‘Imagine you’re on a ferry trip to the Orkneys,’ intones Erland Cooper. Strings burst and bubble behind him. A seabird gently cackles. Instructions aren’t needed for this most visual of music, which conjures images of desolate beauty even without the use of videos.
Currently touring Seachange, the final part of a trilogy that explores the natural world of birds, landscape and place, his rippling piano creates the basic wash of sound. This is then layered with a four-piece string band, the wordless soprano of violinist Lottie Greenhow, and atmospheric samples of dialogue and lashing rain.
Closely aligned to Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds, the music straddles ambient, neo-classical and relaxation. This is a long way from his early work, which saw him team up with various Britpop odd-jobbers in folk-rock outfit Erland And The Carnival and the post-rock Magnetic North.
Despite this he was always a man of many strings, working across multi-art projects, and this solo work helps to unify these various elements. The show isn’t an installation but it would work as such, with his use of digital technology – an old reel-to-reel, cassette tape, and a 1972 mini-Moog – giving the material an element of unpredictability.
He nonetheless maintains a degree of performance, communicating warmth as he conducts with a swaying white feather and makes self-deprecating jokes (“this is when we all b***er off!” he notes, when the lights are dimmed).
These audience interactions never overshadow the music or interrupt the atmospheric mood of the evening. With such sonic imagery, Cooper could well replace Sigur Rós as the go-to act to score BBC nature documentaries.