Come along catch a Heffalump,
Sit with me on a muddy clump,
We’ll sing a song of days gone by […]
We’ll dance and sing till sundown,
And feast with abandon,
We’ll sleep when the morning comes,
And we’ll rise by the sound of the birdsongs.
Based in London, Cosmo Sheldrake is a young composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer songwriter, sound artist, improviser and producer whose influences range from classical music and electronica to folk and jazz. Concerned with nature, environmental issues, climate change, the growing number of endangered species and the decrease in ecosystem biodiversity, his songs draw on nonsense, children’s nursery rhymes and the various traditions around the world who base their music on nature’s sounds – from primitive tribes to contemporary classical and jazz composers.
His first single Moss released in April 2014 set the tone for his work to date – a clever mashup of nonsensical nursery rhymes over electronic loops and beats. Subsequent quirky videos saw the musician collecting sounds and performing songs live on a fishing boat, on a horse trap in Bulgaria, in the Budapest Baths or in a pigsty.
Following on from the Pelicans We EP (2015) and released on 6 April 2018 last on Transgressive Records, Cosmo Sheldrake’s full-length début The Much Much How How and I is a marvellously eccentric recording from start to finish.
Bring back hedgerows,
Lost in echoes,
Found in shadows,
Gone like sparrows.
As early as 2013, Cosmo Sheldrake gave a TEDx Talk in Whitechapel, London where he improvised songs live over samples of British birds. The presence of sounds from nature has been a constant in his work ever since. His song “Pliocene” for instance feature recordings of endangered species of fish made by the American military during the cold war.
There are also samples recorded by American soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause who has been recording and archiving “the voice of the natural world” since 1968 – certainly a major influence on the work of Cosmo Sheldrake. Songs like “Linger Longer” and “Hocking” invite wildness back into the world – or a “rewilding” of the planet as advocated by leading environmental activists and commentators like George Monbiot. And more recently, the singer performed a polyphonic musical intervention based on endangered British bird songs at an Extinction Rebellion event in London.
Found sounds (bath sounds, beer bottles, a cat purring, an escalator or a vacuum cleaner), electronic loops and samples feature on almost every songs. The album features several samples from “Punctuations in Space” (2016) by the Gbop orchestra, a six drummer experimental formation based in South London.
On The Much Much How How and I, Cosmo Sheldrake’s exuberant sonic creativity expands considerably into a fully orchestrated production featuring a huge range of instruments – a Japanese koto drum, a contra bassoon, a clavichord, a duduk, a Turkish ney flute or a harp among others.
Dominated by woodwinds, brass instruments and percussions, The Much Much How How and I owes a lot more to the Concert Band than to the symphonic tradition. Apart from a violin on the magnificent “Solar Waltz” or a string quartet on “Egg and Soldiers”, strings are virtually absent from the orchestration. Concluding the album, “Hocking” sees a New Orleans-style brass band launch into into a free jazz coda.
Lavishly arranged, all songs can be listened to as standalone instrumentals – so much so that to celebrate the first year anniversary of the album, Cosmo Sheldrake released an all instrumental version of The Much Much How How and I as a digital download.
The LP cover as well as the inner sleeve all feature stunning illustrations taken from “Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes” by Louis Renard (1678 – 1746). The French-born and Netherlands-based book dealer published his extraordinary “Fishes, crayfishes and crabs, of diverse colours and extraordinary forms, which are found around the islands of the Moluccan and on the coasts of southern lands” in 1719. Thirty years in the making, the rare and early natural history opus features coloured drawings of over 450 species of fish and crustaceans found in the East Indies, some of them slightly embellished – one of the last engravings depicts a mermaid. In addition to the LP artwork, Renard’s illustrations were also used to choreograph one of the two official videos for “Wriggle”.
Listening to Cosmo Sheldrake’s songs is sometimes tantamount to flicking through an early 20th century storybook of fantastic tales for children. Some songs could well serve as soundtracks to many of Georges Meliès surreal short silent films. Produced by Matthew Herbert and shaped by the musician’s lifelong interest in anthropology, ethnomusicology, soundscape ecology and music, The Much Much How How and I is a unique genre-bending creation.