The Epic Experiments of Eluvium

Matthew Cooper, the composer behind Eluvium, takes us through the theory and practice behind his new album “False Readings On”.

The Epic Experiments of Eluvium

A foundational principle of aesthetics going all the way back to the beginning is that form should match content, and it’s always gratifying when the two line up. So Eluvium’s meditation on digital self-alienation through the form of digital music comes off as a particularly satisfying success. The roots of this success will quickly become clear if you read our interview with Eluvium composer Matthew Cooper and see the intellectual rigor that went into designing both the album and the shape of his music more generally; even the information he withholds seem calculated to enhance the listener’s experience.
Eluvium has been referred to as ambient and experimental among other descriptions, all of which are fine starting points for describing the music, but, as Cooper rightly points out, they are just starting points. The fully realized sound is available in the form of Eluvium’s new album “False Readings On.”

I’ve read the album described as a meditation on “self-doubt” and “the separation from one’s self”? Can you expand on what is meant by that? Do you see “the separation from one’s self” as something personal, or is it becoming a universal condition in the contemporary world?
It can be difficult to describe something that can be so deeply affecting, while trying to maintain some level of allowance for a listener to imbue their own thoughts and emotions into it. That being said, this is actually what I was looking to discuss….”perspective”.

To tread lightly, I would say that I was looking at a universal condition at the start, though perhaps not from the angle you suggest. A lot of the concepts were born out of the perception of people holding quite strong beliefs, and their regard to the self, whether in religion, politics, science, art…really anything that helps constitute a person, or ground them into a belief structure – (whether of their own making or of a more “popular” construct). The idea was to then understand what experiences a person may go through in having that structure removed or stripped away from them, and to theoretically dissolve confirmation bias from the equation. It can be very hard to see things from any perspective other than our own, and even what we try to experience from another perspective is ultimately clouded from the start. So how can one truly escape the self and feel deeply what another person feels… or to push a bit further, feel beyond the perspective of humanity itself ? Yet it feels like we are certainly losing touch.

It may sound relatively simple, but I got lost in there for a while, and at some point in time I actually started experiencing anxiety attacks. A switch was flipped I guess.

To comment on whether the separation from one’s self is something personal, or a universal condition that is appearing, and whether it is a good or bad thing, is ultimately beyond my wanting or reason at this time. I’ve exhausted the line of thinking, temporarily, for myself, and am trying to just soak in the goodness of the world – to consider the most basic daily struggles of many people, and to be in nature, etc…

The cognitive dissonance, to me, is related to seeing a humanity extremely off-course, extremely self-involved, yet somehow at the same time losing total sight of the self and its relationship to the world as a whole. We are being fed a lot of misinformation and distraction. Being self-involved can be a good thing, but one needs to ask every now and again to what end and for what purpose. This is a hard thing to do when our minds our being filled with so much useless information. Which I would definitely see as a contemporary societal problem.

Your song titles are very cryptic and intriguing. Would it compromise the mysterious effect too much to expand on a few of them, or perhaps they’re too personal? I was wondering in particular about “Movie Night Revisited,” which sounds particularly cinematic, “Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse” and “Beyond the Moon for Someone In Reverse.”
I’m glad they intrigue you. They are designed to do just that ! – but yes, isn’t it much more pretty to think of all the ways that people can consider them and apply their own pictures ?
I’ll say as much as this. Movie Night Revisited and Beyond the Moon for Someone In Reverse are both acting as a reprieve in the album. A moment of quietude when we can enjoy our comforts and rest. They are not without their darknesses, but sometimes we just needs a light… no matter the source.

In keeping with this theme, can you tell us a little about what you set out to achieve with “Fugue State”? Your title quite brilliantly puts us in both the world of music and psychosis simultaneously.
Thank you. I’m glad to hear it comes across.
I guess I was trying to gesture in the direction of a world swimming in information. Information has almost become an addiction to us, even in little minuscule unimportant morsels. Also, how infinite choices can lead to stagnation – or a total freeze. Be careful what you wish for, and all that. In stillness beauty can be found, but so can great horrors. With this track I often picture a person being slowly wiped away by a universe of swirling information, internally screaming both in protest and ecstatic absorption.

I’ve seen your music classified in a few ways including experimental and ambient. Do you find genre classifications to be useful? Do you have one that you prefer.
Classifications are useful as a very very very rough starting point- beyond that I find them rather useless. Throw enough of them together and sometimes you can loosely approximate, but people have differing ideas on what experimental is, what ambient is, what classical is, what noise is. My estimation of what I would call “pop” is probably much broader than many.

You also compose soundtracks and do commissioned work. How do you approach an album differently from these projects?
Quite simply, in two of those, you usually do what is asked of you. I find great relief and enjoyment in soundtracks and commissions. It can be a very refreshing change of pace, both in compositional style and allotment of time. It can be nice to work alone and do anything that you feel like doing, but it can also be very nice to have someone point you in a very specific direction or paint you a specific picture, or show you things you may not have seen before, or help you feel something you wouldn’t have thought of.

Will the album be accompanied by any live performances?
I’m working on that as we speak.

Thank you for your interest — take care and be good.

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