I don’t remember when or where it was that I first heard An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death, an album I frequently cite as one of the most overlooked records of the past 15 years and a personal influence. What I do remember is how I very quickly reached those conclusions and levels of devotion and how fascinated I was by Matthew Cooper, the man behind that solo piano record. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I finally gained the resolve to seek out his other work, hoping that the impact of Accidental Memory wouldn’t be lessened. I wasn’t disappointed. Instead of more gorgeous piano pieces, what I got were expansive ideas in the minimalist genre, work that I could finally use Stars of the Lid for as a reference point.
Consistently throughout his albums Cooper has made endless amounts of beautifully textured and immediately entrancing soundscapes. It’s difficult for me to pull myself out of listening to any given song in his collective discography and there’ll always be a special place in my collection for An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death and the album that introduced me to his other side, Talk Amongst the Trees, both modern masterpieces in their own right- so I was understandably thrilled when Cooper agreed to answer some questions for the next installment in the Songwriter Spotlight series.
Here’s my time with Matthew Cooper.
PM: A lot of your ideas have been abstract and you’ve been tagged more than once with the term “cinematic.” Do you make music to accompany visuals or does it just naturally evoke scenic imagery?
MC: Working as a composer for film and other projects, I do both. More specifically, it’s generally the case with my Eluvium work that I can generally test the reasonableness of what I’m working on by simply looking out the window, watching the breeze or any other form of motion in life. This is usually the litmus test, so to speak, for whether or not a piece works for me. Working in cinema, though, is something I wholeheartedly pursue as well. I’ve always been in love with film as a medium and have very much enjoyed working in that world- sound seems to flow quite easily from me when I am fed shape, scope, dimension, emotion, timing, and anything that points to a direction.
PM: How do the ideas for your songs develop?
MC: For Eluvium, they come out of the blue or pulse deep within me, but sometimes they get lost in translation or muffled by other forces that are focused in my life at the moment, in which case it doesn’t always work out. When it does work, it is clear and obvious, natural and unobstructed, and generally effortless.
PM: For An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death you abandoned everything but a piano, what prompted that decision?
MC: I moved into an apartment in downtown Portland and my room had a piano in it. I had studied for years as a child and it was sitting there, staring at me. I’ve since found that I tend to want to do something different than the last project. I think I get so enveloped in that world- it’s refreshing and probably only natural to want to be somewhere else for a while. Sometimes it has an undesirable effect on the listening audience but I think it’s only healthy to want to expand your horizons and educate yourself in new areas, which is something important to me as a human, I suppose. I’d hate to lose that purely for the sake of making other people happy. It’s funny though, some people wish I would focus more on solo piano, some wish I would focus more on drone and textural ambience, some wish I would sing more, and others wish I would have never done so. You can’t please everybody, so you may as well please yourself, and use music as a way to engage life and educate yourself.
PM: Your music often has minimal tendencies, do you ever find yourself tempted to create something truly expansive?
MC: “Expansive” is a very relative word- some people would consider Copia or even Static Nocturne to be quite expansive. In fact, after sitting here thinking about this question and debating answers in my head I’m not sure how to answer it without running into brick walls. Sorry.
PM: How does scoring a film differ from simply creating?
MC: I am handed specifics and told which window I am to look out of and I am sometimes told how long a piece needs to be. I picture it sort of like how songwriters read a news story and write a song about it through the character’s eyes. I guess I picture film scoring in a similar context, though the character, I assume, doesn’t always have to be person or group of people but sometimes a time, place, or circumstance. Nonetheless, it is usually given to me, as opposed to my having to search for it or wait for it to arrive.
PM: Can you explain your decision to release a solo album under your own name instead of Eluvium?
MC: At the time it seemed to make sense to release the record under “Matthew Robert Cooper.” I felt like it came from a different place than Eluvium- a different approach or person or feeling… I’m unsure of what it was, but it was present.
PM: What can we expect from you in the near future?
MC: I’m releasing an electronic record under the moniker “Martin Eden” this Spring, which may appeal to fans of early Aphex Twin stuff, or turn of the century electronic music. There’s an Eluvium 10” coming this Spring as well, on Cameron Crowe’s Vinyl-Films label. I’m currently working on the next Eluvium full-length – things are going well with it, I’m probably more than halfway done. I should be able to get it released by the end of the year- we’ll see. I also have a track on a compilation called Air Texture Vol. 2 and there are a few other things I can’t talk about at this time- it’s going to be a busy year, I’m very excited.