Sound artist Erland Cooper: I’m glad I got to visit Tove Jansson’s island in my head

Sound artist Erland Cooper: I’m glad I got to visit Tove Jansson’s island in my head

Sound artist Erland Cooper created the composition The Island 1961 inspired by Tove Jansson’s island Klovharun. The piece was made for the nature trail at Walthamstow Wetlands in North London, but anyone can listen to it anywhere. We spoke to Erland about the artist and environment inspiring the composition. 

What was your reaction when you were asked to make a sound piece for a Tove Jansson themed nature trail? 

I had already started reading Tove’s books, and they were a great joy to me. I rarely say ‘yes’ before a question has been fully asked but this time I did. I imagined being there on her island, how the weather and natural elements control your day, week, month and year. I thought: wouldn’t it be great if you could hear the sound of an island? I looked at a lot of photographs from Tove’s island and started writing tones, the shape and key of the sounds as well as occasional melodies. 

Because of the pandemic you couldn’t go to the island yourself. How did you work around it in practice?

Before the pandemic (Tove’s niece, creative director of Moomin Characters Ltd) Sophia Jansson visited me to read Tove’s text this piece is based on. At first she felt really nervous but in the end we had a lovely afternoon drinking lots of tea and recording. Finnish sound artist Kirsi Ihalainen recorded additional sounds in Klovharun. Among other things she built a fire in Tove’s stove and recorded the sound of it. It was a beautiful element that was absolutely required for the piece.

You live in the Orkney islands. Does Klovharun sound similar to your home? 

There are a lot of similarities. The sound of water constantly lapping, the same birds; that made me feel really connected. The sound of the fireplace really transported me there. Tove’s text reminds me of home, also in the sense of home as a safe harbour. She doesn’t sugarcoat the life on the island, but also talks about the isolation and danger of it. I love how in the end she admits how much of a wimp she is for not being able to stay on the island for winter.

What was it like to imagine the sounds of a place you’ve never been to?

I’m sad I didn’t get to go there in person but I’m glad I got to visit in my head. I feel the piece actually became more transportative this way, and it helped me send others there too.

How would you like people to experience The Island 1961?

I like the idea of people walking around anywhere in the world with natural sounds around them working into the piece too. I’d like them to listen while they experience their surroundings. Tove was like a child in nature and I’d like people to appreciate what’s around them in the same way. I would also like them to explore her words and really to have 20 minutes off, which can be difficult for many people. Just to walk or lay down wherever they are. I hope people will hear birds and stop to think if they are real or in the piece.

Listen to ‘The Island 1961’ here.

The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island, Walthamstow Wetlands Engine Room, 2 Forest Road, Walthamstow, London, N17 9NH, 18.6.–26.9. Free entry but you must book in advance. More about the programme here.

Text: Ninni Lehtniemi, Photo: Alex Kozobolis

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