Cosmo Sheldrake is a musician and performer like no other. Having taken up the piano aged four, he began to express his vision of the world creatively through his sounds from a very early age. Now in his twenties, he describes himself as a ‘gatherer and collector’ of instruments incorporating bass, double bass, and voice into his music. Fresh from supporting Johnny Flynn on his European tour, Velour gets to grips with the influences and motivations behind a musical landscape that combines elements of folk tradition with an altogether more modern aesthetic.
V: How would you best describe your sound?
CS: It’s always hard for someone to describe what it is that they do. I’m really interested in lots of different kinds of music from all over the world and lots of traditional forms of music like folk music. I take inspiration from a variety of sounds. With one click of a button you can now listen to music from anywhere in the world and it’s very easy to connect with music you would never normally have encountered. I don’t really know how to describe my music in term of a particular genre but I consider it more in terms of a process, a kind of a collage, a mixture of many different inspirations, samples and textures.
V: You play a bunch of instruments, which is your favourite.?
CS: I can most easily express myself with the piano because I’ve played it for so long. At the moment I’m going through different acoustic bass instruments. I am really loving the double bass and the sousaphone. But I’ve also been thinking about some electronic stuff recently, recording sounds that I meet along the way and then chopping them up and turning them into instruments on the computer. Oh- and the clarinet!
V: Where do you find those many inspirations?
CS: Everywhere, I think. A while ago I was in India with a friend and we lost power. When the power came back on, the fan was creating this unbelievable rhythm and a complete and complicated remix of patterns so I recorded it and used it in on a tune. I’ve also been doing some stuff with bird song recently. Another time, I was staying in a tower in Suffolk on the beach during an artists’ residency and I recorded the sound of gale force wind wheezing through holes in a wall. So I guess inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere. I’ve been reading this amazing book called ‘The Tuning of the World’ by Murray Schafer. He talks about how people have slightly neglected the soundscape of the world and it’s a kind of a manifesto on how to be re-engaged with these sounds and to open your ears again and become aware of all the sounds around us and how they affect our perception.
V: In addition to making music, you run workshops and work with young people. Why is this important to you? Is this mutually beneficial and if so, how does it help you to develop musically?
CS: I feel like I’ve been really lucky in my life to have great musical mentors and inspiring forces and people who have invested in me or encouraged me and I really feel like it has made a huge impact on what I do now. For me, it’s really important for people to have that, for people to have musical mentorship and I still feel like I’d love to have a musical mentor now. I work with this youth organization and run youth workshops and I’ve seen how positive this kind of creative space can be. It’s an environment where young people can express their creativity without feeling like they’re going to be judged. It also affects how I make music. You can learn so much about yourself and the way that you do things by having students that reflect, question and push boundaries.
V: How important is performance to your work?
CS: It’s a very important aspect of my work. Live music makes me feel alive and at my most connected and exhilarated. I love improvisation- when people just make music up together and produce exciting work. I heard someone say recently that the most important thing about performance is that it will inspire similar action and I like that idea. The hope for me is that if I perform I inspire others to do something similar. For me, it’s not about putting someone on a pedestal and idealizing them. That’s an unhealthy aspect of celebrity culture. It’s about empowerment and being able to stand up and express yourself.
V: What can audiences expect from you in 2014?
CS: I’ve got lots of different projects slowly cooking away. I don’t have a set plan but I’m just really excited at the moment and happy to carry on and see where things go.
Interview by Giorgia Scavo.
Words by Bianca Brigitte Bonomi.
Photo by Ruben Woodin Dechamps.