RIGHT now Erland Cooper is on top of the world. Or close enough. The Orkney-born composer has just crossed the border from Italy into Switzerland when I call. In front of him, he says, he can see “two eagles on a sculpture. And what’s it called? The arete? The ridge of the mountains stretching out in front of me.” 
He’s just pulled off the road for a toilet break (“Too much information,” he admits) and to talk to me before driving on to Calais and the ferry back to the UK. “It’s about 15 degrees colder,” he adds of his Alpine surroundings. “There is a shack serving sausages. And it looks like we’re on the top of the moon.”
It feels an appropriate backdrop for a conversation with Cooper. Geography, geology and the natural world are very much at the heart of his work after all. (The Guardian once described him as “nature’s songwriter.”) 
Combine that with his sense of playfulness and thirst for experimentation and you have an artist who will bury the only recording of one of his compositions in the ground in Orkney for years, or create a block of ice filled with plants in the shape of a Stenness neolithic stone and then place it front and centre in an auditorium and turn up the heat to unveil “the most primitive pyrotechnics” as the greenery emerges.
It is early September when we speak and after three weeks of driving through Europe on a rare holiday, Cooper and his dogs are finally heading home to London. Or homeish.
“I always think of Orkney as home,” Cooper admits, “but I’ve now been away longer as an adult than I was there as a child. It’s so strange. I hope I never not think of it as home. 
“I think I also refuse to admit that London is my home. I say I’m going to take all I can from London before it takes all from me. Because that’s what cities do. They just eat you up. I’m very fortunate and I’ve worked to have a safe creative space.”
That safe creative space is a basement studio in east London that has no windows. “It feels like you’re in the hull of a ship,” Cooper suggests. A P&O ferry perhaps, he adds. He might be in London, but his mind is ever drifting back to Orkney.
Cooper is a composer shaped by childhood and landscape. “I think that sense of wonder comes from a couple of things. My dad was a biologist. Mum, geography was her main discipline. And they both had a science background and encouraged us to explore the natural world.”
And so he does. “I spend a lot of time in urban environments seeking out the natural world, either intentionally or by default. The other day I spotted a peregrine falcon on top of the Barbican. I heard it first and then I watched it eat a pigeon. That was a great joy.” 
It’s also there in his work. Folded Landscapes, Cooper’s fourth studio album which came out earlier this year, saw him collaborate with members of the Scottish Ensemble and the poet laureate Simon Armitage. Its engagement with climate change is obvious from the inclusion of the voice of Greta Thunberg. But it’s also there in the music with its blend of sumptuous strings, field recordings and a sense of nagging urgency. 
Cooper has now recorded a variation of the album for release later this year. Where Folded Landscapes is a maximalist creation, Folded Landscapes (Piano) is defiantly minimalist. Cooper sees it as an “autumnal sister or brother” to the larger work.
The original album is a many-layered thing containing chamber strings, voice and poetry. This new version is anything but. “It was quite a neat challenge to do what classicists call a piano reduction,” the composer admits. “But I hope in its simple form it still has some poetry.”
That it has. And it comes with its own sense of adventure and experiment. Cooper is as much a conceptual artist as a musician at times. And so for this new version he got in touch with scientists who have recorded “impulse responses” in a glacial cave in Norway.
Which means, Erland? “It’s just capturing the echo,” Cooper explains. “All they do is they have a couple of microphones, a couple of speakers and you clap. 
“I am able to take that clap, get rid of the clap sound, and just have the resulting resonance move around the space. And then replace the clap with the piano. The piano is effectively clapping in the glacier creating an echo. You don’t need to know that, but it made it interesting to me. It added an extra narrative layer, something I could enjoy when I was mixing it.”

And, in its own way, it speaks to the theme of climate change that is at the heart of the original album. “I don’t have the resources to take a piano into a glacier,” Cooper admits. “That feels incredibly decadent.”
He did put a microphone in a block of ice though. “I had an idea of how that might sound. It might sound interesting or it might sound dull. The reality is that it was somewhere in between both. But that’s the fun.”
Is it fun for his collaborators too? 
“I don’t know if this is an island thing, but I enjoy when you get the look of disdain or you hear a tut or a ‘WHAT?’ When I planted a work for three years in the soil I remember going into the room with all these musicians. And they all knew I was going to delete all the digital files. 
“There would only exist one copy. I would put that copy on a tape and I would travel a thousand miles and then I would dig a hole and bury it. And they all looked at me like I was not quite with it. Why would you do that? My response varied depending on the person asking the question. It’s a meditation on patience. It’s a celebration of value, not just in my work but in other people’s work. 
“There are so many other strands as to why we do something. But the moment I remember best … and perhaps it answers your question about other people’s reactions … A cellist in that session said, ‘Are you really going to delete all the files and bury it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she didn’t ask what everybody else asked, which is why? She just said, ‘But we had such a beautiful session.’ And I said, ‘How does that make you feel?’ And she said, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.’”
The master tape was finally dug up last year and is now drying off in various record shops around the country. “On that project the music only exists in the memory of the players who made it. I’ve tried to sing it in the shower and I think I’m getting it wrong. I guess we’ll find out next year. It’s going to be released exactly as it sounds from the earth and it’s going to be performed by an orchestra exactly as it sounds from the earth.”
Unearthing Cooper’s own story is to be reminded that when he moved to London he worked with guitarist Simon Tong and fronted Erland and the Carnival and then the Magnetic North, with Hannah Peel. 
That “pop” version of Cooper has not totally disappeared. He continues to collaborate with Paul Weller no less.
“I really enjoy writing with Paul. I’m writing and collaborating, but I don’t do that as my main practice. I do that for the sheer joy of writing the lyrics of one of Paul’s songs or whatever it may be.” I have to ask, I tell him, when you’re in a room with Paul Weller do you ever look over and think, “Oh my God, that’s Paul Weller”?
He pauses for a moment and then tells me a story about his school days.
“I remember I was bullied and I would hide in the music room at school. I remember being bullied for having – and I’ve only thought about this recently – a CD of Wildwood.
“And it’s kind of funny. Decades later you’re working with that artist and, more than that, that artist is a friend, which comes first. 
“I suppose these things come and go, but when you’re in a creative state you don’t think of anything other than the creativity and the joy of what you are doing together.
“Paul has more charisma, energy and stamina than people four decades younger than him.”
It is time for him to drive on. But before he goes I ask one final question about hope. Folded Landscapes is a composition that deals with an existential threat to human existence. Is there any reason to be optimistic?
“I often feel that maybe somewhere between despair and the spirit of hope, good ideas tend to happen,” Erland Cooper tells me. “In Pandora’s Box hope is still sitting at the bottom, ready to be lifted out.”

Erland Cooper plays Aberdeen Music Hall next Saturday. Folded Landscapes is out now. Folded Landscapes (Piano) comes out on November 3