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.
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.