Eluvium: copia

Matthew Cooper is the focal point for a battle between two feuding muses. In one corner is the muse who directs him to explore new timbres through long, static, droning works. In the other corner is the muse who directs him to write melodic pieces with conventional but odd harmonic rhythms.

As a result, he’s created a surprising body of work, unified by its ethereal aesthetic but divergent by its working methods. That’s the $10 way of saying he has a distinct sound even when he’s writing completely different pieces.

With copia, Cooper attempts to broker a cease-fire between the two muses, hoping to demonstrate that both can inform his music simultaneously. Whatever the terms of the peace accord, it’s clear the neo-classicist in Cooper got a better deal.

If copia were scored with acoustic instruments, instead of Eluvium’s arsenal of sampled instruments, it would sound, well, conventional. It’s tempting to compare Cooper to the minimalist composers, but his writing is not so much minimal as economic — his pieces aren’t nearly motivic enough, but they sure do repeat.

The French impressionist comparisons still apply, perhaps even moreso. If Cooper wasn’t influenced by Erik Satie or Claude Debussy, he’s certainly channeling their spirit.

"Indoor Swimming at the Space Station" begins with tremolo strings before piano arpeggios, synth pads and eventually a clarinet take over. Throughout the 10 1/2-minute piece, the chord progression doesn’t stray once.

The piano work which drove An Accidental Memory in Case of Death reappears on "Prelude for Time Feelers", "Radio Ballet" and "Reciting the Airships", but this time, it’s augmented by synthetic strings and a lot of reverb and delay.

"Ostinato" doesn’t actually contain an ostinato, but the slow chord progression played by an organ gets thicker and thicker as brass and low strings emerge from the texture.

copia is perhaps the prettiest album in Eluvium’s ouvre. As such, your mileage may vary.

If you were a fan of An Accidental Memory in Case of Death (which I am) copia is a follow-up you’d love. Cooper isn’t Fred Rzweski — hell, he isn’t Philip Glass — but his ambitious style rests comfortably between the high minded complexity of European composition and hippie new age claptrap.

Of course, fans who would prefer Cooper to more like Eno may not distinguish the melodicism of copia from Enya. Because he isn’t Rzweski or Glass, the tonality of the album could be perceived as dangerously close to said new age claptrap, if not actually crossing the line.

Myself? I find Cooper’s scant classical influences refreshing. He’s not burdened by the Western art music tradition since that really isn’t his world. But intentionally or no, his music refers to that tradition, and his emulation of it feels distinctly personal.

copia may be the work of what could be considered an "untrained" composer, but that shouldn’t be perceived as a disadvantage. Matthew Cooper’s static, droning muse lost this fight, and I’m quite glad she did.