Returning to the Orkney Islands of his childhood, Erland Cooper instinctively sought to map out the nooks and crannies of life there as organically as possible. When it came time to record ‘Sule Skerry’, the second album in a triptych sketching the region, the musician didn’t merely seek out standard field recordings and local commentary, but impulse responses – the sonic capture of a specific acoustic environment, echoes marked with as much prestige as the call.
If it makes for a sweet footnote in the album’s story, it’s also cause to reflect on how much we value the concept of authenticity in such records. Where Cooper’s debut ‘Solan Goose’ paid homage to birdlife and air, ‘Sule Skerry’ is a hymn to the sea, and it certainly feels that way in places: there’s a gentle ebb and flow to its ambient pieces which rarely threaten storm’s break, save perhaps the more urgent arpeggios of ‘Lump O’ Sea’.
Does the artist’s reproduction of its real physical spaces take us there? Or does it merely wrap us up further in the romance, the mythology of the project?
At the final reckoning, perhaps it doesn’t matter. ‘Sule Skerry’ is as beautiful as it is slight, building elegant motifs from nothing, pushing each as far as it needs to go before allowing the tide’s return. “When you listen to something out of context, that’s when you learn exactly what to keep and what to discard,” Cooper says of transporting the soft sounds of the Orkneys back to London for the recording process.
As a local voice fades out to close the album, something has certainly carried over, and in those moments the modern squall feels a little further away.
Words: Matthew Neale
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