Music

Erland Cooper's slowly thawing call to arms

Composer Erland Cooper's doomed installation at London's Barbican Centre was an effective comment on climate change

A woman stands beside the ice sculpture

Image: John Nguyen/PA Wire

By the time I arrived at the Barbican, the leaves were starting to poke through the ice. The eight-foot frozen sculpture was melting, its base still intact but becoming lopsided. Onlookers speculated that the piece might fall rather than neatly dripping away. A portable reel-to-reel tape player perched on a chair next to the icy monolith, its ambient music intermittently overwhelmed by the unscheduled rain showers. Erland Cooper holds an umbrella over the electric device and strokes the ice thoughtfully. He’s been waiting in the Level 3 courtyard since 9am that morning, committed to standing guard until the final splinter disappears. The Scottish composer is visited by a steady trickle of fans and well-wishers. A cockapoo pulls at its lead to inspect the alien form; on a bench in the background, a couple film the interaction on their phones. We watch. We wait.

ERland Cooper with his sculpture
Artist Erland Cooper unveils ‘Glacier’ at London’s Barbican’s Sculpture Court. Image: John Nguyen/PA Wire

Glacier is part protest, part advertising campaign. The theme is, of course, climate change – the known and the unknown perfectly highlighted by the slow destruction of the beautiful sculpture. The event marks the release of Cooper’s new album Folded Landscapes, developed in collaboration with string group Scottish Ensemble.

The recording was made in sub-zero temperatures that slowly increased across its seven movements and with an audio master sun-burnt in the 40.9C heat of the hottest day in UK history last year. Back at London’s Barbican, the courtyard is becoming increasingly soggy. But it wasn’t until much later that evening that the sculpture properly lost its structure – suffering irreversible damage.

Against a backdrop of eco-anxiety, political turmoil and a cost-of-living crisis, musical solace is more precious than ever. One artist who knows that is Riopy, the pianist-composer whose simple melodies and repeated patterns are created as an antidote to modern life. His latest album Thrive takes inspiration from Satie, Debussy and Chopin, with lullabies and nocturnes that envelop the listener like a cosy blanket. Riopy (first name Jean-Philippe) is open about his style: “I think my music has an ethereal quality to it because I write having experienced pain,” he says. If anything, this is an understatement.

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Riopy grew up in an insular French cult, leaving at 18 to escape to the UK. Having experienced financial difficulties and homelessness, his life changed after he gave a performance in 2011 during which Chris Martin was in the audience. Impressed by what he heard, the Coldplay singer bought Riopy a Steinway piano, and in 2018 Riopy released his eponymous debut album. Rags-to-riches tales are never as straight-forward as they might seem; along the way Riopy has had to work hard to keep demons at bay.

Riopy
Image: Pierre-Emmanuel Rastoin

“It has not been easy,” reflects the composer, who now lives between London and Portugal. “We live in a society that encourages people to think that if you’re poor or in need you deserve it. This is the biggest BS,” he smiles at me across the screen. “A lot of people experience homelessness, it can happen quite suddenly, for many reasons. Without warning, you have nothing but shame.”

Listening to Inner Peace and Piano Allegretto (featured on Thrive, out now), it’s easy to understand Riopy when he says that he transcribes emotions into his music. Fans of Riopy’s compositions include Lana del Rey, who samples his work on her recent album Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd. There is a geometric feel to some of the pieces, too. “I have a need to count things and so the patterns came about from that,” says Riopy. “It’s instinctive. I never gave up on music and she never gave up on me.”

Listen to… The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla – The Official Album

Difficult deadlines? Spare a thought for the team at Decca, who produced the first ever complete recording of the coronation and all its music and released the final album shortly after the Westminster event on May 6. Collectors CD and vinyl editions will follow later in the year. The celebration includes 12 new compositions written especially for the day, including a short overture by Judith Weir, Master of The King’s Music, and a Coronation anthem by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Claire Jackson is a writer and editor

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