As part of the British band, The Magnetic North, Erland Cooper contributed to ‘Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North’ in 2012 and as a solo artist he takes similar themes in a still more personal direction.
‘Sule Skerry’ is his second album, after 2018’s Solan Goose, in a projected triptych inspired by Cooper’s childhood home in the Orkney Islands north of mainland Scotland.
In particular he seeks to render in musical form the identity and atmosphere of the air, sea and land as it was celebrated by the late Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown. To get you in the mood, titles are drawn from the Orcadian dialect such as Haar (a cold sea mist) and Groatie Buckles (shelled molluscs).
Cooper’s first release was dedicated to the Orkney birdlife while here the multi-instrumentalist transports us to the North Sea. He explains: “It’s a record about the sea, our relationship with the outside world, forces outside of our control but it’s also about creating a nest within that, nurturing and protecting our own sea havens, those sheltered bays, those safe places. Always returning back in some form, as we step in and out daily”.
To gain a sense of the unique space and location, the music is weaves in field recordings (referred to as “sonic postcards”) of thunder, the wind, sea gulls, the tide, voices recorded on the island and even the reverberations of real spaces.
On the Second track, First Of The Tide electronic musician and producer Benge plays a analogue synthesiser re-amped through a 5,000-year-old Neolithic cairn.
The album was completed at Cooper’s studio in London.
The piano is the dominant instrument but this is far more than a solo record. There are numerous contributions including Kris Drever (voice) , Leo Abrahams (ambient guitar), Anna Phoebe (violin), Jacob Downs (viola), Lottie Greenhow (hardanger violin) and Klara Schumann (cello).
On Flattie Scottish musician Kathryn Joseph contributes a spoken word narrative using poetry written for the album by Will Burns. This track also features Hiroshi Ebina on modular synth, tape loops and music box (Ebina also performs the title track).
The album closes with Sule Skerry which, with vocals by Astra Forward, has along with ‘The First Of The Tide, a more conventional song structure.
Overall though, the nine track collection is more akin to a magical ambient symphony and, like his Reset Mix for Mary Anne Hobbs show on BBC 6 Music, it is designed to heard in one sitting as an uninterrupted piece to let the music carry you away to the islands.