Review: ‘Hemispheres’ by Shane Cooper

08 Dec 2023
At the ISCM World New Music Days festival UJ Artist in Residence, Shane Cooper unveiled a preview of his ground-breaking album Hemispheres in an interactive aural installation. Featuring two songs from the album: Modulations Twenty Three and ThunderBirds, the fifteen-minute sonic installation challenges audiences in their understanding of a music performance or experiences.
Shane Cooper, jazz musician and UJ Artist in Residence. Photo: Shane Cooper via Instagram. 

Cooper, a keystone in the South African contemporary jazz scene, describes his Artist in Residence (AIR) project as a “pursuit of form and uncovering sonic potentials through the engagement of different sound sources”. His interest lies in the connection of patterns within music from a micro to macro level, broadening further into other art forms. Part of his research during his residency has been about investigating future possibilities for engaging with music.

Hemispheres is the resulting album of his residency.  It represents an immersive convergence of jazz and electronic music, drawing inspiration from the rich tapestry of the South African musical landscape and features South African jazz musicians Bokani Dyer (piano), Linda Sikhakhane (saxophone), Ayanda Sikade (drums), and Simon Manana (flute), alongside Swiss jazz musicians Andreas Tschopp and Julian Sartorius. 

Cooper invites his audience into an intimate space, in which there are six chairs, four speakers and an arcade-style controller.  An instruction sheet and some guidance from the attendants offers an introduction but after pressing a blue button to start the first piece – Modulations Twenty Three – ‘audiences’ are left to their own devices. While you are encouraged to wait a few moments before triggering the second blue button, when and how you do so is up to you, and of course the other members of this intimate experience. 

The first button pressed plays the “groove” elements of the song from the front speakers. In Modulations Twenty Three this features Swiss trombonist Andreas Tschopp and Swiss drummer Julian Sartorius with Shane Cooper on double bass, synths and more. The drums are organic, inspired by beats heard in South African house music, while the double bass parts are influenced by patterns on a traditional bow, the uhadi. 

The textural or atmospheric elements of the performance are introduced when the second button is triggered. These performance articulations on the trombone are designed to emulate parameters found on synthesizers such as “Attack”, “Decay”, “Sustain”, “Release” and others. 

Our initial response to this experience was similar to how one would engage with a musical performance, seated, focusing in on the sounds, allowing oneself to be transported by the rhythms.  The first person to step up and trigger the second button was initially jarring as one had to overstep the cognitive dissonance between musical performance and interactive installation. However the more comfortable one become with the process of triggering the second button, sharing the interaction with other “audience” members and getting up and moving through the space, the more the experience became akin to engaging with a visual art piece. Similar in that the process of active engagement and context of experience  becomes as important as the compositional elements of the music and therefore specific to each individual participating in the experience. 

While all of the music Cooper composes for Hemispheres will be avilable in various formats, including similar interactive online experiences, this installation is a completely unique way of engaging with the music and sound. 

University of Johannesburg

​Cnr Kingsway and University Rd, Auckland Park​


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