Boomkat Product Review:
Classic in its own genre of Hawaiian Futurism, Mike Cooper’s immersively dreamy ‘Rayon Hula’ is newly edited for its 15th anniversary edition with Lawrence English’s Room40.
Inspired by Cooper’s trips to Australia, S.E. Asia and eventually the Pacific and its islands since the mid ‘90s, ‘Rayon Hula’ is a definitive example of his intoxicating take on Hawaiian lap-steel guitar exotica, as invented in the ‘50s by the likes of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. The original, Ars Electronica prize-acknowledged 2004 recordings were reissued by Room40 in 2010, and now return in a re-edited form that partly reflects the ongoing affect of sea-level rises on Kiribati, a set of 32 atolls and reef islands in Micronesia - at the farthest point of the international date line - in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which are likely to be submerged by the end of this century.
Using lap-steel guitar and looped recordings of Australia’s “scarily creative” native birds, coupled with a deep sense of instrumental, folk-wise story-telling gleaned from decades steeped in British folk music and the blues, Cooper freely improvises a series of melting, fragrant sonic postcards as colourful as his famous Hawaiian shirt collection. Regaling slow, drifting, impressionistically romantic and psychedelic tales from the very lushest and far flung ends of the earth, the lyrical quality of Cooper’s lap-steel strums and the natural ecology of his backdrops draw listeners into gently rapt states of reception as he beautifully convects the effect of taking in dusk by widescreen horizons and sipping coconuts under the trees they bloomed from.
It’s a sublime growth of the sound David Toop spoke about in his classic ambient study ‘Ocean of Sound’, but rather than the work of someone riffing on that idea from a detached mindstate, ‘Rayon Hula’ is a product of its environment, where Cooper incorporates vibes and visions he absorbed in the vast region, and reinforces them with a mix of studious historical nous, nodding to both Steve Feld’s concept of ‘Lift Up and Over Sounding’ from his study of the Kaluli People of Papua and their relationship with the aural environment, and a skillful poetic license that sees sees him dreamily refract these images thru prisms of iridescent, heat haze FX. It’s an unimaginably lush, transportive, and timelessly mind-expanding record that will reward many repeat visits over the years.