Modern Nature :: A Soundtrack/Score Companion

Constant readers will no doubt recognize the name Jack Cooper, whose former project (Ultimate Painting) remains an in-house favorite. Following a stripped back solo venture, 2017’s Sandgrown, Cooper returns with a group proper – Modern Nature – who have just released their debut full-length, How To Live. While anchored by Cooper, the record’s grooves find a formidable cast of players exploring myriad veins of Kosmische Musik, British folk traditions and beyond – all underpinned by oblique sense of atmospheric otherness.

A cinephile, for this installment of Diversions, we asked Cooper to dig into some of his favorite soundtracks and scores. True to form, Cooper’s selections are both as eclectic and genre-bending as his own work . . .

John Cameron :: Kes – Cameron started out as an arranger with Donovan and then went on to work with Donovan and Ken Loach for the first time on the soundtrack to Poor Cow. His first soundtrack and probably the thing that he will be forever associated with is his score to Loach’s Kes, the film about a young Yorkshire boy and his kestrel. Cameron’s soundtrack represents a beautiful serene vision of England that has already faded into memory. It’s an aural England and landscape I recognise, having been brought up in the neighbouring county of Lancashire, but it’s a landscape that seems distant if not completely gone. It’s there but it’s accompanied by the hum of a motorway in the distance and pylons towering over. The music dips and meanders like the hills and horizon… easy and fluid but remarkably elaborate.

Lloyd McNeill & Marshall Hawkins :: Tanner Suite – This isn’t a soundtrack to a film, rather a soundtrack commissioned by the Smithsonian National Gallery Of Art in the late 1960s to accompany an exhibition of the work of Henry Ossawa Tanner, who was regarded as the first African-American painter to gain success outside the US. All of the Lloyd McNeill albums recently reissued by Soul Jazz are unmissable but this stands by itself. It has a similar understated tone to John Cameron’s Kes soundtrack but is even more economical in its instrumentation and feel… introspective and spiritual, then on ‘Tanner Blues’ (a reference to Tanner’s signature palette of turquoises and indigo) they take flight. Endless thanks to Bill Roe at Trouble In Mind for turning me on to this.

Popol Vuh :: Fitzcarraldo/Nosferatu/Aguirre: Wrath Of God – My favourite Herzog/Kinski collaboration is My Best Fiend but Nosferatu is the one I come back to the most. The landscape as Harker makes his way to meet the Count for the first time is almost too ominous to deal with; the sense of dread and impending doom matched by Popol Vuh’s score. When we started working on what became How To Live, we wrote with a clear narrative in mind. The album loosely begins in the city and ends in the freedom of nature, moving from anxiety, isolation, chaos and confusion through to a different type of isolation, resignation, freedom and space. We wrote the album and put it all together as a soundtrack to a film we had no intention of making or a play, so it gave us a framework to work within… “At this point we need an opening theme, a song that represents a breakdown, a final scene,” etc etc. ‘Devotee’, the song that finishes our record, is meant to represent a glorious ending. It’s not referenced in the lyrics but I was definitely thinking of Nosferatu being eviscerated by the sunlight or even Aguirre besieged by monkeys, defiantly throwing them into the river. The end of Devotee is very much influenced by those weird joyous recordings that Popol Vuh used in Fitzcarraldo, particularly ‘Als Lebten Die Engel Auf Erden’.

Richard Thompson :: Grizzly Man – Another Werner Herzog movie… I would honestly listen to Richard Thompson tuning up, but this is way up there on my list of his favourite recordings. The soundtrack is predominantly just him with occasional backing by a small group of musicians including Jim O’Rourke, observed and occasionally directed from behind the glass by Werner Herzog. For someone who has remained resolutely English, it’s interesting to hear him embracing North American music in a way that he rarely has. Obviously it comes from the same place, but it’s as beautiful and expansive as the Alaskan landscapes it accompanies.

Simon Fisher Turner :: The Great White Silence – Simon Fisher Turner is probably most well known for his work soundtracking Derek Jarman’s The Garden and Caravaggio but his soundtrack to the 1911 documentary of Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole is absolutely perfect. The film begins in silence and the music barely ever breaks through the ice… a slow and heavy white out. It has much in common with Popol Vuh’s Herzog soundtracks but when a piece of music is so beautiful, understated and moving; trying to explain why it is all of those things is completely pointless.

Andrew Dickson :: Naked – I’ve seen Naked about ten times and it doesn’t get any easier to watch. In fact, it’s probably bleaker the older I get. David Thewlis’ Johnny is completely unsympathetic and yet endlessly fascinating; a Mancunian Meursault or a nihilistic Odysseus. The soundtrack by Andrew Dickson is sparse and indifferent and, like the use of Ligeti’s ‘Musica Ricercata’ in Kubrick’s Eye Wide Shut (an amazing soundtrack and very similar film to Naked), it represents a cold, emotionless bystander. This kind of narrative loomed very large in our minds when putting together our record… that kind of futile journey or escape that Naked, Eyes Wide Shut or even the ‘Eternal City’ scene in Mike Nicholls’ Catch 22 have in common was very influential. Andrew Dickson’s soundtrack is incredible, as is a lot of his work with and without Mike Leigh. Dickson’s music has so far managed to avoid the endless stream of soundtrack vinyl releases… I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing. The music is great in its own right, but its home is with Leigh’s images and words.

Jonny Greenwood & Various Artists :: Inherent Vice – I’ve been quite obsessed with this soundtrack recently, as well as the others Jonny Greenwood has done for Paul Thomas Anderson. There Will Be Blood is particularly striking; the Ondes-Martenot ghosting the Penderecki-inspired strings is beyond heavy. Inherent Vice is obviously way lighter in tone but he strikes the balance between the old Hollywood-style lushness and the burnt-out David Crosby via Can jams. Jean Claude Vannier and his arrangements for Serge Gainsbourg seem like a big influence but it all sits just fine with Joaquin Phoenix navigating his way through LA’s surreal underbelly. It’s a perfect soundtrack to an imperfect but compelling movie. I was a Radiohead fan in my teens and seeing them around OK Computer is one of the best shows I’ve experienced. Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack work led me back into what they’ve been doing, so it’s been interesting navigating through all of that recently. I think Moon Shaped Pool is probably my favourite Radiohead album.

Krzysztof Komeda :: Knife In The Water – I’ve been listening to this and Astigmatic a lot recently… understated, nuanced and breezy in a sinister way. Like most people, my gateway into Komeda and consequently European jazz was the Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack. When I was a teenager it didn’t even occur to me that people listened to soundtracks on their own and I guess there’s probably an argument against it, but the Rosemary’s Baby soundtrack was the first I ever bought and listened to. I actually had a cassette of the Star Wars soundtrack that I’d listen to in bed, re-enacting the scenes in my head. That’s not quite as easy with Knife In The Water.

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