Eluvium: Life Through Bombardment
Temporary Residence

One gains a newfound appreciation for the exceptional caliber of Matthew Cooper's Eluvium material when it's broached as a total, seven-album package—as remarkable is the fact that all of it was released in a four-year span, as much time as many an artist takes to produce a single album. Available in a 1000-copy run, Life Through Bombardment collects almost every Eluvium song ever released (supplemented by a few rarities, such as “Carousel,” which appeared on Temporary Residence's 2006 Thankful compilation, and “Swallows In The Bath,” from Keep Recordings' 2004 comp Keepsake Volume 1) into a singular impressive package. Temporary Residence has spared no expense in honouring Cooper's “classical-ambient-electronic” output: seven record-filled jackets are bound into a dark green, hardbound, linen-covered book, with metallic gold-foil stamping and embossed text on the spine and a full-color print embossed into the front cover. None of which would matter much if the musician contents weren't deserving of such treatment but—as long-time Eluvium fans already know—the material definitely is.

The opening five pieces (sides A and B, constitutive of 2003's Lambent Material) seem in hindsight like blueprints for Cooper's subsequent work: notwithstanding “The Unfinished,” which locates him in Stars Of The Lid territory, “There Wasn't Anything” (despite the presence of Emily Wahl's clarinet playing) anticipates the piano-only recording that would appear next; “I Am So Much More Me That You Are Perfectly You” brings into sharp relief the elegiac and melodic richness that characterizes so much Eluvium material; and the rippling electronic-ambient soundscape “Zerthis Was A Shivering Human Image” clearly foreshadows 2005's Talk Amongst The Trees. It's telling that, at this early stage, Cooper is already capable of pulling off a towering fifteen-minute epic with poise and seeming ease.

The eight etudes that compose 2004's An Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death (sides C and D) obviously demonstrate Cooper's gifts as a pianist but most importantly as a composer. Ironically, it's in this simplest of instrumental contexts that his artistry declares itself most forcefully. Ruminative settings such as “Perfect Neglect In A Field Of Statues” suggest that Cooper's played more than a little Schubert and Chopin in his time while “Nepenthe” exudes an elegant languor that would do Satie proud. It wouldn't be hard, either, to imagine “The Well-Meaning Professor” sandwiched between “Mad Rush” and “Wichita Sutra Vortex” on Philip Glass's 1989 Solo Piano recording. For pure, unadorned beauty, however, it's hard to top the lilting melodic lines of “In A Sense” and “An Accidental Memory In The Case Of Death.”

The heavily-processed ruminations of Talk Amongst The Trees—so radically different from the previous work—come next. Swathed in granular haze, instruments of oft-unidentifiable character (guitar appears to be at the forefront of “Everything To Come”) coalesce into grandiose themes that loop slowly, the style's zenith obviously reached in “Taken” where cycling melodies escalate in volume and intensity in a manner not unlike Bolero for an hypnotic seventeen minutes. Each piece flows into the next, enhancing the music's dream-like effect, before the album reaches a becalmed close with “One.” The style carries over into the 2006, four-song EP When I Live By The Garden And The Sea, so much so that “As I Drift Off” and “All The Sails” could easily pass for outtakes from the album. The EP's lovely title track, by contrast, points in the direction of 2007's Copia which extends the elegiac feel of Talk Amongst The Trees into a less purely electronic style that also allows room for identifiable acoustic instrumentation.

The “classical” dimension of Cooper's music is rendered overt in the titles of the three pieces that originally appeared on the 2007 Sensory Projects release Indecipherable Text. Though the meditative Eluvium style remains firmly intact (in the almost-hymnal “Untitled (For Rhodes And Tape)” especially), the orchestral dimension of his writing receives a nice showcase in the dramatic “Untitled (For Orchestra).” It also makes for a most natural segue into the orchestral glories of Copia. From the stirring horn-based overture “Amreik” and lulling entrancement of “Indoor Swimming At The Space Station” to the haunting strings of “After Nature,” the album embeds plangent piano and organ melodies within lush string and horn arrangements (while also, as occurs in “Radio Ballet,” once again reducing the material to its piano essence). “Repose In Blue” reads like a skewed third cousin of “Rhapsody in Blue” with the former's concluding cannon fire a mirror of the latter's opening fireworks. Cooper also takes a not unsuccessful Badalamenti plunge in “Seeing You Off The Edges.” In many ways, Copia plays like a culmination of sorts as it integrates multiple Eluvium styles into a singular, grand statement. ( “Behind Your Trouble,” which was issued in 2005 on the subscription-only Travels In Constants (Vol. 20) CD, is available only in the digital download version of the release, simply because the track's thirty-three minute running time precluded it from appearing on vinyl.)

Despite the fact that Cooper's influences are occasionally audible, hearing his music collected in this manner deepens one's appreciation of his Eluvium oeuvre. It's a remarkable body of work that convincingly argues for his exceptional ability as a composer above all else, something which—not that it's a competition, mind you—gives him a leg up on kindred “chamber electronic” composers. Whether the set's a worthwhile purchase is something the individual will have to sort out for him/herself: if you've already got every Eluvium release, you'd be buying the set for its vinyl presentation and the packaging—which may be enough for some but probably not enough for all. If, on the other hand, you own one or two CDs of the Eluvium catalogue, you could legitimately regard the set as a gold mine.

April 2009