For the past 40 years Mike Cooper has traced a path completely his own as an international musical explorer, performing and recording, solo and in a number of inspired groupings and a variety of genres.
With his roots lying in acoustic country blues he has, arguably, stretched the possibilities of the guitar even more than his better known contemporaries Davy Graham, Bert Jansch, John Renbourne, etc. by pursuing it into the more avant-garde musical areas also occupied by contemporary guitar innovators such as Elliott Sharp, Keith Rowe, Fred Frith and Marc Ribot. with an eclectic mix of the many styles he has practiced over the years.
Ranging freely through traditional country blues, folk, original songs, free improvisation, pop songs, exotica, electronic music, electro-acoustic music, and ‘sonic gestural’ playing utilising open tunings and extended techniques.
He is also a soundscape artist; film and video maker and composes and performs live music for classic and contemporary silent films.
Chantenay-Villedieu 1985 with mike adcock and lol coxhill
His favored instruments – his voice, a vintage 1930’s National tri-cone resophonic guitar and a handmade carbon fibre copy of the same guitar (a gift from the late Allen Timmins) both played acoustically and/or ‘treated’ through a series of digital sampling and looping devices..
He is also a music journalist, writing features for magazines, particularly on Pacific music and musicians, a collector of Hawaiian shirts, runs his own Hipshot record imprint and appears on more records than he can remember.
Which was the first approach to sound do you remember?
i think maybe during the second world war (I was born in 1942) - I was outside the library in my baby carriage in Reading, where I was born, and my mother was inside. A German airplane dropped two bombs quite near me and i was sent speeding off down the road. It was pretty loud i think. I have never liked loud music since then i think.
Why do you love the guitar?
The guitar is an easy instrument to learn in a very basic manner. I bought one - learnt three chords and started singing songs that I liked. As the years past i slowly learnt more about the guitar and I am still learning things about it. Many of my friends have moved onto computers to play music but i have never run out of new sounds on the guitar. At least not yet.
Mike Cooper (electronics and slide guitar), Lol Coxhill (soprano sax) and Roger Turner (drum set) at Cafe Oto London on the 31st October 2010. Filmed by Helen Petts. play at the Red Rose, London. 6th February 2007. Filmed by Helen Petts.
What’s the difference between playing live and playing in a studio?
I think the difference is a bit like swimming in a swimming pool and swimming in the ocean - its the same but really different - studios are like swimming pools and live playing is the ocean. In the ocean you are at the mercy of the water and all sorts of things can effect where you go, how you go, if you go even. In the swimming pool the water is only doing one job. You have to work really hard to get anything going anywhere and the water is really not doing very much.
Which work of your own are you most proud of?
Well I am always proud of all my work but the thing I a most proud of is that I have managed to be creative and play music for fifty years and I am still doing it at 72.
Tell me something you need from music?
Need is a big word. Maybe you mean what do I 'get' from it? Music and art is a means of travel - both physical and mental for me - thats what I get from it.
What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater ...?
I have worked with dancers in the past but I find most contemporary dance quite boring now.
I have always made visual art from time to time and I still do. My main interest in visual and graphic art is collage. I think collage was perhaps the most important style in the 20th century and in the 21st century it is even stronger especially in music and writing.
Right now for the past few years i have become very interested in making films and video - which i do a lot. A year ago i finished a full length video called Hotel Hibiscus City - it is on youtube and you can watch it for free - its on my channel - https://www.youtube.com/cooparia
A well as playing instrumental music I am also a singer and song writer or maker of songs as i prefer to call it now. Recently I started making songs using collage.
What's your fetish device in the sound chain? Amp, pedal, mic...
i dont carry amplifiers around with me - neither do i have a preference for any particular brand or make. My equipment is quite simple in fact. Apart from my guitar i use a Zoom Sampletrack and a Korg Kaos Pad which i use for live sampling, looping and dgital manipulation of my sounds. The Zoom is very old and out of manufacture now. Those two pieces of equipment have actually shaped the direction of my music for the past 10 years.
A valuable advice that someone has gifted to you in the past?
Well for ten years, after I left school, I worked in a timber mill. I started to play music while I working there of course in my spare time. One day one of the managers came and said 'My advice is that you should choose between a lifelong career in the timber business or a career with music." I chose the music and thanked him for his advice.
What quality do you admire most in a guitar?
The guitar has many voices - especially when linked to some digital effects devices. I am constantly amazed at how the guitar keeps re-inventing itself with each new generation of musicians. Sometimes in the middle of a concert where i have been playing very electronic music with the guitar through all my effects I love to switch it all off and suddenly play acoustic. It has an amazing effect to suddenly hear the voice change into something completely different. I have a National guitar from the 1930s which is made from metal. The body of the guitar is a complete drum kit it you know how to play it with different sounds and timbre all over the guitar. It is a complete orchestra.
Where are your roots? What are your influences?
My roots are in folk music, acoustic blues and eventually Hawaiian music. I came to Hawaiian music through the fact that I learnt to play slide or bottleneck guitar playing blues music. I discovered that that style was invented by hawaiian musicians. They recorded hawaiian music, playing lap steel guitar many years before any acoustic country blues musicians were recorded. There are recordings of Hawaiian musicians from the early 1900's but the first blues recordings are at the earliest 25 years later. From those roots my interest in music just grew to encompass nearly everything, apart from classical music.
Do you play electric and acoustic? Do you approach the two differently?
I play both electric and acoustic but really I am an acoustic guitar player. I play lap steel - which is totally different instrument to normal guitar - and my technique was learnt playing acoustic. I am a really bad 'normal' electric guitar. When I play electric lap steel I play it like an acoustic player OR I use is just to generate sound which I can modify with my digital effects units. Then it becomes another instrument really and my approach is quite different.
What dead artist (painter, architect, poet) would you like to have collaborated with?
I think I would rather collaborate with some live ones!! :-)
i tried in the past once to collaborate with David Hockney the British painter. He made a series of etchings called The Blue Guitar which were inspired by a poem, The Man With The Blue Guitar, written by Wallace Stevens, which itself was inspired by a Picasso's painting The Old Guitarist. At the time they were published I had been performing the poem by Stevens live with a group of my friends reading it to my music, at the University in Heidelberg, where I was then living. I wrote to Hockney's gallery manager offering my services to do a live performance in the gallery where they would show the etchings. His agent replied that David only really liked classical music and that also he was a little bit deaf. He is in fact now almost completely deaf apparently. But i still like his work very much and was inspired by him to recently start making drawings on my i-phone and my tablet.
I also tried to interview the writer Michael Ondaatje many years ago when I was touring in Canada, where he lives. It was in the mid-80s and i had read his books 'The Collected Works Of Billy The Kid'; 'Coming Through Slaughter';'Running In The Family' and a book of poetry The Cinnamon Peeler. i was interested to talk to him about his interest in music and sound which seemed to always be present in his writing. I have just finished reading two more recent books of his, The Cat's Table and Divisadero and it is still there. I got in touch with him and he agreed to meet me in Toronto, however when we finally arrive there he was out of town and it never happened. Later that same year - this was with our trio The Recedents (Lol Coxhill on sax and Roger Turner on drums) we played the Berlin Jazz Festival and i read a section from Coming Through Slaughter to our music. The book is a fictional story based on the life of Buddy Bolden the New Orleans jazz trumpet player from around 1900.
The Cat's Table is a fiction based on the fact that when Ondaatje was eleven years old he was sent to England from his home in Sri Lanka (where he was born) alone, aboard a steamship liner. When i was eleven years old I made the same journey but in reverse from England to Sri Lanka - but i was not alone. I went back to Sri Lanka this year and I am thinking of doing something with that experience. Which answers a part of your next question....
Part of my eleven video installation titled 'ISLAND'
What’s your next project about?
I always have more than one project going - a bit like a painter is always working on more than one painting. i have been working and performing a body of songs for the past few years. Some are recorded some are not. They have been made by cutting up (mostly) the novels of Thomas Pynchon - particularly Gravity's Rainbow and V. It is a technique similar to William Burroughs' and Tom Phillips' (a British artist) technique for creating new work from old. Tom philips is perhaps less known than Burroughs so lets talk about him. Tom has produced (among other things) a work called the Humument. It is a cut up version of an old Victorian novel. He selects various words on a page and links them and then decorates the page creating a completely new work. i have used this system to generate songs from Pynchon's books.
I recently discovered there is a 'school' of artists working in this way and even a course at a University in California called 'Un-Creative Writing' where students are expected to create work, totally new, from already existing work. It is a form of collage of course.
My film Hotel Hibiscus City was written in a similar way. Although the visual video elements are all mine and are travel films the text in the film re-cycles a lot of information from the internet. I re-cycled the archive. Re-cycling my own archive is something I like to do as well. I have a lot of recordings that i have made over time in my studio and I like to re-cycle my own work to re-create something new sometimes.I intend to work in this way for some time to come and I want to publish the text to these songs in an illustrated book or on-line maybe. I am also going to make another long video film as I said above probably based on a sea voyage that I took at the age of eleven to Australia.
Musically I will make another Electronic Ambient Exotica record for the Room40 label in 2015. I have three of my early 70s records being re-released on vinyl this coming year on Paradise Of Batchelors label; I have a vinyl LP coming out on Revenge which I recorded in Lisbon with guitarist Steve Gunn in october 2013 and a couple of c.d.s in duo with pianist Chris Abrahams (The Necks) - one on the Johnny Kafka label out of Beirut and another on my own Hipshot cdr label. I have been recording with Chris in Australia since 2005 and we have a vast archive.
In May 2014 i have an installation of my video project 'Island' at the GRIM in Marseille in France for several days. Eleven videos on three screens and a live music concert playing to my super eight film 'Planet Pacific-Pieces Of Heaven'.
This is a view from behind one of three mosquito net screens I used in the installation. Of the other two one had a small tv with two videos playing on it and the other - which can be seen at the back in this video- was a small installation of rubber flip flops and plastic bottles beneath two posters of stylised beach scenes. The rest of the installation consists of 50 Hawaiian shirts hanging from the ceiling; 50 record covers from Hawaiian or Exotica records; several small art works depicting postage stamps from my imagined island of Blue Sealand; a table of 'Objects for Forgotten Rituals' a floor installation made from palm leaf fans and a silk carpet with beach scene; My three decorated ukulele painted for the Australian Hula Dreams triennial and a sound installation of field recordings and some of my Electronic Exotica. The theme was the re-establishing of kitsch discarded as rubbish to art as time passes.
2013 – WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS – ROOM40 c.d.
2012 – DISTANT SONGS OF MADMEN – ROOM40 FREE Digital download
2011 – RADIO PARADISE – Johnny Kafta
2010 – RAYON HULA – Room40 Digital Dowload Version.
2010 – BLUE GUITAR – Hipshot
2010 – LIVE IN ATHENS – Hipshot
2010 – LIVE IN SARDINIA – Hipshot
2009 – LIVE @ THE HINT HOUSE – 12 inch vinyl l.p. – Qbico Records
2008 – CHAO PHRAYA – Hipshot
2008 – PACIFIC VOYAGER – Hipshot
2008 – ONIBABA – Hipfilm Soundtracks
2008 – TABU · Hipfilm Soundtracks
2008 – AELITA – Hipfilm Soundtracks
2008 – FUTURE FOLK – Hipshot
2007 – BEACH CROSSINGS – Rai Trade Records.
2007 – SEND OF THE SEA – Hipshot
2006 – BORDERS – Hipshot (deleted)
2006 – GIACINTO – Hipshot
2006 – SPIRIT SONGS – Hipshot
2005 – METALBOX – Rossbin
2005 – RELUCTANT SWIMMER/VIRTUAL SURFER – Hipshot
2004 – RAYON HULA – Double ten Inch l.p. version – Cabin
2004 – RAYON HULA – Hipshot
2003 – CRUISING PARADISE – Hipshot
2001 – GLOBE NOTES – Hipshot
2001 – MARCONI – Hipshot
2000 – PAPER and SMOKE – re-release double c.d. – Sanctuary
2000 – FINDING OTHER WORLDS – Hipshot
1999 – ZANZIBAR – Hipshot1
1999 – KIRIBATI – Hipshot
1996 – PLACES I KNOW / MACHINE GUN CO. – re-release double cd – BGO
1996 – ISLAND SONGS – Nato / Harmonia Mund
1996 – DO I KNOW YOU? / TROUT STEEL – re-release double cd – BGO
1987 – AVEKLEI UPTOWN HAWAIIANS – Chabada/Nato
1982 – LIVE AT PAPA MADEO – LTR
1975 – LIFE and DEATH IN PARADISE – Fresh Air
1973 – MACHINE GUN CO. – Pye/Dawn
1972 – PLACES I KNOW – Pye/Dawn
1971 – TROUT STEEL – Pye/Dawn
1970 – DO I KNOW YOU? – Pye/Dawn
1969 – OH REALLY – Pye
2008 – OCEANIC FEELING – LIKE with CHRIS ABRAHAMS – Room40 records
2006 – TU FUEGO – with JEFF HENDERSON, ANTHONY DONALDSON, TOM CALL WOOD – Qbico records
2003 – GUARDA AVANTI – with VIV CORRINGHAM, LOL COXHILL,STEVE BERESFORD and MAX EASTLEY – Hipshot
2003 – CINEMA DETOUR – with RICHARD NUNNS and ELIO MARTUSCIELLO – Hipshot
2001 – HULABALUH – LIVE with UPTOWN HAWAIIANS/CONTINENTAL DRIFT· Hipshot
2001 – ATTENTI AL FUSO – DUBS and REMIXES the OUTSIDERS – Hipshot
2000 – RADIO DAZE with BEATING TIME, MAYHEM 4 , TRYSTERO SYSTEM – Hipshot
1998 – IMPROVISAZIONI QUARTETTO with MAURO ORSELLI, JEAN MARC MONTERA, EUGENIO SANNA – Ada
1996 – THE CONTINUOUS PREACHING BLUES with IAN A. ANDERSON – re-release cd – Appaloosa
1995 – KEEP IT CLEAN – NATIONAL GALLERY: MARK MAKIN, VIV DOGAN CORRINGHAM – Rhiannon
1994 – AVANT ROOTS with VIV DOGAN CORRINGHAM – Mash
1991 – ZOMBIE BLOODBATH ON THE ISLE OF DOGS (The RECEDENTS) – Nato
1986 – BARBECUE STRUT – THE RECEDENTS: LOL COXHILL & ROGER TURNER – Nato
1985 – THE CONTINUOUS PREACHING BLUES with IAN A. ANDERSON – Appaloosa
1985 – MIXS & DUBS – with G.T. MOORE & THE OUTSIDERS (tape) – Private Release
1982 – THE AUGMENTED JOHNNY RONDO DUO with LOL COXHILL & DAVE HOLLAND – F.M.P.
1981 – AVE THEY STARTED YET? with JOANNA PYNE – Matchless
1968 – INVERTED WORLD with IAN A. ANDERSON – Saydisc/Matchbox
2010 – I NEVER META GUITAR – Compilation – one track – Cleanfeed Records
2008 – PIGIAMA PSICOATTIVO – EL TOPO – (session slide guitarist) – Off Records
2007 – HIPSHOT GUITARS (compilation-one track) – Hipshot Double c.d.
2004 – SECULAR STEEL (compilation – one track with Tim Catlin) – Gaff Records
2004 – TRANSIT – LAWRENCE ENGLISH (session player) – Cajid
2003 – DARK WAS THE NIGHT – (compilation – one track solo) – Deep Sea Records
2002 – STEADY STEADY – SEAMAN DAN – (session player) – Hot Records
2001 – PILLI LORNA N.I. – GEORGE ‘TOOFIE’ CHRISTIAN – (session player) Coral Music
2001 – STATE OF THE UNION (compilation – one track with MAX NAGLE) – EMF
1999 – RADIO LINES – (compilation – one track with Elio Martusciello) – Goethe
1997 – GUITARS ON MARS – (compilation – one track solo) – VIrgin
1996 – MATCHBOX DAYS – (compilation- 4 Tracks solo) – Folk Roots Classics
1996 – CUE SHEETS – STEVE BERESFORD – (session player) – Tzadik
1996 – ANGELICA FESTIVAL 95 – (compilation) – Angelica
1993 – SLIDE CRAZY – (compilation – 1 track with Tim Hill) – Sky Ranch
1989 – BANDE ORIGINALE DE SPIROU – (compilation – 2 tracks: solo/ Continental Drift) – Nato
1987 – JOYEUX NOEL – (compilation – 1 track with The Uptown Hawaiians) – Nato
1987 – ALTERNATE CAKE – (compilation – 1 track with The Recedents) – Nato
1986 – LOL COXHILLS FROGDANCE – (compilation – 2 tracks with The Recedents) – Impetus
1984 – LOL COXHILLS COUSCOUS – (compilation – 2 tracks with The Recedents) – Nato
1979 – BLUES GUITAR WORKSHOP – (compilation – 1 solo track) – Kicking Mule
1978 – COUNTRY BLUES GUITAR FESTIVAL – (compilation – 2 tracks with Stefan Grossman) – Kicking Mule
1977 – HOW TO PLAY BLUES GUITAR Vol. 2 – (compilation – 2 tracks with Stefan Grossman) – Kicking Mule
1975 – STEFAN GROSSMANS BOTTLENECK SERENADE – (3 tracks In Duo) – Kicking Mule
1969 – FIREPOINT – (compilation – 3 solo tracks) – Music Man
1968 – BLUES LIKE SHOWERS OF RAIN – (compilation – 2 solo tracks) – Saydisc/Matchbox
singles / EPs
2000 – NEW HULA SLIDE / WORLD SLIDE – Ethbo 12 Inch.
1972 – TIME IN HAND / SCHAABISCH HALL – Single (45 rpm) – Dawn
1971 – TOO LATE NOW / BALLAD OF FULTON ALLEN / GOODTIMES – Maxi Single 7 (33.3 rpm) – Dawn
1971 – COUNTRY WATER / NIGHT JOURNEY – Single (45 rpm) – Dawn
1970 – YOUR LOVELY WAYS / WATCHING YOU FALL – Maxi Single 7 (33.3 rpm) – Dawn
1968 – UP THE COUNTRY BLUES – Limited Edition 7 E.P. (45 rpm) – Saydlsc
1966 – OUT OF THE SHADES (with Derek Hall) – Limited Edition 7 E.P. (45 rpm) – Kennet
films and video
THERE ARE SEVERAL SHORT VIDEO WORKS @:
2012 – HOTEL HIBISCUS CITY – 45 Minute Video/DVD
2009 – LISTEN BETTER – VIDEO/DVD
2001 – STOLEN MOMENTS – VIDEO/DVD
1999 – THOSE FINAL ADJUSTMENTS – Super 8 (a work In progress)
1998 – PLANET PACIFIC PIECES OF HEAVEN? – VIDEO from Super 8