SIGNING today with one of the leading modern compositional imprints, Decca/Mercury KX, Orcadian composer Erland Cooper has marked the occasion in a fascinating if not entirely expected way.
He already has his first album recorded; it’s entitled Carve the Runes Then Be Content With Silence, and is a new work written and recorded for solo violin and string ensemble in three movements, celebrating the centenary since the birth of Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown.
But, having deleted all digital copies of the work, leaving one sole quarter-inch magnetic tape master, he’s now buried the album in the good, rich earth of his home islands for three years – to be unearthed, once the natural effects of organic chemical interaction – the edaphological and taphonomic processes – have contributed to the tape’s decay, resulting in a record on which Orkney itself will have made it’s sonic mark – a ‘recomposition’.
“Music can so often feel undervalued and for some, being unable to perform live has at times felt like being buried,” Erland says.
“When an idea forms there is often an urge to share it as quickly as it develops but like spotting a bird, I want to let this fly and land in its own place and time. The work is one part remembrance and one part celebration of a landmark time.”
Testament to Erland’s reputation, the executives at Decca/Mercury KX have signed the album without having heard a single note; nor will they until 2024.
The album was recorded at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with internationally acclaimed violin soloist Daniel Pioro and Studio Collective, a specially selected chamber string group. The composition was mixed by Marta Salogni, with whom Erland collaborated on last year’s Orkney Trilogy-addending EP Landform, mastered to tape – and then committed to the soil – along with a violin and a full printed score – in an intimate ceremony.
Erland explains: “The material on the tape may erode naturally, disintegrate and create drops of silence or the peaty soil may preserve it perfectly well.
“It may or may not get better with age. I may or may not fall out of favour with my composition. Any alterations to the sound and music [when it comes out of the earth] will be reincorporated into the pages of a new score and live performance, as orchestral articulations.”
Tom Lewis and Laura Monks, joint managing directors at Decca/Mercury KX, say: “This is an unprecedented event. In an era of breathless instant gratification, there’s something incredibly romantic and powerful about the idea of us all having to wait three years to listen to Erland’s recordings; and it’s going to be fascinating to see how it fares in the ground. It’ll be a very nerve-wracking moment when we unearth the tape and press play.”
And now, a treasure hunt component: for while Erland will not be unearthing the tape until 2024, he has left a trail for anyone to search and find it if they wish. A map with clues to the location of the planting site will be released via his digital platforms. If the planted tape is found, Erland will invite the discoverer to his studio to embark on a journey together for the treasured first listen. It will then be released exactly as it sounds from the earth.
Despite being up to three years away, pre-orders for Carve the Runes Then Be Content With Silence are now live, here; it’ll be out on CD and vinyl. For the latest updates, clues and news on the project as it unfolds ahead of release, sign up here.
Erland has also some British tour dates on the horizon, as follows. On Friday, July 2nd, he’ll be playing at the Timber Festival, Feanedock, in the East Midlands’ National Forest, and then on Sunday, August 15th, at the Edinburgh International Festival, before a select run of must-see dates around the country:
Thursday, September 9th, Belfast, First Presbyterian Church, with Paddy Mulcahy;
Sunday, September 26th, Stroud, St Laurence’s Church;
Tuesday, October 12th, Bristol, St George’s, with Hinako Omori, who will also appearing at the dates thereafter;
Wednesday, October 13th, Birmingham, St Paul’s Church;
Thursday, October 14th, Manchester, Hallé St Peter’s;
Saturday, October 16th, Brighton, St George’s Church, and
Sunday, October 17th, Canterbury, Gulbenkian Theatre.
Tickets are on sale now from Erland’s website.