Mike Cooper – ‘White Shadows In The South Sea’ [Room40]

Don’t really know where to start with Mike Cooper. The nature of being an experimental and underground musician means that you push your own boundaries, keep your own interests away from what’s easy-access. Sure a few make it to the top and crossover in to popular culture, but the majority chip away at it, with little or no fame being the preference in exchange for continuing their own sonic explorations.

Mike Cooper is a living legend of music. With over 45 years of recorded discography Cooper has at times slowly and continually reinvented himself and techniques as part of his own evolution. Developing skills as a visual artist as well, the core of Cooper’s work is as an improviser and “instant composer”.

As a Berkshire based teenager with a guitar, Mike Cooper started off from the influences of jazz and blues, joining various skiffle groups in his hometown, later founding a rhythm and blues group with other locals. Coming up from Reading to London throughout the ’60s broadened Cooper’s ears and experience, taking him to from a folk-blues sound at the end of the decade to a more alternative sound throughout the ’70s. While he continued on the electro-blues scene, he also developed a parallel career in London as an avant-garde and free-jazz musician, an element of Mike as a composer which would always be present on all his work from that time on.

Decades later, armed with his now trademark 1930s steel guitar, Cooper would journey through the South Pacific, discovering a love of their themed music around the same time he started to push himself more towards film work and sound tracking. With these influences on his music, it was his then movements in to loop based layering and electronic music where it got next level. There’s some similarities there with the recorded life of one John Fahey, who we wrote about very recently off the back of his new documentary In Search Of Blind Joe Death: The Saga Of John Fahey. We’re not going to go in to full detail of the labels and who he worked with, but there’s a proper biography and discography on the man up on his site: http://www.cooparia.com/welcome/biography

At 70 years of age Mike Cooper is still doing it better than most. His most recent project is an absolute masterpiece, and undoubtedly headed for my “Top Of 2013” list. Titled ‘White Shadows In The South Seas‘ the record is released by Room40 as the soundtrack to a silent film by the same name. With a four player cast, and a 1928 release date, the film was the first MGM picture released with a pre-recorded soundtrack, and as such the love story adaptation has found it’s own place in history. I’m not sure why Cooper started the project in the first or the reason he elected for this film as the focus, but it definitely suits.

Mike Cooper’s compositions here are astounding. Akin to a Florian Hecker and Andrew Pekler jam session, the entire 14 track CD is a constant surprise in the sounds and structures that Cooper turns up. I’ve not heard a great deal like it before, and definitely not this good.

There’s a bit of a trailer to the album below, from Mike Cooper himself, and just underneath that you can see the full press release.

via Room40
It’s difficult to know how to summurise the meandering journey that has been the life and times of Mike Cooper. Having just celebrated his 70th year of mischief making here’s what we can tell you…

-:- A young Mike Cooper can be spotted playing a beatnik guitarist on an anti-nuclear march in London beat cult film “That Kind Of Girl”.
-:- His first band The Blues Committee played with and supported blues legends such John Lee Hooker, Howlin Wolf and Jimmy Reed.
-:- Cooper was central in launching several of the first folk and blues venues outside London, especially in and around Reading.
-:- He was a regular on John Peel’s program from 1969-1975, recording numerous sessions.
-:- His free music group The Recedents was formed in 1982, threading directly into London vibrant improvisation community.
-:- He moved to Italy in 1988 after a slew of musical projects during the 80s in the UK and EU.
-:- Since 1994 he has spent increasing amounts of time touring and exploring Oceania.
-:- One of the outcomes of his exploration is Beach Crossings-Pacific Footprints – a radiophone work commissioned by Italian and Australian radio – that traces the history of colonisation in the Pacific by Europeans from Tahiti up to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
-:- His recordings have been re-issued numerous times by labels across the globe. Original pressings are found for obscene prices via various outlets.

White Shadows In The South Seas is his latest offering and follows up directly from his lauded Rayon Hula album. It’s a pacific sunset-like dream spanning the horizon in pulsing waves of richly coloured rhythms, tropical sound fields and pacific-inspired slide guitar.