10657
10659 NEW ORCHESTRAL SOCIETY OF BOSTON Two Classical Symphonies: Mozart Symphony No. 40, Haydn Symphony No. 100 (01065 and 01069) (1955-56) COOK10659
10683 NEW ORCHESTRAL SOCIETY OF BOSTON Modern Orchestral Textures (01068 and 01063) (1955) COOK10683
10850 RUPERT Cook LabsEMENDORE BAND Le Jazz Trinidad COOK10850
10867 Before and After Willie Rodriguez (selections from 01086 and 05007) (1953-54) COOK010867
10889 RED CAMP Horizontal & Upright & Downright & Dunright (01088 and 01089) (1954) COOK10889
10890 The Castiliane Johnny Gomez Band, John Buddy Williams Band, Girl Pat Steel Band, And Grand Curacaye String Orchestra (1956) COOK10890
11312 BRUCE PRINCE-JOSEPH AND HUFSTADER SINGERS The Forgotten Pedal Harpsichord and Hufstader Singers (01131 and 01092) (1953) COOK11312
11815 TONY ALMERICO'S PARISIAN ROOM BAND AND LIZZIE MILES Clambake on Bourbon Street (1954-55) COOK11815
50130 Tour of Cook Labs COOK50130
70889 RED CAMP Popular Piano and Combo COOK70889
80134 LUIZ BONFA Waterfall: Guitar COOK80134
80417 MARIMBA ORCHESTRA Waterfall: Children's Music COOK80417
80680 NEW ORCHESTRAL SOCIETY OF BOSTON Waterfall: Symphonic COOK80680
XX1 Audio Follies Sampler COOK00XX1
XX2 Calypso Jazz Sampler COOK00XX2
Series 10 Cook Series 10 COOK_Series10
Series 30 Cook Series 30 COOK_Series30
Series 60 Cook Series 60 COOK_Series60
Series 70 Cook Series 70 COOK_Series70
Series 80 Cook Series 80 COOK_Series80
Series 90 Cook Series 90 COOK_Series90
Series 100 Cook Series 100 COOK_Series100
Series 300 Cook Series 300 COOK_Series300
Series 301 Cook Series 301 COOK_Series301
Series 302 Cook Series 302 COOK_Series302
Series 303 Cook Series 303 COOK_Series303
The Smithsonian Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections acquired the Cook Labs Records in 1990, when Emory and Martha Cook donated their company records to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Anthony Seeger, then Director of Smithsonian Folkways Records, received a call from Mr. Cook in the summer of 1989 offering to donate the Cook label to the Smithsonian. Dr. Seeger visited him in August of that year to view the contents of the collection, and the Smithsonian received custody of the collection in May 1990. In return for the donation from Mr. Cook, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage agreed to keep the record titles available and to store the papers in the archives.
Access to the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections is by appointment only. Visit our website for more information on scheduling a visit or making a digitization request. Researchers interested in accessing born-digital records or audiovisual recordings in this collection must use access copies.
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