Capping off a year of globetrotting with tourmates Explosions in the Sky, Portland-based pianist and composer Matthew Robert Cooper—better known to aficionados of ambient and classical music as Eluvium—recently delighted his remarkably devoted international fanbase with the August release of Miniatures, an album of un-orchestrated short-form instrumental meditations put out under his birth name. He subsequently announced that he would be producing a limited-edition, locally handmade seven-LP box set containing the complete works of Eluvium. Cooper spoke with the Mercury just as the set became available for pre-order and he prepared for a rare hometown gig.
MERCURY: You've said that, as a listener, drone and ambient music opened the door to minimalism for you. What do you think the relationship between those styles is, and how do they play out in your music?
COOPER: I think the relationship is relative, as I'm sure many minimalist composers could perhaps be considered more studious than drone artists. Not all the time, but perhaps generally. To take a stab at the relationship of the two from my perspective: I see both to be considering ideas (or themes/emotions) to the fullest extent. There is a lot to be found in a single note, stanza, or chord of sound/music, and it seems that both minimalism and drone choose to delve as far into discovering all that it may have to offer. I, for example, find myself sticking to one theme, usually, in my compositions to explore the full understanding and range which that thought and theme has to offer, to see something from as many angles as possible before moving on, or to gain as much information and perspective on a concept.
One of the things I find most interesting about your music is that it wears its Romanticism on its sleeve, with Chopin as audible a reference as Reich, which almost seems like a Pitchfork-era faux pas. Do you consciously embrace that Romantic impulse? Has it ever been a liability for you?
Being so intensely guided by emotion, I'd have to say I do consciously embrace Romanticism. Sometimes it can give way to some "cheesy" results. There are times when something seems too familiar because it is simple and effective. I do feel I have to be careful not to over-saturate that side of things. As simple as the beauty of everything is, it is wrapped in complexity as well. That's the enigma and that's the balance I seek in my music—audio representations of this peculiar mystery.
What attracted you to the idea of releasing a career retrospective box set at this point? You're a young guy, and that's sort of a valedictory gesture. Should we read anything into that?
Not really. I've just always wanted to have vinyl and had never considered it a reasonable effort until this point. But, as well, I do feel another strong shift in my reasoning with music, and this seems like a good way to catalogue the first bits of hopefully several new directions in music. So I wouldn't think of it as a career retrospective so much as a cap to part one of a series.
Eluvium performs at the Doug Fir on Sunday, November 23.