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The richly talented “maverick electronic song composer” (New Yorker) Jacob Cooper propels us into a luscious journey with Terrain, his highly anticipated sophomore album. Drenched in otherworldly vocals, processed strings and elaborate electronic orchestrations, these three expansive tracks brim with intricately pulsing soundscapes that lull us into a tranquil meditative state. Terrain transports us to a new dimension where time slows down as we bask in the soft, pale glow of infinite timbral layers.
Rather than composing with a live ensemble in mind, Jacob Cooper writes for the studio, where boundless possibilities rest at his fingertips and meticulous sound manipulations can be sculpted into his singular vision. That sensibility debuted with Silver Threads — a song cycle for soprano and electronics released on venerable Nonesuch Records in 2014.
Terrain also displays Cooper’s passion for kinetic collaboration. He worked intensively with three poets who created original text for each work, and developed the music alongside vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Jodie Landau, as well as cellist Ashley Bathgate, who each bring electric energy and a penchant for defying musical boundaries to the project.
Described as “a vocalist of inventive instinct and assiduous musicality” by The New York Times, Bleckmann’s storied career as a trailblazer at the forefront of the NYC avant garde for decades has included countless collaborations with the likes of luminaries Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk and ECM founder Manfred Eicher. In Terrain’s opening work “Ripple the Sky,” Bleckmann’s lustrous vocals soar above a stuttering drone of processed string instruments. “It’s not just his silk-smooth voice I love, but also his knack for vocal experimentation,” says Cooper. “I composed ‘Ripple the Sky’ with both in mind.”
“Ripple the Sky’s” libretto, written by poet Greg Brownderville, was inspired by Robert Schumann’s mental deterioration, including his attempt to drown himself and his reflections on the similarly-fated Ophelia from Hamlet. The layer-upon-layer of reference, both within the text and music, are also trademarks of Cooper’s style.
In “Expiation,” the vocal soloist is Jodie Landau, a 28-year-old up-and-coming vocalist in the Los Angeles-based contemporary music collective Wild Up, and a member of Bedroom Community—described by Pitchfork as “a lightning rod at the juncture where the ambition of classical music meets the aesthetics of indie music.”
Landau sings lines by poet Dora Malech like “I carved the air to make two doorways” with an aching waxen urgency. Initially setting out to compose a five-minute piece, Cooper ended up stretching the work out considerably. “Once I had three different sections I actually liked, I realized I needed them all to last three times as long,” he explains. “Landau’s voice drew me in, and I found myself wanting to linger in each moment.”
Closing work “Terrain” synthesizes the album with text by Zach Savich. Here Cooper merges simple melodies sung by both Bleckmann and Landau with electro-acoustically processed drones and arpeggios from Ashley Bathgate, a Bang on a Can All-Stars alum and “glorious cellist” (The Washington Post) who combines “bittersweet lyricism along with ferocious chops” (New York Magazine). “More than ever, I composed ‘Terrain’ through workshopping material with the performers,” explains Cooper. “I recorded Theo, Jodie, and Ashley playing around with sketches of mine, and built the piece around the results.”
Both musically and conceptually, the album brings together what Cooper calls the “instantaneous and the infinite,” offering a prolonged meditation on life’s fleeting moments.