No Fixed Point In Space, the third full-length album by Jack Cooper’s Modern Nature, takes the palette of sound and themes that were honed on 2021’s Island Of Noise and launches them into an expansive world of openness and vivid technicolour. It’s a music that hasn’t been heard before; as melodic as anything Cooper has produced but framed by rhythms and instrumentation that reflect the chaos, unpredictability and colour of the natural world.
“With this record,” Cooper explains, “I wanted the music to reflect nature: beginnings and endings, arrivals and departures, process and chance. I wanted the music and the words to feel like roots, branches, mycelium, the intricacies of a dawn chorus, neurons firing, the unknown.”
“The way you see or hear music in your head is abstract and magic… far more beautiful than what eventually appears on tape. When you sit down with an instrument and begin translating an idea, it quickly conforms. I’ve tried to develop this music without thinking in terms of set rhythms, time signatures, folk or pop structures, syntax; the devices you associate with the music world which I come from. I wanted to make music that was abstract, free and honest, whilst still being predominantly tonal and recognisably song based. New music! It feels like time to make something that no one has heard before.”
Certain moorings - woodwind, percussion, strings and Cooper’s lambent voice - are still present and recognisable from No Fixed Point In Space’s predecessor, Island Of Noise but the new record marks a shift to utilising musical notation as a point of departure, from which the group explore the space around suggested notes and rhythms to create a semi-improvised, semi-composed ensemble performance. These explorations of partly organised chance were recorded live and directly to tape.
“Part of it is a reaction to what I hear out in the world,” continues Cooper. “Modern Nature's music has certain threads that run through it. Music is increasingly sterile and informed by the grids and convenience of digital recording. Music needs the swing of humans for it to resonate on any level below the surface.
“I think the most important aspect of that idea is collectivism; the rhythm, melody, timbre, dynamics, all the aspects of music are not the responsibility of one instrument, they are the responsibilities of all the instruments. The vocals are no more important than the bass. That makes the music move in an organically unpredictable way. Like a flock of birds or school of fish, notes breaking the surface and then disappearing. A football crowd singing a melody swells and pulses with a microtonal monophony. That's how I want this music to feel.”
This approach gives the music a remarkably fresh feel; songs pulse and evolve. The changes between movements, verse and choruses are almost all ambiguous. During the album’s opener Tonic, a verse of hushed brevity washes away into a passage of overwhelmingly vibrant orchestration.
Cooper devised musical notation for the players to follow in every song. Within this set of loose parameters or signifiers, they were able to explore the pieces on their own terms.
“Most of the arrangement and orchestration is notated, but the musicians are all imaginative interpreters’” he says – and for the record, they include: Anton Lukoszevieze, Mira Benjamin and Heather Roche of Apartment House, Alex Ward (This Is Not This Heat/Spiritualized), Dominic Lash, Chris Abrahams of The Necks, Julie Tippetts (FKA Julie Driscoll) as well as long-term collaborators Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers) and Jim Wallis.
There is a perceptible but graceful tension audible in the record. This approach is remarkably effective on Orange, where voices merge together in the refrain ‘turning again we go round and recover’, a phrase that provides the piece with a sense of momentum, even as the instrumentation resists being confined to an equally circular repetition and pulls in contraflow against the vocal lines. The melodies and words move in a similar way to the music, partly improvised, dissonant poetry.
The swing of one particular human present on No Fixed Point In Space is especially noteworthy. The legendary Julie Tippetts (Driscoll) adds her distinctive voice to the record, on what is her first appearance on a recording for several years. Tippetts’ ability to evoke a landscape, whether physical or interior, has always been a feature of her vocal performances. Throughout this record her voice does the same to great, purposeful effect, not least on the closing track Ensō, where she takes the lead.
“Ultimately,” concludes Cooper. “This is music I’ve always wanted to hear. I read a quote of Einstein’s via Merce Cunningham that said there are “no fixed points in space” and that felt right. It felt like what I was trying to achieve here.”