Live Review/ Erland Cooper @ Arnolfini


By Sophie Brown, Phd Chemistry

As Erland Cooper took the stage at Bristol's Arnoflini, he promised to take the 'listener on a journey'. It's clear that Cooper is a man of his word.  Through his blend of classical compositions and electronic flickers mixed with a flurry of samples from crashing waves to birds tweeting - he took us on a journey to a far far different realm than that of inner-city Bristol. A humble and noble journey that extended to the external influences of the natural world, and payed homage to a real-life destination close to his heart – the island of Orkney.

Image Credit: Guy Marcham

The Arnolfini art gallery lent to a particularly fitting backdrop for the Scottish composer's performance. In many ways the performance felt like a living and breathing art installation, evoking the essence of the stark Scottish landscape: the textural orchestration and excerpts of tape recordings both of native bird cries and dulcet Scottish tones, as well as poetic excerpts presented by Cooper amidst gentle conducting waves to his quartet. The audience observed the inner workings of the ticking cogs that maintained his rich soundtrack, with multi-instrumentalists shifting their roles within the undulating tides of the track list, providing an additional visual perspective.

What felt particularly warming was Cooper’s unassuming modesty about his music, despite having a sold out venue of deeply delighted listeners. With “an experiment” that matched his humble nature, he requested that all mics and lighting be turned off for a piano-led track, not only providing a deeper appreciation of being in the present moment, but also reaching out a little further towards the natural elements that are abundant in Cooper’s musical compositions. The concert hall remained in a restful darkness as the gentle melody on the piano whispered under the click of keys and the rattle of the piano stool, until the string quartet’s building harmonies led us back to the glow of the sun on the Orkney horizon, symbolised by the gradual brightening of one overhead lamp in the focal centre of the stage.

In a perhaps perilous level of honesty, this was a review I sincerely struggled to write. As the melodic waves of composition and birdcalls washed over me during the performance, I felt compelled to take off my analytical hat and instead just sit and appreciate the living beauty and breathing movement of music that enveloped the room. There are few instances in a bustling city life that allow you such moments of quiet, still reflection, and it felt almost sacrilegious to waste the opportunity with scrutinous thoughts on melodic arrangement and compositional motifs. Although I probably shuffled no more than a few centimetres in my seat during the whole performance, my mind was under the impression that I had ventured far further afield. It seems that Erland Cooper comfortably succeeded in his mission, transporting his listeners to a seascape horizon. Cooper’s music holds a remarkable sense of escapism that still manages to retain a calm meditative quality, and through a genuine love and admiration of the unspoilt island of Orkney. He has undoubtedly captured the essence of returning home, not just to his familiar childhood setting but ultimately to the beauty of nature – a sentiment that undeniably resonates with listeners.

Featured Image: Sophie Brown