INTERVIEW: Erland Cooper | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Erland Cooper with the women of the Chorus of Opera North by Tom Arber

Erland Cooper’s latest project is a predictably unpredictable piece of audiovisual art to be sung by the women of the Chorus of Opera North. He has written a new live score for the elemental 1928 silent film The Wind, and the show receives its world premiere at Sage Gateshead on Thursday 24th February.

When I speak to the Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist, there’s just over a month to go before the big night, and Cooper is deep in preparation. He is in his studio in the bowels of a basement which he describes as “like a little boat, a ferry.” He laughs. “I forget I’m in East London but then I emerge and it’s a shock, like dropping into the sea.”

The Wind may seem an obscure and disparate choice for some but to Cooper, it made perfect sense. “Growing up on Orkney, surrounded by wild weather, I can relate to the wild Mojave wind. When shooting, they had 20 aeronautic engines to whip up a storm. To mimic this, I got some industrial fans and created a machine I’m jokingly calling Ventovox, nodding to Ultravox and the Italian for wind. The sound is torturous, wild, brilliant, exciting. Hopefully we’ll play it on stage.” Hold onto your hats, those in the first few rows!

At the time, they would have wanted bombastic percussion and timpani and brass sections and sweeping string lines. My score is more of a tone poem

It becomes clear as we chat that silent film has a special place in his catalogue of passions. “This is a requiem to a dying artform. Despite being one of the greats, The Wind wasn’t appreciated! It came at the end of silent films and people wanted talkies. At the time, they would have wanted bombastic percussion and timpani and brass sections and sweeping string lines. My score is more of a tone poem. I set the manifesto to create it with predominantly the human voice. There’s a motif called the Mojave Chant. The choir sing ‘hee hoo haa’.” He breaks into a primal grunting and gurning and for an instant I’m in the shack with Lillian Gish, the wind battering the beams. He laughs and then falls into deep thought when asked what the original team would have made of his interpretation. “They might enjoy or be horrified by the musical recreation of their set, having flashbacks to those huge engines! They might think we’d captured the essence of what they went through but whether they’d have liked it…who knows?”

To further compound the artist’s unpredictability, we veer off-topic and end up chatting about Carve The Runes And Then Be Content With Silence, an album which Cooper recorded, transferred to ¼ inch tape and then promptly buried somewhere in Orkney, deleting all other copies. “I get a text message every so often from my father on the island saying ‘all resting well. Nobody has found it.’ Oh and in telling you that, I’ve given away another clue!” So all I need to do is go to Orkney and follow your father around? “Ha! He would be so angry with me!” He punctuates his laughter with an ascending flourish on the piano. An endearing quirk which acts like body language. “I’d love for someone to find it so we could share it together but I have to be patient. That’s the whole point. Someone said to me recently ‘What time will you be here, so my heart can prepare.’ That comes from a children’s book, but it sums up the magical experience of waiting perfectly.”

The Wind – live score by Erland Cooper featuring the Chorus of Opera North is performed at Sage Gateshead on Thursday 24th February.


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