Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper on “No Fixed Point in Space” and a Culture of Collaboration | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, May 26th, 2024  

Modern Nature’s Jack Cooper on “No Fixed Point in Space” and a Culture of Collaboration

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Nov 20, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by James Sharp Bookmark and Share


Four years and four albums into his Modern Nature project, Jack Cooper continues to look for ways to push himself and his fellow performers. Cooper’s latest album, No Fixed Point in Space (on Bella Union), moves further away from traditional rock music structures and the rules that go along with that. “Pop music or rock music is one of the only art forms that is as regimented as it is. A song takes place over a period of time and it goes from part A to part B, back to part A to part B and then maybe C at the end. It’s very structured,” Cooper says.

Speaking over Zoom from his home near Cambridge, England, Cooper holds up a meticulously tidy and hand drawn piece of sheet music from “Tonic,” the opening track to the album. For the unversed, the page looks like any standard piece of music, but the notes are widely spaced out, with only a handful appearing on each line. “This was for the winds. The reeds, like saxophone. In classical music terms it’s called indeterminate notation. You provide the performers with what notes you want them to play, but the length of the notes and the phrasing is up to them. You’re going into the studio with an idea of what you want, but how you get there is up to the musicians,” Cooper explains.

This dynamism has carried itself into a continually rotating list of performers that have graced Modern Nature’s releases. Jeff Tobias (sax) and Jim Wallis (drums) return from 2021’s Island of Noise, but several other accomplished musicians make their Modern Nature debut here. Clarinetist Heather Roche (Apartment House) and keyboardist Chris Abrahams (The Necks) respectively come from classical and jazz backgrounds, but the most notable addition to No Fixed Point in Space is English singer Julie Tippetts (who originally performed as Julie Driscoll going back to the 1960’s). “When I was a kid and becoming interested in ’60s music, I loved Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity. I hadn’t realized until a few years ago that she had this second career as an improvising vocalist,” Cooper says.

“[Julie] has performed with people I know, so it didn’t seem a huge stretch to ask her. She lives not too far from Bristol and we went there to record,” Cooper explains. Tippetts sings lead on the album’s closing track, “Ensō,” but throughout the rest of the album she sings close harmony just a shade behind Cooper’s lead. “We had glass between us, but sang face-to-face. It was amazing because she’s always been a hero of mine. She’s such an interesting person, but also a modest person. She was anxious about getting things right. It was lovely,” Cooper recalls.

Aside from the shading that Tippetts so expertly provides, the other musicians also hew tightly to each other’s lines, which provides a gentle but ever present tension to the proceedings. The delicate “Tapestry” makes for a perfect example. “I’ve been listening to Gil Evans a lot the past few years. I love his orchestration for Miles Davis [Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess], especially, but also love his solo albums,” Cooper says. “There are certain devices you can use to create that kind of tension. Evans used a lot of close harmonies, second harmonies. So it gives a feeling of discordance, but it’s not atonal.”

Cooper gives a co-write credit to avant-garde composer Sarah Hennies on “Tapestry.” The track’s percolating rhythm is repeatedly confronted by an underlying percussive hammering of notes. Cooper borrowed the composition’s core structure from Hennies’ “Spectral Malsconcities.” “I’d become interested in [Sarah’s] music a few years ago and started following her on Twitter,” Cooper explains. “As I’ve become more interested in composed music, I found myself talking to her a lot and asking advice. She’s become somewhat of a mentor to me and is just a really interesting person. She was in some weird kind of rock groups and then became a classically trained percussionist and has had an amazing career as a composer.” Hennies is currently a visiting professor of music at New York’s Bard College.

In addition to No Fixed Point in Space, 2023 has also seen the release of a Cooper solo project, Arrival (on Astral Spirits). Arrival was composed by Cooper but performed by a trio of other musicians, Roche among them. Cooper also appears on the latest solo release from Parquet Courts’s Andrew Savage (aka A. Savage), Several Songs About Fire (on Rough Trade), and toured with Savage in support of the album. (Fortuitously, I was able to visit with Cooper briefly in person before Savage’s Atlanta show).

Cooper is always open to talk about his work, but is clearly a person in constant thought of what lies in the road ahead. “I think I know what way I want to take things next, but I’m still formulating that plan. I want people who are interested in Modern Nature to be excited for where it goes next rather than expecting a record exactly the same as the last one. I feel like our fans are open-minded about that,” Cooper says.

Cooper has become increasingly interested in open improvisation and the absence of proscribed rhythms. “I think some of what I’m doing is a reaction to [my prior group] Ultimate Painting, which was quite traditional. The palette of sounds and influences were quite narrow, but with Modern Nature it feels the sky’s the limit really. I’ve listened to lots of music that makes me think and makes the human condition a bit clearer. If I can evoke those feelings in people, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Cooper concludes.

www.modernnature.band

Also read our interview with Cooper, where he discusses his previous album, Island of Noise.

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