Erland Cooper: A Symphonic Journey Through The Natural Landscapes Of The Orkney Islands

Credit for all images: Mark Allan / The Barbican

Scottish musician Gawain Erland Cooper gave a unique live performance at the Barbican Hall in London on Saturday 10th October. As part of the Live from the Barbican concert series, the concert was simultaneously live-streamed as a broadcast for spectators to enjoy from home.

The music of London-based composer Erland Cooper is greatly inspired by his homeland, the Orkney Islands off the north-eastern coast of Scotland. Played lived at the Barbican Hall to a socially-distanced audience, his melodies capture the sounds of nature in The Northern Isles, transporting the audience on a journey across his native land. For this special post-lockdown performance, Cooper was joined by the London Contemporary Orchestra to perform his trilogy of albums: Solan Goose (2018), Sule Skerry (2019) and his latest release Hether Blether (2020).

The three albums compose a musical triptych that dives into Scottish mythology. These albums transform the imagery of Scotland’s folkloric tales into an experience of sound. The mystic mountains, skies and seashores of the Orkney Islands are translated into music, with sounds of rainfall, birdsong, and waves crashing into the sand cliffs fused with the melodies of piano and violin. The serenity of the North Sea and the green mountains of the Highlands are perfectly captured by the music he creates. The relaxing cadence of water along with the gentle rhythms of nature and wildlife create a powerful symphonic environment. The recurrent sounds of wilderness create a unique atmospheric scene that truly make the spectator escape from city life to go deep into the wild.

The multi-instrumentalist genius was joined by poets Amy Liptrot, a fellow Orkney native, and William Burns. The verses recited by these poets perfectly complemented the immersive soundscape. The atmospheric lighting on stage, combined with the bird’s eye view camera used for the live-stream, enhanced spectator’s journey across the homeland of Erland Cooper.

Even though it is harder to connect with a live performance over a virtual platform than in real life, the Barbican has worked brilliantly around the streaming format to make live shows as inclusive of the streaming audience as possible. The charismatic personality of Cooper and the fervent passion with which he performs played a great deal into keeping the live-stream viewers entertained, with his jokes and allocutions in between songs. Before starting his performance, Cooper asked the audience to imagine they were on a ferry journey navigating across the Scottish Northern shores. By the end of the hour-long performance the desired effect was successfully accomplished. The most admirable quality of Erland Cooper is his ability to paint the majestic landscapes of his native Scotland with music that transcends spatial barriers.

Live from the Barbican is on until December 13th with musical performances available for both live streaming and attendance at the Barbican Hall.

Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor