Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
2016 is shaping up to be a vintage year for ambient music. Fantastic releases by Pye Corner Audio, 2814, Thomas Ragsdale, MJ Guider, Huerco S and Diamondstein illustrate how exciting this genre can be. With a whole generation of acid house disciples reaching an age where going to a club is more of a pain in the ass than a joy, it seems there has never been a better time for indulging in all things chilled. In September, renowned experimental composer Eluvium reaffirms this view with the melancholic swoon of his brand new LP. By JOHN BITTLESEluvium is the mysterious sounding alias of Portland, Oregon resident Matthew Cooper. His work is filled with heavenly voices, ghostly static, and emotional synths which occasionally touch upon the sublime. Matthew, who also records together with Mark T. Smith from Explosions In The Sky as Inventions has, over the years, created a rich and varied body of work. As great as previous releases such as Talk Amongst The Trees, Similes, and Nightmare Ending are though, his new record, False Readings On, may just be his most personal and fully realised album yet. Songs such as Fugue State, Regenerative Being and Rorschach Pavan brim with sonic grandeur, while also maintaining an emotional intensity that will cause jaws to drop and hearts to leap. At its best, the album merges the warmth of 90s electronica, the static driven dirges of Kyle Bobby Dunn, lonesome melodies and choral vocals to craft an intense, cerebral and moving journey that you never want to end.
With False Readings On winning me over from the very first listen, tracking Eluvium down for an interview seemed like an excellent idea. In the resulting article we discuss the album, Inventions, soundtracks, belief systems, Temporary Residence Ltd, ambient music, and lots more.
First off, can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
My name is Matthew Cooper. I compose and release music primarily under the name Eluvium. I also work in film scoring and installations and any other interesting projects when I can. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my wife (artist Jeannie Paske) and 2 large dogs. My music is generally characterized as being cinematic, or ambient, in scope. I tend to blend together elements of classical, ambient, noise, and various electronics.
Your new album False Readings On is coming out on the 2nd of September. For those who haven’t heard it yet, what can they expect?
I really couldn’t say what it will sound like to other people, but I would hope they might find it invigorating and challenging, and maybe a little scary but also comforting and relatable. It deals a lot with the frenetic qualities of modern life and our abilities to navigate and be human and keep clear minded throughout a constant bombardment of corporate, religious, and political noise… amongst other things. It also deals with questions about personal perspective, and what it means to believe in something (and whether that something actually exists). Ultimately that is all neither here nor there though. They could expect to hear complex mixtures and textures of pianos and synthesizers and dreamlike operatic chorals and arias interspersed. Sometimes comforting, sometimes a little unnerving perhaps?
The press release for the album claims that False Readings On was “originally inspired by themes of cognitive dissonance in modern society”. Where did this concept come from?
Most of my “concepts” generally reveal themselves naturally as I begin to work. In this case I was interested in trying to remove the idea of the strength and resolve of people’s belief systems, which are held onto so tightly, perhaps out of fear of change… I’m not entirely certain. Nonetheless, it didn’t seem quite right to be creating something that felt like it was pointing a finger at anyone, and thus I turned inward and used these feelings against myself instead. It was an interesting experiment in my personal resolve, and understanding my beliefs, and what they meant to me.
Did you always anticipate that the album would be as reflective and inward looking as it turned out?
It tends to be that way with me. Art is a very cathartic process for me. No matter the subject, I tend to fully submerge myself into it, and so it only makes sense that things would turn that way. The creation ultimately has nothing else to bounce itself off of.
If someone only had time to listen to one song from the album, which should it be and why?
A difficult question. Fugue State would probably live up to a lot of the concepts I have been discussing. Regenerative Being is probably my favorite track. My wife would say Rorschach Pavan (her favorite). My record label team would probably all say Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse. A part of me keeps thinking „go with Beyond The Moon For Someone In Reverse„. I suppose I weaselled my way out of that question, yes ?
One of my personal favourites on the record is Regenerative Being, which is one of the most moving pieces of music I have heard all year. Can you tell us a bit about how this song came about?
Firstly, thank you. It is wonderful to hear from people that can connect so deeply to anything I’ve created. Regarding how the song came about… I’m not sure it is quite so easy for me to say things like this. From a psychological standpoint, it was important to show a mutation born from chaos. A peacefulness and meditative feeling coming from mania and the vast structure of “complexity”. But within this I wanted a deep mourning to take place. As if something has been lost, or taken away, through the process of mutation (or regeneration). Something that cannot be taken back. Having said that, it is easier to suggest such things once something has already taken place. Sometimes, when creating music (or any art), things sometimes have a way of just falling into place naturally and there is no need to question the meaning or how or why. It is easier to see these things afterwards. That is often the way with life and art and yearning and call and response.
Movie Night Revisited and Beyond The Moon For Someone In Reverse merge hushed ambiance, gentle melodies and choral vocal samples to stunning effect. Where did the vocals come from? And, what do you think the human voice adds to your work?
All of the vocals on the album came from various old recordings, chorals, operas, etc… I had written out some specific terminology and translated it into Latin and Italian before beginning the album and I wanted to try to stay on message as much as possible. So what I found to be the best way of doing this was to take vocal snippets, just the tiniest most minute notation of the voice making a single note or two, and tape them all together to have them sound like the sentences that I had built before-hand. In some cases I came very very close and was pleased, and in other cases the music took control and found more interesting paths to go, which is also exciting. It is all rather abstruse as the words are not ultimately meant to really be understood phonetically by anyone as direct messages, but to just be felt. It is just important for me to ensure they have meaning and depth, no matter how obfuscated.
In this particular case, I found the human voice to be a source of purity throughout a rather difficult and trying message. Something relatable and soulful, that could reach above the chatter and mechanics… sometimes in hope, sometimes in happiness, sometimes in empathy, and sometimes in pain.
The album ends with the seventeen and a half minute long ambient epic that is Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse, which contains an emotional depth sadly missing in the majority of ‚ambient‘ music today. How important is emotion to the music that you make?
I can never be certain what emotion will come across once I send it out to be heard, but it is often extremely important for something to be felt by me, more so than any other attribute that I may have been trying to ensure. Emotion is usually how I know I am on the right path.
The album, like a lot of your music, has been released, on Temporary Residence. How did you first hook-up with them?
I had written to the label once or twice a long time ago. Sometime later, I ran into Jeremy (head of TRL) in Portland, as he had moved here and he came into a record store I was working at. He asked me what I was up to. I’m not sure if he meant musically or not or was just casually chatting, but I handed him a CD I had on me of the music I had „been up to”. A little while later, I ran into him again at a record store he was working part time at, and he said he would like to work with me. It was a nice day. Now, so many years later, he is one of my dearest friends.
For me, the album would make the perfect soundtrack to some otherworldly dream. You have previously scored films such as Some Days are Better Than Others; do you have any more soundtrack work in the pipeline?
Nothing immediate, presently. I’ve been a little too focused on the album to think about film work. But now that I am done, I have time again to try and get back into another film score, or similar project.
If you could compose the soundtrack to any film, real or imaginary, which would it be and why?
Different days would have different answers. I’m feeling in the mood for something mildly sci-fi lately. I’ve also become interested in working in the indie video game world. Sometimes those worlds can be so deep and wondrous and enveloping, I think it is a great medium for sharing emotions and storytelling.
I recently watched A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence. I wouldn’t mind something like that to work on. But honestly, anything that is a little strange, a little dark, a little curious, a little dream-y. I am just happy to make sounds. Whether strange sounds or just simple piano pieces, it all makes me happy.
As well as your Eluvium project you have also been working together with Mark T. Smith from Explosions In The Sky as Inventions. The self-titled debut and Maze Of Woods are both firm favourites of mine. What’s it like working with Mark? And, is there any new material from Inventions coming any time soon?
Working with Mark is like working with one of your best friends. It is exciting and adventurous and revealing and curious and deep and simply fun. We have a vocabulary that seems to gel nicely together and it creates an unusual understanding between us. We have been friends for quite a long time, so it ultimately is just very natural. Regarding new material… I don’t know ? I’m sure we’ll get up to something sooner or later. We have both been busy with other things lately. But we did create and release 2 albums and one very strange EP within a year and a half. So I feel okay taking some time and waiting for timing to fall into place naturally. We like to keep things as stress-free as possible.
When was your first introduction to ‚ambient‘ music?
Hmm.. Probably something Eno. I remember working at a cafe that would play Music For Airports sometimes, but I think I already had discovered Another Green World well before that. I think I just one day discovered Another Green World at random and bought it because I liked the title and art. It is still possibly my favorite record, but obviously it led me down a great many paths.
And what was the catalyst that led you to create your own sounds?
I’ve been playing instruments, or playing with electronic sets since I was a little boy. So the catalyst was most likely my parents. They were very encouraging and they also liked classical music… and Simon and Garfunkel. My sister played piano as well, which probably led to my interest in the instrument
If people could learn one thing from your music, what would it be, and why?
That everything is okay, even if, or when, the universe destroys us. The flow and pattern of life and existence is a wonderful thing to behold, in all of its strange (and sometimes confusing) manners. This is also something I try to remember for myself.
Do you have any final words for our readers?
Thank you for caring. I hope you have a beautiful day.
The album is out now on New York label Temporary Residence Ltd, and is available from the label’s website Temporary Residence Ltd, in local record stores, Bleep and other independent download sites.
| JOHN BITTLES
| Photo: NOEL JAVIER
Great interview. Thank you.