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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Amateur Orkney Sleuths Unearth First Album Ever Recomposed By Nature In Worldwide Treasure Hunt

In spring 2021, the extraordinary Scottish composer and solo artist Erland Cooper planted the only existing copy of his album on tape in Orcadian soil, near his childhood home. The eccentric 18-month quest followed several clues found in Erland’s interviews, across his social media, website and newsletter released every equinox and solstice since he announced nature’s involvement in his album’s sound. Whilst on holiday this month, two delighted locals flexed their detective skills to unearth the nature nurtured tape after following the idiosyncratic treasure hunt from the very beginning. Carve the Runes Then Be Content With Silence will be released exactly as it sounds from the earth, with the soil’s alternations, in 2024 via Mercury KX/Universal Music Canada, - the cross-genre modern classical, ambient and electronic label that have not heard a single note of Erland’s unprecedented label debut. The tape, now drying out on the top of Victoria and Dan’s kitchen cupboard, will start its long, slow walk back to London’s Barbican via a series of local galleries where it will be on display alongside its accompanying artefacts until 2024.

Of their journey uncovering the tape’s destination, Victoria and Dan say, "When we decided to start looking for Erland’s planted tape, we didn’t really expect to find it – just getting out and about, spending time together walking in the outdoors, seemed like a nice way to spend our week off. But once we got caught up in the hunt, the sense of adventure took over and we were thrilled when we actually managed to track it down. Finding the stone that marked the spot and then digging felt just uncovering treasure! We’re really excited to meet with Erland and hand over the tape. We can’t wait to see where this project is going next, and we’re so pleased to have been able to play a part in it."

As summer was ending on the Scottish Isles this year, Victoria, a local projectionist, and Dan Rhodes, a keen tape enthusiast, set off with a foldable shovel, two rucksacks and a plan. The plan had been meticulously refined from their time comparing photos of rock formations across Orkney and traveling to another island within the archipelago, plotting possible locations, following multiple red herrings and Erland’s drip-fed set of cryptic clues. Having grown up in Orkney, the couple spent time after work analysing the rugged Scottish landscape near Victoria’s relatives’ home until eventually finding the master tape in its temporary underground haven. Even though Erland had more clues to distribute on his digital platforms, their dedicated holiday quest ended with an excited call to Erland himself after reading the letter hidden with the tape. Erland’s mobile number was only just eligible.

Speaking of the moment he received the call from Victoria and Dan, Erland recalls, “I’m still rather in shock. Dan’s voice on the phone said, ‘Hello, is that Erland? We have your tape, a biscuit tin, a score, letter, a mucky rune stone and a rather knackered violin in the boot of our car! There are over 70 islands in Orkney but I planted the tape close to home, on the hill that overlooks the town I was raised, under Brinkies Brae. I’m so impressed with their commitment and inquisitive minds. It feels like nature has spoken, asking Victoria and Dan to find it now and pop it out of the earth. It may not have survived another Orkney winter. The work is a meditation on value, patience and time, as well as the often disposable nature of music. It's a collaboration with the natural world.”

The ¼ inch magnetic tape was planted in an intimate ceremony in May last year - along with a violin and a full printed score. The violin played an important role in protecting the tape as it lay directly above them in the ground to ensure the shovel (and the tape finder) did not damage the tape. All original recordings of the album were deleted, and Erland challenged listeners to cherish patience in an era of instant gratification when suggesting they start looking for the album. Inspired by Erland’s synergy with life in the wild, the album will have naturally deteriorated through its time in the earth. Soon to meet in Orkney, Erland wanted to be the first to invite the couple to the special performance of his album composed by nature, at the Barbican in 2024. Until then, the tape will remain in Orkney a little longer. Erland will be drying and eventually re-transcribing and arranging the album, exactly as found by Victoria and Dan.

Co-Presidents of Decca Label Group, Laura Monks and Tom Lewis, say, “This is such an irresistible story. At one level it is a totally original idea from a unique artistic mind - a treasure hunt, amateur sleuths and the romance of Orkney. At a deeper level, Erland is asking us to stop, wait and think before listening. And, in a world of instant gratification, that’s really compelling. When we signed the deal, we refused to listen to the music before it was planted. We wanted to hear it as others would - once mother nature has done her work on the tapes.”

‘Carve the Runes Then Be Content With Silence’ is a new composition written and recorded for solo violin and string ensemble. Over three movements it celebrates George Mackay Brown on his Centenary, 2021 marks 100 years since the Orcadian poet’s birth. Maintaining his thriving relationship with organic landscapes, Erland’s work ruminates on time, hope and the community that surrounds it. Recorded at the The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with internationally acclaimed violin soloist Daniel Pioro (known for his work with the BBC Philharmonic) Jonny Greenwood and Studio Collective, a specially selected RCS chamber string group. The composition was then mixed by Marta Salogni (Björk, Anna Meredith, Daniel Avery). The tape will eventually be digitized and mastered by Gut Davies, Marta Salogni and Cooper.

The news comes after Erland’s latest release ‘Music For Growing Flowers’ - a mini album that similarly embraces nature by soundtracking the growth of 20 million flowers at the Tower of London. The flowers engulfed the moat as a designed Superbloom for Her Majesty the Queen’s jubilee celebration earlier this year. A Superbloom occurs once every few decades when favourable weather patterns coincide and activate dormant seeds. Erland’s original composition, played continuously through speakers, found harmony within the living, blossoming flower field in the centre of the capital. Listen to the 8- track album, here. In addition, on October 15th Erland will premier ‘Window over Rackwick’ as part of his work with the BBC Philharmonic.

Photo Cedit: Rebecca Marr


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