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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

November 7, 2005
Under the moniker of Eluvium, Matthew Cooper is of the latest generation of artists to blur the boundary between musician and producer. His focus on the dynamics of sound combines the processes of performing a piece with the mechanics of capturing it, and Eluvium's recordings subsequently emerge as textured, dramatic patchworks of melody.

But Eluvium is not without its eclecticism. Between the multi-layered noise manipulations of Lambent Material and Talk Amongst the Trees (released in 2003 and 2005 respectively), Cooper recorded An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, a modest and somewhat linear installation, which saw him peel off the layers and concentrate on the piano. In spite of their subtle differences, each Eluvium recording has retained Cooper's trademark somber mood. Since its release earlier this year on Temporary Residence, Talk Amongst the Trees has turned heads towards Cooper, and its critical acclaim has aired his ingenuity for experimenting with tone, as well as melody. Amid the growing din LAS staff writer Mike Wright caught up with Cooper over a series of emails.

---
LAS: Tell us a bit about your musical background. Were you ever trained, classically or otherwise, on guitar or piano?

Cooper: I took a good few years of piano when I was very young. I then quit and a short time after that took a few years of guitar lessons. I quit those as well - I feel the piano lessons actually taught me a bit about music and it's structure, which I am enjoying thinking about again, where as unfortunately my guitar lessons were filled with mostly learning Led Zeppelin songs or whatever song I thought was really neat at the time - don't get me wrong, that's fine and all. I was well over with any lessons by around 16 I suppose. It certainly became more interesting after all that.

LAS: Yeah, I found that I probably started to learn more after I stopped taking lessons, and was paying greater attention to the music I was listening to. Was it similar for you?

Cooper: Somewhat, yes. I think I also became more interested in seeing what weird things instruments could do besides chords and solos and the standard whatnot. I became interested in plugging amps into pedals and back into amps and manipulating feedback and so on. I'm pretty sure Dinosaur Jr. had something to do with that as well.

LAS: How much of your composition takes place using instruments? Do you use computers to manipulate the sound created by guitars, as such, or does much of your sound originate from your laptop?

Cooper: All of my stuff uses instruments. I have used a computer thus far to give tracks a good fade, and added about 1-2 reverbs total, I think on "Show Us Our Homes" and "Calm of the..." I really know very little about computers, or at least I did when I was working on those three albums. On my past releases they were all done manually on a home recording 8-track machine and a CD burner. I've only in the past few months been actually using the laptop as an instrument, and even in this case all sounds originate outside of it, they go in, they go back out, they run around, and go back in - makes for a peculiar sound. I've been enjoying myself with this quite a bit. I don't know how good this new computer stuff is, but I had a great time working on it, and it has come to have a place in my heart. Maybe someone will release it. People I've shown it to say it sounds like me. I think it's quite different. This would certainly not be an Eluvium release.

LAS: How do you go about composing a track? Is it a case of playing about with sounds, or do you start with a certain idea already mapped out in your head?

Cooper: I was using the home recorder, a lot of crummy mics, a lot of crummy keyboards, some good pedals (Boss Loopstation, Akai Headrush, and a revolving door third pedal - for a while it was a reverb, now it's a delay - as well as cello bow, e-bow, slide, etc..) a beautiful guitar, and a beautiful, but dead, amp (warm, and slightly broken sound). So it was very important for me to place mics interestingly to get better or different sounds, or go direct into the machine and back out and thrown around a hallway and back in, and add layers of loops with reverbs or delays through the mics or through any of the machines in order to get a really good froth that took on it's own life. I seem to work in just about any manner; sometimes a melody comes to me while out for a walk or what have you, but whether this melody ends up being the predominant one in the piece is all up to evolution. Other times, I just feel like making sound, so I go do that, and some time later I have something. With the piano on the other hand - play, play, play, play - anything - Chopin, Dire Straits, Bach, Max Richter, world traditionals, anything in your mind. The songs come when they want to.

LAS: So is recording a matter of trial and error to you, if you see what I mean?

Cooper: I guess so, I don't know. I certainly record things I don't like if that's what you mean. It's hard to let them go; when the song is basically there, and you've worked on it for many hours/days, or what have you. But if it isn't there I just let it go. I don't like going back and starting over again. The moment has passed - sort of like a catch and release policy with emotion.

LAS: I think that Talk Amongst the Trees is a considerable improvement on Lambent Material. Would you account this to a maturing in your capabilities as a songwriter or your use of different, or better, tools?

Cooper: Really? I don't consider it to be either - a different place, a different time, a different mood - perhaps there is something to be said for feeling a bit more comfortable with past technique, and thus able to try new things. But they mean different things, so they sound different - I'm up on Lambent Material myself. But I can see why people would gravitate to Talk Amongst the Trees - there's a lot more going on with that one.

LAS: Are the writing and recording processes entirely separate? Are any of your recordings the results of captured improvisations?

Cooper: I'd say they are almost always begun as captured improvisations, inspired by themes in my head, and then I work into the night or day on them. Sometimes I walk away from them for a long time and come back with a different perspective. Maybe I know what I'm doing but it doesn't feel like it. I am still really bad at choosing to pan stuff correctly and all that, but sometimes it sounds good the way it is (to me). I must just have weird ears. I say this because I've realized my answers make it sound sort of like a professional event, but I think I am just curious. I can't wait until I start going into studios to record, but I probably wouldn't even know where to start - I'd probably bring in my 8-track and press play, and then hope the studio man would tell me I should pan the tracks.

LAS: I suppose anyone can benefit from a second opinion, if nothing else?

Cooper: Well, I wonder that too.

LAS: It seems quite common for ambient/drone-rock artists' live sets to differ considerably from their recordings. I guess some parts to a song are virtually impossible to reproduce in the live setting, particularly for a solo performer. To what extent is your live performance 'live'?

Cooper: I've been doing very little of the textured work live, only what one man can handle. I think in time I will be able to bring friends and do more, but even with three people or so some of the songs would be difficult. For instance, the first track on Talk Amongst the Trees starts with something that would take a good few minutes to produce before any other instruments even come in, and then they would be in the same situation. I'm sure I will have to have a few samples running along as well, but really, right now I have a lot of new piano stuff I've been working on, and would like to do some recitals with that. I think my piano playing has come a long way since An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, even if some of the new work isn't any more difficult. It seems more accomplished to me, and some of it is very difficult. I'm pretty into it right now, and will probably try to get some other instruments involved.

LAS: So should we expect something similar to An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, in terms of being predominantly piano-based, from you in the not-too-distant future?

Cooper: Well, I'm working on several different things now. One of them involves piano work, which will in most cases include themes for strings as well, and maybe more, but I'm also now working heavily in the 'electronic' style now as well and recently took on another project inspired sort of by Moondog's releases, among other people. Which ones of these will be released and when is just a matter of patience and interest

LAS: It's quite rare for thick, textured artists like yourself, and say, Fennesz, to use lots of musicians live to recreate their recorded sound. But I think it would sound awesome. Do you think it would be something you might think about doing in the future?

Cooper: Almost certainly. I would love to be able to afford to take a few people along on tours and do more of the material. It would be quite a good feeling to have that stuff moving around and being this living thing on stage, but it just isn't logical at this point in time. Hopefully soon though.

LAS: Have you ever used accompanying musicians before?

Cooper: Emily Wahl, she plays a mean clarinet. I always like the idea of working with others, but it never happens. I'm pretty bad about that actually. I always suggest doing stuff with other people and then I back out. I just only want to do music when I feel like doing it, or maybe I'm lazy, but let's call it really relaxed, instead. Planning a group practice seems like hell to me. How can I change my mood to suit this environment? Impossible - that's how.

SEE ALSO: www.eluvium.net
SEE ALSO: www.temporaryresidence.com

--
Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other articles by Mike Wright.

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