Ahead of his first-ever headline solo tour of the UK, the multi-instrumentalist discusses the beauty of simplicity and the joys of silence
Erland Cooper is making a cup of tea at the Barbican when I call him from my flat in Gorgie, and he immediately begins telling me of the Meadows in Edinburgh. Sat (or stood, maybe) in the middle of the urban sprawl, he takes you back to open space and silence. In that respect, a conversation with Cooper is much like listening to his music, with its innate ability to pick you up and place you somewhere magical and ethereal, somewhere you'd imagine isn't a million miles away from the Orkney home that feeds into so much of his work.
'Ambient music creates its own landscape,' he says. 'I think the nature of ambient music just gives you space to reflect. It lets you kind of look at your own inside landscape whilst looking out or listening in. It can be overt at times, it can be really gentle, and it can creep up on you.'
Reflection seems like an apt way to describe Seachange, the 'ambient sister' to this year's beautiful Sule Skerry, itself the second in a triptych of albums inspired by Orkney. Where Sule Skerry moved with the drama of the ocean, sometimes soft and meditative and other times fierce and full of drama, Seachange is three movements that ebb and flow with the tides.
'I try to keep it simple, but often the players say to me: "gosh it's really simple music but it's quite complex, it's quite hard to play," that's the beauty of simplicity, it's actually harder than people think to do. It's okay to add and add and add and do complex stuff, but it's even better to take away. That's the hard bit. Culling, cutting.'
If anything could be said to characterise Seachange, it's this self restraint, whilst still feeling expansive, lush, and full of narrative rise and fall. 'I like to give myself limits,' he says, after I question whether that's tricky to do given the limitless musical avenues one could go down when your instrument is nature, electronics and sound itself. 'I come up with the palette first, and then it challenges me to only use what I've got.'
He's bringing the record on tour this November, including a stop off at Glasgow's Mackintosh Queen's Cross Church on Sat 30 Nov, which seems a perfect environment to let his sonic landscapes wash over you.
'It gets forgotten about, but I think the space should be sympathetic to the music,' he tells me, palpably excited about playing in the venue. 'I love the sound of rooms. Halfway through the set I do a wee experiment where I just turn everything off. Lights go off. Sound goes off. Desk goes off. Everything turns off. And you can kind of hear everybody's tummy's rumble. It's my favourite bit. The Mackintosh Hall in Glasgow will be a wonderful thing, can you just imagine the sound of it?'
When the conversation ends, I put my headphones back on and return to the music, and yes, I can.
Erland Cooper's Seachange is out now on Phases. Band On The Wall, Manchester, Wed 20 Nov; Arnolfini, Bristol, Thu 21 Nov; Unitarian Church, Brighton, Fri 22 Nov; Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, Sun 24 Nov; Mackintosh Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow, Sat 30 Nov; Sage 2, Gateshead, Mon 2 Dec.