Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pitstop: Cosmo Sheldrake

photo by Matthieu Amaré
Despite the fact that I have been known to plan incredibly rigorous and often concrete CMJ schedules, this year I found an refreshing urge for flexibility due in part to my accidental discovery of British multi-instrumentalist/producer Cosmo Sheldrake. While my CMJ plans started the day before with a kickoff party, a chance visit to trusted mainstay Pianos during Day 1 ultimately resulted in a quick, reevaluation of most if not my entire schedule.

Cosmo Sheldrake is a man of many unique talents and winsome characteristics. While his name was enough to get me into the door sight unseen, songs unheard, it was his ability to completely blow away expectation that not only made me stay but make alterations to my schedule to lengthen the experience. It wasn't an easy sell at first, I'll admit. Sheldrake is a knowledgeable, curious man and seeks to share that with the audience but his explanation of his first song "Sort of a mashup of Mongolian folk music and English folk song" had me at the ready, poised to attack with ice cold judgement but the judgement never came. What did follow was an absolutely unfathomable blend of Mongolian-inspired vocals, old style English song, and beats. Sheldrake had somehow managed to create a sort of future-folk steeped with sincerity. The son of a biologist and surprise-surprise a music teacher specializing in Mongolian overtone singing, Sheldrake's as much a product of his upbringing as he is his own interests and eccentricities. During his sets each song was introduced either by its inspiration or by the sounds Sheldrake had used to create it - ranging from everything from cut up vocal samples from friend/collaborator Anndreyah Vargas ("Rich"), the sounds of rocks being split in Wales, to the sound of the sun as captured by NASA or an African pygmy song ("The Fly").

No one song sounded the same and yet there was no denying a core character - that of Sheldrake himself as he imagines everything from life as an indestructible moss-dwelling insect ("Tardigrade Song") to an ode to nonsense creatures like the Jabberwocky ("The Moss"), even a setting of William Blake's The Fly. The most surprising thing is while drawing from this wide array of inspiration and ultimately falling under the label of producer is the organic nature of Sheldrake's song. A sampler may be at hand but Sheldrake is not one for synths and instead fashions much of his sort of naturalistic folk-infused electronic music with field recordings. Also intrigued and instantly sealing the deal for me is Cosmo Sheldrake is an accomplished improviser - studying with Bobby McFerrin at the Omega Institute. And delightfully enough, he often weaves a couple improvisations into his sets.

It was during his improvs that the true depths of Sheldrake's musicianship could be gleaned. Beatboxing, singing, keys, impressively deployed samples and/or beats, it could all be a bit overwhelming if it wasn't for Cosmo Sheldrake's deft hand.

Releasing his debut EP Pelicans We earlier this year with a full length effort forthcoming probably sometime in the next year, who knows what sounds and influences Cosmo Sheldrake will work with on the record. The one thing I know is they will certainly be interesting.

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