Duologue: A conversation with Erland Cooper

This special duologue edition features composer Erland Cooper who should be well known to the readers of the blog from our coverage of his magically transportive trilogy of albums centered around his native Orkney (Solan Goose, Sule Skerry, & Hether Blether). Shifting focus some 700 miles, Erland kindly takes time to talk to us about the original music he composed for the Superbloom project commissioned for the celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Named for a rare botanical phenomenon in which whole landscapes are transformed by a burst of dormant seed growth, the installation incorporates 20 million seeds to cultivate and immersive floral transformation of the Tower of London soundtracked by an equally beautiful musical tapestry woven by Cooper and his accompanists. An album version of the score will be released this summer under the title Music for Growing Flowers, which Erland tells us a little bit about as well as touching on some of his other current & future projects.

Before we talk about the music, can you tell us a little bit about the Superbloom project itself and how you got the opportunity to be a part of it?

You might recall in 2014 a sea of red poppies filled the moat of the tower of London. It was quite a potent message of remembrance. Then, the artwork and flowers were plastic. This spring 20 million wildflower seeds were sown in the same spot, to grow in three distinct waves over the summer, marking the Queen’s Jubilee. It is a rather bold act of urban re-wilding and this is the part of the story I was interested in most. My music is to encourage the plants to grow creating a sort of liminal but inviting space. A castle originally designed to keep people out has been transformed into the warmest welcome. I was approached by a producer following a performance. She had travelled far to see me and was a persuasive narrator. Themes of the outside world, place, time and biodiversity interest me.

Your music has always been intrinsically connected to the natural world. Was there anything unique in the way you decided to approach the composition and development of ‘Music For Growing Flowers’?

Ambient music establishes a mood and creates a landscape of its own. Here, the movements of the score follow the four main life cycles of plants. It aims to enhance Superbloom’s [the installation title] emotional impact for everyone, by rebalancing the dominant city noises and intertwining specific audio frequencies to uncover harmony in the most bustling of environments. Listeners may notice a developing theme, an ostinato perhaps, accompanied by the musical evocation of pollinators, birds and insects.

Music For Growing Flowers’ aims to enhance the Superbloom’s emotional impact by rebalancing the dominant city noises and intertwining specific audio frequencies to uncover harmony in the most bustling environments. Since music itself is nothing more than vibrations, perhaps it will help us enter more deeply into this subtle appreciation of place, curiosity and calm.

You always collaborate with extraordinarily talented and expressive musicians both in the studio and on stage. Can you tell us a little about who worked with you on ‘Music For Growing Flowers’ and what they brought to the project?

It is arguably the best part of my job and for the most, an inspiring privilege. Josephine Stevenson has a unique voice, I could listen to her singing the Latin for flowers over and over, so we did just that! Daniel Pioro and Clare O’Connell took the main melody and passed it between them together in a single take across violin a cello respectively, moving it around like pollen in the wind. Olivia Jageurs brought her lofty orchestral harp over for day and I enjoyed that experience. Marta Salogni mixed the finished work and Guy Davie mastered it. Each bringing a further set of ears, talent and nuance to the piece which I’m very thankful for. It permitted me the perspective to know when the ink was dry.

Given the illustrious setting and international profile of the event, this all must be a little bit surreal. Have you found any aspect of the project daunting or intimidating?

I tend not to think about anything other than the work, my curiosity, the story and the listener. It is not until long after the event or release that I reflect on it. I’m more daunted by the seemingly simple task of walking into a busy pub, concert hall or social setting than doing my work.

A slightly cheeky question if I may – have you been able to see or hear feedback from visitors to the site or perhaps even the Queen herself?

I have ambled and listened to people talk about the music in the space it was originally designed, and I enjoyed being anonymous in those moments. I enjoy seeing people change their mindsets, find a stillness perhaps and sit for a little longer to take things in. My mother visited recently, she’s much like the queen, so that will do for me.

For the portion of your audience who are not able to enjoy the music in situ, what do you hope they take away from the listening experience?

I am pleased the music is available from the same day as the exhibition opening. It was important to me that you can listen to the piece in your own space, anywhere in the world. If it helps a listener think about their relationship with the outside world or anything for that matter, then that pleases me.

You have also been incubating another very interesting project in ‘Carves the Runes Then Be Content With Silence’. Can you tell us what that one is all about and, in particular, what motivated you to take the unique approach of burying the recording in the ground for a period of time?

Incubating is a good word. It’s simply an act of patience, a meditation on value in a world of instant gratification. I planted, not buried, the only existing copy of a large new work in the soil in Orkney after deleting all digital files. I’ve left an abstract map of clues for anyone to find it, including my record label. In 2024 I shall dig it up and release it exactly as it sounds from the earth. Then along with some exceptional musicians, create a special one off performance at the Barbican to reveal the tape and music. If we sit in the silence of white noise for an hour, so be it. It’s one part celebration and one part remembrance of a landmark time.

Finally, any new plans or projects on the horizon that you would like to share with our readers?

I’ve had the pleasure of scoring a few independent films in between other projects. I look forward to doing more work to picture as well as collaborations in dance choreography and theatre.

Side A of Music For Growing Flowers was released on June 1, 2022 while side B will follow on August 19. There will also be a vinyl LP as well as a special mix of UK-native wildflower seeds in an eco-friendly packet which can purchased separately or as part of an album bundle.

Links:  About the Project | Listen & Buy | Erland Cooper | Superbloom Event