A new score for the elemental 1928 silent film The Wind, written by Scottish composer and artist Erland Cooper for the women of the Chorus of Opera North tours to RNCM Manchester on 25 February and closes at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds on 26 February.

Born and raised on Orkney, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper’s sensitivity to the relationship between landscape and psychology has been a constant over the course of a diverse and collaborative career. Having covered everything from folk, prog and indie rock to field recordings and ambient music, he is now flourishing as a contemporary classical composer and solo artist.

For this commission, he employs the human voice – a live performance from the 18 women of the Chorus of Opera North, augmented by a purpose-built wind machine, textural recordings and live analogue processing by Erland himself – to open up a new imaginative space for a forgotten masterpiece.

The Wind is silent cinema at its most shockingly, primally potent. In her greatest role, a radiant Lillian Gish plays Letty, a young woman cast out from her sheltered Virginia home into the dust bowl of the Texan prairie, where an act of savagery – and the unrelenting northerly wind – push her mind beyond its limits.

In the hands of visionary director Victor Sjöström, the sublime forces of nature tangle with Letty’s frayed psyche in a delirious vortex, with aero engines used to whip up terrifying sandstorms on the film’s blistering Mojave locations, and trick photography summoning phantom horses straight out of a gothic nightmare.

Misunderstood and unloved in the years following its release, The Wind would go on to influence the likes of Ingmar Bergman, who cast his mentor and idol Sjöström in Wild Strawberries. Now, in one of his most ambitious ventures to date, Erland Cooper breathes new life into the film’s empty plains, roiling dust clouds and intensely charged terrain with a soundtrack using the human voice.

Erland Cooper comments:

“The Wind is like a requiem to a dying medium or art form. I want to echo that in a live score created predominantly from the human voice that touches on its drama and poetry, combining clouds of sound and textures in an almost tone poem score”.

“Inspired by the large aircraft engines that director Victor Sjöström used to generate the wind and sandstorms on the film’s Mojave Desert locations, I’ve used an industrial fan to create a small wind tunnel in the studio. I’m sending sections of the recordings that I’ve made with the Chorus of Opera North through it, passing them through a circular filter at the end of the tunnel, and on to my piano’s sound board. This is generating the texture and sound of the wind in the score, with its origins in the human voice.

“The Mojave could not be further away from the Orkney Islands where I grew up, but an archipelago is surrounded by frequent gale force winds that drive and turn a cycle of shelter and search for safe havens, from both external and internal elements”.

Jo Nockels, Head of Projects, Opera North, comments:

“Erland’s decision to make the score for The Wind almost entirely from the human voice, is a wonderfully powerful response to the combined claustrophobia and loneliness of the film.
“He is able to use the voice not just to represent the wind that always threatens to engulf everything, but the menace the film builds and the psyche of Lillian Gish’s luminous Letty.”

The Wind is the latest in Opera North’s long-running and acclaimed series of soundtrack commissions from artists including Haley Fohr (Circuit des Yeux) and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. Another large-scale choral commission, Julia Holter’s score for The Passion of Joan of Arc, was postponed due to the pandemic, and will be rescheduled for 2022.
Tickets for The Wind are priced at £18.00 (see venues for concessions). For more details visit operanorth.co.uk


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