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CD Feature/ Rod Cooper: "Friction"

img  Tobias

A lot of artists have recertly doted on the issue and it seems to be common consensus nowadays that there is a particular “Australian” sound, a special form of interaction between musicians and a recognisable kind of responding to a unique environment. It would be interesting to find out Rod Cooper’s thoughts on this matter.

His music, after all, can not be seperated from his personality, just as much as his compositions can not be seen independent of his instruments. Cooper is just as much a sculptor as a musician, he is both fascinated by metal and stainless steel and by the organic, animalistic roars of his creations. Even though he has turned into a widely respected focal point of the scene and an artist who perfectly matches the typical description of a truly leftfield musician, the questions remains whether someone who fits no drawer but his own can actually be subsumised under the banner of a much larger community.

“Friction” certainly has no outward connection to the work of Brendan Walls, who originally remarked upon the theory of a “uniquely Australian music”. Rod Cooper’s fascination for creating his own equipment goes back more than ten years and to a place called “Metal Mickey”, a workshop which he ran in Melbourne.

It was a combination of what surrounded him as well as the history of both his own country and more far-off influences which inspired the building of metal didgeridoos and variations on the design of the Kalimba. The welding shop was also the first location for experimenting with his instruments and for jamming with friends as an approach to find out the characteristics of his musical constructions.

These early years already contain the seed for his ensuing work: Finding out about an instrument by playing it until a dialogue establishes itself, working on it until it embodies a full tonal range from very deep notes to the highest registers, using improvisation as a starting point for compositions but never as an end in itself and seeing space as a part of the arrangement. Cooper himself has already talked extensively about these attributes and they make for a pretty accurate picture of his intentions. Still, I would like to add two further items to the list.

Firstly, the way in which he skilfully blurres the lines between chaos and structure. Without prior knowledge of the facts and with tracks following a spontaneous logic, one might be tempted to believe that large chunks of “Friction” were improvised on the spot. It is only in the moments which follow on the fruitfully flowering passages, in the reduced ambiance of the final section of the almost eighteen minute long “Stratum” for example, that one recognises the clearly defined contours, the absoluteness and almost completely non-coincidental nature of Cooper’s work: Tranquilly oscillating metal-tones combine into random patterns, before forming melodic motives, which focus the attention. “Mandrel”, meanwhile, carefully places objects of different decay times next to each other and plays with their overlapping echoes and fadings into silence.

Secondly, Cooper enjoys dabbling in a sonic cosmos between the completely unknown and the familar. Again and again, I found myself confused about the exact origins of a particular sound: What appears to be a deep bass turns out to be a didgeridoo, what seems to be a bell may well be a steel rod and what evokes the sensation of en electric guitar must surely be... well, something different altogether.

Over its entire length, the album plays with the notion of what constitutes music and what doesn’t, long stretches of moulding cutter solos organising the pieces, while pitched milling sounds suddenly take on harmonic functions. Even though the creativity on display here is impressive, “Friction” is a dense affair, with recurring timbres uniting the tracks.

It may well be impossible for an outsider to judge upon the typical Australian nature of this record, simply because it already offers ample unconventional stimuli without any national context attached to it. What it does, however, do is raise curiosity for the environment in which such an inimitable style could develop. Possibly it is exactly the sharp contrasts within and between the different oeuvres of its protagonists, which binds this continent’s musicians together.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Room40 Records

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