There are no ways left to disregard the existence of the climate catastrophe anymore. And while the current political situation rouses significant doubts in how to attain a common social understanding about its urgency, it is a blessing that there are artists like the Scottish composer Erland Cooper who give the complex of nature an artistic voice, using his creative force to redirect our eyes to the human relation to nature and how it is all tied together.

“Waste less, value more, celebrate and cherish the natural world, every day.”

Folded Landscapes, which was just released the other week, dives deep into the inherent connection between music, time, the ecological system and our responsibility to preserve it. Musically a moving and startling orchestral feast that features alongside the Scottish Ensemble guest appearances of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage and climate figurehead Greta Thunberg, the record exposes concepts of dissolving time under the pressures of temperatures rising and falling, while incorporating the extreme conditions of the climate towards the realm of music production. Creating music in Folded Landscapes as well as for Cooper’s aesthetics at large, is not just about producing sounds amidst living on this earth, it is born out of its very ecological conditions. The effect is a cleansing one, a sentiment that is both frightening and inspiring.

Born Out Of Nature

“All my music is inspired in some way by nature, people and place”, Cooper reflects on the origins of Folded Landscapes, but while that remains at a metaphorical level for most productions, this record takes the very idea of the duality of art / nature to another dimension and lets the music speak through an intense confrontation with the environment. If art is all around us, it must also literally be in the very elements we live in, one might ponder. And for Erland Cooper, this rings true.

“The album explores the slow violence of change by using temperature changes over a 100 year period as a catalyst. It explores themes of deep ecology within a threshold between despair and the spirit of hope, at a time in history where is seems the balance between the natural world and human one is off. Perhaps the artist’s role is to observe, create, then reflect on what has been made along with everyone else. That is what I’m doing now and it is easy then to draw parallels between certain pertinent themes.”

“Nature has inspired all art forms for centuries”, Erland Cooper states. Called “nature’s songwriter” by The Guardian, the composer tributes the sheer existence of things as the most valuable source of inspiration and retreat: “It is often a sense of either interconnectivity with the outside world or simply childlike wonder that remains as potent in adult life as it does on first experience”, he  goes on. To be in the midst of the natural world is a motor for the aesthetic experience. And it is the rest one can find in a desolated place that enables creation in the first place.

“To many, nature can often be the one true reset, creating a sense of grounding.”

The Making Of “Folded Landscapes”

To confront the dramatic narrative of the climate reality one has to go to drastic measures and so has Erland Cooper in producing Folded Landscapes. “After working on an album as a sort of meditation on patience, value, and time where I deleted all the digital files and planted the only existing copy in soil for three years, on this work I wanted to explore those themes further by working with extreme temperatures as part of the creative process”, he tells us. Recording “musicians at sub-zero temperatures initially, then in the comfort of the recording studio and finally, on the hottest day of recorded time, the recordings on master tape lay sunbathing on my studio roof. I then incorporated this thawing process into both the physical record as well as the composition”. 

“Side A of the record is a slow and glacial accent and I hope that a listener will be rewarded for their patience by the burning hope of Side B.”

This quite naturalistic approach to production, exposing the very material of music to the extremes of temperature and location, not only humanizes the musical to the human experience, it also shows how everything is part of the natural world and that without it, we are left with nothing. “We are all parts of this earth”, the voice narrates in Movement 5 – Pt. 3 and is continued some bits later by a kid’s voice adding “think, that the natural world is precious”. Manifesting an auratic and sublime feel, these are the pillars of Folded Landscapes, and Erland Cooper is a master in powering through this vision from the first note to the last.

“The album consists of several overt field recordings from the natural world. I discovered that the sound frequencies of a wildfire in California and the melting of a block of ice in a pan in my studio kitchen sounded remarkably similar. I also enjoyed creating extended techniques for the string players. As I am an autodidact in my work, this was immensely satisfying.”

Music Of Tomorrow

The whole concept of Folded Landscapes wouldn’t become the cohesive work of art, if the human-time-nature complex would just remain in the aesthetic realm. And in fact, the opening of the artwork towards an activist and charitable stance does not stop at including voices such as Greta Thunberg’s into the recordings. One percentage of the copyright shares of Folded Landscapes goes to Brian Eno’s EarthPercent organisation. “Eno’s charity is an initiative that gives artists a chance to contribute to protecting the environment by listing the Earth as a co-writer on their songs so it can benefit from royalties”, Cooper explains. “There is a poetic narrative here of course”, he adds, “but it does mean funds go directly to climate justice and environmental organisations through a smart peer group of decision makers at a trustee level.”

“I hope a listener will be rewarded for their patience, from a glacial accent to a slowly, thawing, burning hope.”

While the listening experience, however moving and disruptive it may be for everyone individually, the hopeful prospect of Erland Cooper is one that is encouraging. “Often good ideas tend to present themselves best under significant pressure but with the spirit of hope present”, he concludes and underlines his confidence in ideas that “will develop surrounding a migration away from the fossil fuel industry but like fledglings, they need the right conditions to fly.”

Folded Landscapes is out now via Mercury KX recordings.