Switched On – Erland Cooper: Music for Growing Flowers (Mercury KX)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Once again the Tower of London has played host to a major project honouring Queen Elizabeth II. This one, entitled Superbloom, is an installation running from June to September. It is named after a rare phenomenon that occurs only once every few decades, where whole landscapes can become carpeted with flowers thanks to favourable weather and the activation of previously dormant seeds.

Twenty million seeds were sown at the Tower in spring, and are expected to flower through until September, with colours and patterns set to change each day as you would anticipate in the wild. Accompanying this gradual change will be the music of Erland Cooper, who releases the first ‘side’ of Music For Growing Flowers to coincide with the Jubilee itself. The second ‘side’ – and complete LP – will be released in August.

What’s the music like?

As everything above implies, the music is deeply ambient, thoughtful and incredibly restful. It is ideal when experienced either end of the day or in the middle of a particularly busy pattern of events, where it is most effective as it would be at the Tower, right in the middle of the City of London.

Set in a pure C major, it begins with warm drones that act as a supportive bed to the more primitive evocations of bloom, which evolve slowly but sure. When the third part of four is reached the flowering is depicted through warm cello (Clare O’Connell), bright violin (Daniel Pioro), sonorous harp (Olivia Jageurs) and otherworldly voice (Josephine Stephenson)

The last of the four parts hangs on the air beautifully, pinned on a pure harmony, and the cello line takes hold again, its breathy tones lovingly sculpted by O’Connell.

Does it all work?

Yes – Cooper has a gift for stopping time in even the busiest scenario, so do put this on when you’re at the busiest point of the day. I guarantee your wears and cares will be realigned!

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. A beautiful and timeless piece of music, providing surprisingly sharp perspective from its slow-moving ambience.

Listen

Buy

There are several options for purchasing and streaming Music for Growing Flowers, which you can explore here

On Record – Erland Cooper & Shards: Egilsay EP (Mercury KX)

What’s the story?

It has been an extremely productive and musically enriching year for Erland Cooper. This four-track EP is his second collaboration with Shards, the vocal ensemble with whom he worked on a festive release last year. Once again it has a visual accompaniment, with regular collaborator Alex Kozobolis.

What’s the music like?

Beautiful. Once again we are transported to Orkney, but each time we go we either learn something new about the place or are placed in a different context. Egilsay is one of the small isles to the north of the archipelago, and the compositions here are intended as meditations on shifting time and light. The song titles are Orcadian words associated with these phenomena.

This is immediately evident in the swooping vocal lines of Glimro and Lisbealad. The deeply moving first track shows how well Cooper writes for voices nearer the extremes of their range, with an angular line beautifully sung. The second has an even wider range, with soprano soaring and a bass down low, feeling the elemental qualities of the Orkney coastline. Tullimentan has a timeless quality, like an old Mediaeval incantation set against the steadily falling rain and flowing water. It is very emotive.

There is a second take on Glimro, reclothing the song and including a John Keats poem to mark the poet’s bicentenary. Its sotto voce words are read to the accompaniment of string arrangements from Uèle Lamore and Kathryn Joseph that put the piece in a new light, looking back to the previous EP Never Pass Into Nothingness.

Does it all work?

Yes. Once again this is music transporting its listener far away from their environment and directly into the place it reflects. Egilsay has a harsh, striking beauty that feels fully reflected in these concentrated portraits.

Is it recommended?

Absolutely, as another compelling chapter in Erland Cooper’s musical evolution. The voices make for an even more complete human experience.

Stream

Mercury KX – a new classical label

omeara Mercury KX launch night, Omeara, 20 February 2017. Featuring Lambert, Solomon Grey and Sebastian Plano

Written by Ben Hogwood

The launch of a new record label is a rare thing indeed, especially when powered, as Mercury KX is, by a major company such as Universal.

So it was that the planets aligned with Mercury on a Monday night in South London. The Omeara club was the setting for the launch of a label which is set to become home for artists where classical and electronic music can meet and do business without any constraints. A bit like this website, we hope!

Inevitably people want to put a name on this form of music, and ‘post-classical’ was the term chosen during a spirited discussion between journalist Sean Adams and the label’s new acts Solomon Grey and Ólafur Arnalds. Yet the conclusion of the artists was that they wanted to avoid genre labels, enjoying the music for what it is.

lambert

Given the new signings for Mercury KX, that was easy. Firstly we enjoyed Lambert, a German duo adorned in tall and rather imposing Sardinian masks. Their stage dress heightened the dramatic impact already created by the rumbling of piano and percussion. The piano was opened up so we could see the workings and appreciate the mottled effect of the hammers, dampened in the quieter music and perfectly twinned with the blue light. When the music got faster, though, the percussive drive was irresistible.

Arnalds, whose distinctive music underpins each of the three series of Broadchurch, then gave interesting insights into his studio and methods of composition, ahead of the return of the drama on ITV next week. The confines of TV work can be stimulating for a composer, he said, a theme endorsed by label mates Solomon Grey. The duo have recently completed a score for the BBC drama The Last Post, due in the autumn. Their music uses field recordings and, in the brief episode we heard, has an appealing and almost psychedelic brightness in keeping with the video below.

Finally Sebastian Plano teamed up with the 12 Ensemble for a string-drenched meditation lasting around 20 minutes, led alternately by his soaring, song like cello playing and graceful piano. Plano had an appealing manner onstage, letting his music do the talking but allowing his cello to sing right at the top of its range, enjoying the beautiful harmonic progressions he had formed.

sebastian-plano-12-ensemble

There was a real buzz around the club, and Mercury KX will no doubt be pleased at the reaction to their new artists and music. They are definitely on to something, for classical and electronic music are enjoying their collision course at the moment. Certainly the likes of Max Richter, Arnalds and Nils Frahm, to give just a few obvious examples, are writing emotive music of lasting beauty. The only potential downside is that a reliance on slow harmonies and the use of strings and piano will be brought forward at the expense of more distinctive melodies and rhythms.

It will be interesting to see if Mercury KX allow for these possibilities. They have banked some fine music already, and the label looks set to touch hearts and minds with its musical explorations in the coming years.