Classical music is a genre highly susceptible to preconceived connotations. Violins and pianos underscore great times of great triumph, or grief, or whatever overwhelming feeling characters might be prone to feel in movies. All of these images of tears and death, heroism, resonate with classical music after years of association, the bell to signal climax of plot classically conditioned to bring tears to our eyes like the salivation of Pavlov’s dog. Any musician dealing with instruments in the viol family must realize going into it that listeners will not necessarily be moved by the beauty of the music created by the musician, but instead moved by experiences of the past in movie theaters and dark living rooms where they overcame adversity, lost their innocence, or stared into their loneliness with a protagonist and some piano keys. It is a troubling idea that some things may not be in the realm of our own creation, but instead sort of feeding off something else. This is not an apparent truth though, so many people are none-the-wiser, clearly having no intent to create a symbiotic relationship with experiences construed from film.
Matthew Cooper’s solo project, Eluvium, has demonstrated a consistent awareness of this, intentional or not, working with slow classical compositions, but keeping to different instruments, hitting a gong instead of chiming the bell in front of Pavlov’s dog. He was known to use guitar and electronic elements in his songs, but for his new album, Copia, decided to venture away from orchestrations with the guitar and stick to more traditional classical instruments. This could be a dangerous move for him, violins and brass instruments ringing the bell to just the right frequency for regurgitated salivation in preparation for the coming steak. Pavlov looks on too, with confidence enough to outright expect the music to ring the associative feelings of desperation or jubilation…but no. Cooper’s music manages to foil the associative plans that seem to be drawn into our brains, ordained as an infallible truth of the psychology of learning. The bell Cooper rings is slightly off frequency, enough off to not recall other feelings, but instead leave the listener free.
Copia proves itself to be an exception to the rule. It hasn’t a rule that guides how it should affect anymore, and its effects are as free ranging as the listener would like them to be. Copia can inspire whatever feelings that it will within the listener, which can vary from person to person. To say that Copia is an achievement in humanism might be overstepping things a little bit, but Cooper’s rolling sounds that accumulate in complexity and magnitude like a snowball downhill, iceberg of light snowdrift melodies colliding with the associative cabin we are locked in atop a wintry and windswept snow top. We no longer have the safety of this psychological log house to tell us what classical beauty is and how to feel about it, but we must fend and feel for ourselves, territory that can be a cold and unwelcome wilderness for some, but others may have the joy of sledding, skiing, or snowboarding down the hill Copia presents to us. We must only have the courage to go down the hill, to feel the wind chill, and the sounds sing.