Q & A with Mike Cooper

Mike Cooper talks Hawaiian shirts and delves into his soundtrack to ‘White Shadows in the South Sea’ performed as part of the Mike Cooper Residency.


Why have you chosen the film ‘A White Shadows in the South Seas’ for your Perth performance? 

I try to perform to films that, as far as I am aware, not many people do. I’m bored with seeing/hearing Metropolis, Nosferatu, Charlie Chaplin etc. and so I seek out unusual films and especially films shot in the South Pacific or some other ‘exotic’ place.

I have an interest in ‘exotica’ as a popular art form. I seem to have gained a reputation for my “Ambient Electronic Exotica” recordings, of which there are six volumes on various labels and formats.

I also chose to do this film because I have the book by Fredrick O’Bryan upon which the film is loosely based. There are also connections with other films that interested me, for example, it was supposed to be co-directed by Robert Flaherty and W.S. Van Dyke.

I am a fan of Flaherty’s films Nanook Of The North and Moana, the former reputed to be the first documentary film ever made. I have done live soundtrack performances to both these films in the past, and so I was drawn to White Shadows.

As it turned out Flaherty left the film some months into shooting and Van Dyke finished it. There are still some scenes in the final edit which are obviously Flaherty’s shots. He was very good at underwater filming, which wasn’t an easy thing to do in 1928.

What can the audience expect from your performance? Are there pre-recorded sounds as well as live manipulations? 

There are pre-recorded sounds on the soundtrack I present for this film as well as live playing.

I made a CD of the soundtrack with the same title for Room 40 records which also came out as a double vinyl LP on a UK label, Sacred Summits. I use a lot of field recordings, lap steel guitar etc. It a highly structured narrative film not something you can improvise freely across unlike, say, Man With A Movie Camera, for instance.

I also wanted it to be different to all of the other soundtracks I have composed or improvised in terms of instrumentation. Usually I make soundtracks quite sparse which this one isn’t.

Can we expect to see your Hawaiian shirts?  Is there a place where you get your shirts from? 

I never wear anything else but Hawaiian shirts despite the weather. You can get more of a glimpse into the shirt collection with some anecdotes about some of them here: http://www.thewire.co.uk/galleries/the-message-in-coopers-shirts

Many of our shirts came from trips to Australia in fact, but we find them all over the world.

It would be great to see the audience turn up in Aloha shirts.


Head to the Mike Cooper Residency page here, or purchase tickets to Mike Cooper: Live Score to Silent Film at PS Art Space from Eventbrite, and we look forward to seeing you in your best Hawaiian shirt (optional) on Wednesday 26 April!