> Interview - Cosmo Sheldrake On Eye To The Ear - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview – Cosmo Sheldrake On Eye To The Ear

There’s a fundamental need for celebration and joy, and weaving people and community together in the face of this complete fractiousness.

Cosmo Sheldrake’s new 21-track album, Eye To The Ear, ranges in style from folk, to jazz, to electronic, to experimental pop. Sheldrake shows a commitment to engaging with the living world, with songs growing out of field recordings of curlews, whales, fish, and frogs, and he is donating a portion of his publishing rights to conservation organisations and charities, including EarthPercent, the RSPB, and the Fungi Foundation.

Influenced by conversations with his family – his mother, Jill Purce, a vocal teacher; his father, the biologist Rupert Sheldrake; and brother Merlin, a biologist and writer specialising in the subject of fungi – Sheldrake’s Eye To The Ear explores ‘the sounds of the more-than-human world.’

How did Eye To The Ear come about? Does it start with an idea, or a field recording?

I suppose it’s an accumulation of music. It began immediately in the wake of finishing [2018 album] The Much Much How How and I, as a form of therapeutic exercise. I started making small, abstract remixes of a lot of the tunes to try and digest or compost it somehow – it was quite liberating at the time. That set the tone. Some of the previous things I’ve made, like Wild Wet World or Wake Up Calls, were projects specifically exploring different ecosystems or animals, whereas this is a bit of everything, really.

I was allowing myself to just follow my nose. And in hindsight, as it’s come together there are lots of themes I see stitching together, but I’ve tried to let it grow fairly organically and just take its own time.

Your mother is well known, as are your brother and your dad. Do you feel they have shaped your music and the way you look at the world?

Oh, entirely, I mean completely and utterly. I suppose growing up with my mum teaching Mongolian overtone chanting workshops and hearing this wafting out the basement [influenced me], and she worked with Karlheinz Stockhausen, a pioneer of electronic music. Certainly with my dad’s work we grew up very much guinea pigs in his experiments.

All of this stuff no doubt has a huge impact and, also, he’s quite an old-school kind of naturalist and biologist, so he’d take us out and teach us how to identify trees and spot birds, and we spent a lot of time outdoors.

You’ve been busy with a number of collaborations over the past few years, including ones with musician and actor Johnny Flynn and nature writer Robert Macfarlane. And you worked on a radio programme about making music with birdsong for BBC Radio 3. Do you have any other projects coming up?

I’ve got quite a few bits and bobs and side projects on the go. There’s another project I’m working on with Robert Macfarlane, with a couple of other people too.

We went to Ecuador, to this place called Los Cedros, which is one of the first places to be given rights to exist on its own under the Rights of Nature ruling [a global movement to recognise that nature is not just property, but has inherent rights]. It was protected from a mining company because under the Ecuadorian constitution, nature has rights. We were exploring this Rights of Nature project, and something that evolved from that trip was a piece that emerged while we were up in the high cloud forest.

We are now going to make a case, take it to the Ecuadorian courts and argue that it was co-authored by Los Cedros itself. It features many of the voices – like frogs, bats, birds, and beasts – of the place.

Do you feel optimistic about the way that people are now dealing with climate change, or is there still a long way to go in that respect?

I feel very, very, very little sense of optimism in terms of the global picture of how people are responding. It feels like it’s going in completely the wrong direction.

It seems like we’re in a kind of a freefall state right now. I think it’s definitely still heads in the sand. Total confusion – obviously not helped by the incredibly well-funded misinformation campaigns. I don’t feel that justifies a slip-slide into despair, because that’s obviously not an option. A lack of enthusiasm for the current trajectory doesn’t translate to fundamental pessimism. I think I always have some sort of sense of hope, because without that, everything is lost.

Does your music help you feel more optimistic, like you are doing something?

Yes, and I suppose because I feel at the moment there’s so much that we need to face, in a sense of loss and grief and overcoming huge generational traumas, cultural traumas. At the same time, there’s a fundamental need for celebration and joy, and weaving community and people together in the face of this complete fractiousness.

Cosmo Sheldrake is performing 18th April at Stereo, Glasgow as part of a UK tour

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