‘Folded Landscapes’ New Album by Erland Cooper

Erland Cooper, has announced his ambitious fourth studio album ‘Folded Landscapes’. Hailed as ‘nature’s songwriter’, for his work celebrating themes of the natural world, place, people and time, ‘Folded Landscapes’ pushes Cooper’s connection to the environment even further into unchartered new realms.

Art work via Samantha Taylor

‘Folded Landscapes’, to be released on 5th May on Mercury KX, sees Cooper work through the lens of urgent observations surrounding climate change creating a potent, experimental new work. In early 2022, Cooper began a collaboration with Scottish Ensemble, a collective of pioneering musicians crossing art forms, to champion music for strings. The announcement coincides with Erland’s European tour.

Erland Cooper said:

“I hope in this new work, a listener will be rewarded for their patience from a cold, glacial ascent by a slowly thawing, burning hope”

Tickets for the show go pre-sale on the 1st March via erlandcooper.com.

In his fourth studio album, Cooper presents his observations on climate change; his belief in finding solutions to complex problems between despair and the spirit of hope. Using drastic temperature changes – from sub-zero to hottest on record – he developed this piece for chamber string ensemble, piano, voice, harpsichord, electronics & field recordings.  

The finished album figuratively and literally thaws over 7-movements and features UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage along with other special guests and samples, including activist Greta Thunberg, visual artist Norman Ackroyd and multi-award winning author, naturalist and conservationist Dara McNaulty leading a murmuration of familiar voices. Field recordings of the natural world include the California wildfires and crashing glaciers. Yet, out of the doom and gloom, beauty and hope bloom on Folded Landscapes.

With science running in his blood – Cooper’s father was a zoologist graduate, his mother zoology and geography – the composer married his music and practice to the physical recording process; the temperature in which the musicians recorded mimicked the temperature of the piece. At the beginning of this 40-minute work, we hear frosty, mournful strings playing elegant but spare, almost Baroque-styled music, over what sounds like the eerie creaking of the hull of a ship – a field recording of an ice lake in Finland. Sparse strings shiver and eventually start to mimic Cooper’s tape machine, in fast forward or reverse. 

For the early movements, Scottish Ensemble were recorded in sub-zero temperatures in an old industrial factory in Glasgow in winter. The punishing conditions mirroring the iciness of the music.  By the sixth movement Cooper has slowly ramped up the temperature in Edinburgh’s Castle Studio, mimicking a great thawing process, all in the name of experimentation that fed into the sound.  

Listen to the final movement and while your heart warms to the uplifting music – an almost classical Ceilidh – there’s a vulnerability that you can’t quite put your finger on. Cooper had purposefully left the recorded audio on ¼ inch tape bathing on his London studio roof on the hottest UK day of all recorded time: 40.9C in July 2022. 

The heat, moisture, salt and sunlight worked its way into the fabric of the tape, which has been mixed into the finished work. So throughout the album, as the music is arguably becoming more enjoyable, the underbelly is it has much less fidelity, tarnished by a burning with crackles and pops. These changes creep up surreptitiously on the listener and are ever more apparent in the final Movement 7. This acts as an epilogue to the preceding movements, where ambient guitar from Leo Abrahams undulates while the final notes of soloist Daniel Pioro linger in an achingly poignant resolve.

Image ©Alex Kozobolis

“The album examines a sort of slow violence. There is a juxtaposition to the music, asking the question, how do we get from A to B without noticing landmark things, whether in the personal or natural world. The tape machine itself activates and concludes the piece and at times the musicians  are playing often complex new, orchestral articulations, mimicking the mechanics of tape rewinding and fast-forwarding through a timeline, perhaps over 100 years of temperature records.”

While the resulting album takes the subject matter and observations surrounding climate change as its underlying theme, it works ultimately as an opportunity to celebrate and cherish the natural world.

Acting in some way as poetic navigator, an extremely moving addition to the album is from Simon Armitage. Cooper wrote to the Poet Laureate, asking if he had anything along these themes to be sung by a soprano (acclaimed French/British composer Josephine Stevenson) and Armitage offered up some poems, which Cooper immediately put to melody. On hearing his words sung for the first time, Armitage was moved to tears.

He said, ‘You found some of the rhythm in how I wrote it.’ Before he left, Cooper suggested he also record Armitage reading the poem himself.

Simon Armitage said:

“It was a natural fit. Erland is a poet who works with the language of music; finding and folding words into the landscapes of his compositions was a near-spontaneous happening. If geology could speak its dreams and geography could sing in its sleep, this is what it would sound like.”

Human responsibility and deep ecology weigh most heavily on the tipping point in the record, a powerful fifth movement with the most overt story-telling commencing side B. It starts with field recordings of burning wildfire and sounds of news reports of Europe’s hottest day, all these voices coming at the listener in a cacophony of alarm. 

It morphs into a tastefully chosen section of Greta Thunberg’s landmark U.N summit speech (New York, September 2019), before the euphoric ascending arpeggios and soprano vocals herald a sense of hope. Ending with a murmuration of voices in multiple languages led by young naturalist Dara McNaulty stating, “I feel a responsibility towards it” with children’s voices asking the listener to waste less and value more, to celebrate and cherish. It is as effective as a call to arms can be.

“Perhaps it is often between despair and the spirit of hope, that good solutions tend to show themselves best?”, asks Cooper

To add to the already ambitious undertaking, this conceptual album project will also be experienced live, with its UK premiere at the Barbican announced for 11th, 12th and 13th of May 2023.  Cooper has  designed a live show to feel like part gallery installation and part concert when he takes over the Pit Theatre in the hull of the building and will perform the album in full.  Following the Barbican premiere Cooper will also perform dates in Scotland, England and Europe.  While Cooper aims to inspire an audience to consider their role in climate change and attitudes towards the natural world, no finger-pointing is intended.

“I hope it’s more to evoke a feeling of inward reflection, ‘How can I simply waste less, and value more? What things can I do within this echo chamber of opinion?’”

A percentage of the copyright share will go to Brian Eno’s EarthPercent charity as a beautiful way of embedding the planet as a stakeholder in musical creativity and raising money for climate/environmental organisations. The Earth’s share of the song – and its income – will be directed to EarthPercent to redistribute to organisations tackling the climate crisis.

Erland commented:

“I often write with the natural world as my collaborator, whether with the soil or the elements themselves, birdsong or simply a sense of place in mind. The earth being credited as a co-writer and further still, as a producer of a new work, seems an entirely befitting courtesy to me. There is of course a poetic narrative here but it is coupled with an obligation, a sense of responsibility and ultimately an opportunity, to celebrate and cherish nature” 

©Alex Kozobolis

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