Hope you’re doing ok in these cold times. I’m updating this blog with news about my recently started, practice as research, MRes Music at the University of Huddersfield. My supervisor, P.A. Tremblay has advised I keep a record of everything I’m working on, thinking about, reading and listening to which I am doing in a tiny notebook but here’s a long version for public eyes and my memory. I’m reading Thurston Moore’s autobiography, Sonic Life, at the moment and have been stuck by how good his memory must be. He recalls set lists, what people were wearing, and tiny details about the environments he was in. It’s made me think back to my formative years and the memories are a touch hazy at times so I’m hoping this blog will prove useful over the next two years of my part-time studies.
I started my course in September and things got off to a bit of a slow start on the academic front. I graduated from my undergrad in 2005 and haven’t really studied since so I was a bit at sea about where and how to start. This feeling was coupled by a basic lack of spare time to devote to the library and a genuine worry about whether I’d taken on too much. I attend the Music departments CeReNeM (centre of research in new music) weekly seminars and was instantly muted by a sense of not belonging in a room full of deeply intelligent scholars, consisting of mostly men, which I realised was a situation I’ve not been in for a really long time. Everyone is super nice and welcoming, but this didn’t really help my internal worries about asking the wrong questions or about how my practice seems totally bonkers against all this clearly well thought out composition. I’m still working on these feelings, and they are easing, especially after getting to know some of my new colleagues a bit better and them being interested in what I’m up to. Let’s carry on.
I went on a tour with my good friends Natalia Beylis and Willie Stewart which was a welcome return to regular performance in very supportive company, so timely against the initial anxieties of the course. My set consisted of processed trombone, voice and radio waves as well as an inclusion of a field recording made during this summer’s Immersive Watergrove project. It felt good to play standing up for 30 minutes weaving songs in and out of improvised static with the songs reflecting on recent life events, because as ever, I use song writing as a therapeutic method to work out situations and often to move on. Genuinely, this set really made me feel like myself again after a few years of wondering what I’m doing when it comes to music. (A hangover from covid I think). Thankfully the gigs seemed to go down well, happy to leave this set alone for a bit and change it up now.
Back at home I spent something like 25 hours working on an ACE project grant for another chapter in my collaboration with Babs Smith. We’re hoping to take the Immersive Reservoir series to another location in summer 2024 and looked to the arts council for support – still not sure what the outcome will be for this application. It was an intense writing period coupled with a few meetings with Babs and our supportive relationship manager from ACE North but accessible, it was not. I’m glad they’ve since changed the process to apply for funding so we shall see if indeed the arts is for everyone or not in time.
A long story ended up with me caring for my Dad at my home in early Autumn which was a difficult period. Care seems to be a word to sum up this year in fact, and access. (To address this and learn more I’m going to be in London in late January for a few days taking part in an accessibility in the arts course which I’m so excited about.) I thought I knew a lot about the topic prior to 2023 but I didn’t at all… out of these life events came two improvised performances at my studio in Littleborough and at ame in Huddersfield. Both performances were a stream of individual solos with overlap into each other’s set and the people I overlapped with were: Nwando Ebizie, Maryanne Royle, Alex Harker and PA Tremblay. Before the two sets I’d listening to and was reading a lot about DJ Screw, legendary Houston based hip-hop artist who had fascinated me since a late-night listening session to a slowed down and hypnotic record at my friends Cara and Cam’s house in Newcastle. There’s something about the slow-paced beats and warped vocal lines that captivate me, and I wanted to use this as inspiration for these improv sets. I used an online voice generator to produce a reading of text messages between me and my Mum discussing care responsibilities and how to cope with such tasks then made a tape which I manipulated the speed of as a nod to Screw accompanied with processed trombone wails of letting go.
A review of the ame set:
“Special mention has to be given to Sophie Cooper’s contribution to the CeReNeM piece that introduced Sunday’s proceedings. Hardcore trombone anybody? Sophie cast her instrument through some seriously savage processing to achieve monstrous guttural lows as part of a quartet improvisation that began with the super quiet onkyo intimations of Anthony Stillabower”. – Graeme Murrell.
The next stage for this way of working will be at Bury Art Museum next weekend where I think I’m going to produce a combination of these past two live explorations with inclusion of a tape loop I’ve made and soaked in seawater for a week to consider Vanda Chan’s experience of being shipwrecked with nothing but a tape of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Masked Replica. More reading on this here: sotheredrose.org
Alongside these tape experiments I’ve been using old cassettes to knit together a billboard banner which will live outside on the wall of Ebor Studio over winter with the idea being that this tape will be later used for tape loops and the like by myself and Maryanne Royle (of the amazing band, Prangers). Again, a theme of moving on and leaving the past behind is definitely being explored here as many of these tapes come from my personal archive of music, old jams etc which have been an absolute pleasure to destroy and turn into something new. This will be up from the 14th December in Littleborough until about Feb depending on how harsh the weather is on the tape.
In November I was delighted to work on a project with Bradford University’s Theatre in the Mill called Cloud Songs under direction of Shabina Aslam and presented as part of the citywide event: Bradford is Lit. I was tasked with creating a quadrophonic, outdoor sound installation in collaboration with a live light show exploring the contemporary Muslim experience for women in Bradford who homeschool their children. The piece was a co-composition with faith at the centre of the work which Shabina and I viewed as a radical subject for a new sound artwork – if anyone out there has other contemporary examples of new faith based pieces please write and let me know about them. I loved being there on both nights we presented the work and seeing participants reaction to hearing themselves included in the piece, meant a lot to me personally and it made me think more deeply about what community participation in the arts actually means as this project was the best example I’ve seen so far in my career.
Congratulations if you got this far into reading, like I said at the start, this is a remembering exercise so scrappy this way, then that way, writing will take place. I’m keeping my Instagram up to date fairly regularly and there are lots of pics of all of these events and ideas on there: @sophiecooper_music
In the blink of an ear – Kim Cohen
Various papers about Christina Kubisch and DJ Screw
Information about The Wundt Curve (thank you Sarah Angliss)
Sonic Life – Thurston Moore
DJ Screw – All Screwed Up Vol 2
Daniel Bachman – When the roses come again
James Dillon – The Gates
L’Rain – Fatigue
Natalia Beylis – Mermaids
Under the island: Experimental Music in Ireland 1960 – 1994
Significant live performances:
Ben Duvall at Nan Moors, Todmorden
Duncan Harrison, Russell Walker / Graham Lambkin at Pink, Stockport
Noise Upstairs November, Golden Lion, Todmorden
4 Violins by Tony Conrad performed by Maximilian Haft & Elissa Cassini
Taming the Air performed by Simonas Kaupinis and Arminas Bizys
Around here, the birds plant the trees by Natalia Beylis