NYC native Zach Cooper’s music flourishes in Black Mountain

THE PERFECT FIT: Choosing a one-night pop-up art venue over a more established spot may seem an odd decision, but Zach Cooper views it as an apt fit for his music. Though Asheville offers many small performance spaces conducive to his work, the multi-instrumentalist and experimental composer says comparable ones are hard to find in his adopted home of Black Mountain. Photo by Greg Herman

In late 2013, Zach Cooper and his wife left Harlem for a three- to four-month road trip in search of a new place to live. Their list of criteria included warmer temperatures than in New York, the ability to ride their bikes to work, a lower cost of living and enough of a musical scene to keep Cooper interested and afloat as an instrumentalist and composer. Black Mountain came the closest to checking off all the boxes on that list and, two years later, the couple feel confident that they made the right decision. They’re enjoying the slower pace of life, the surrounding natural beauty and the tightknit community of neighbors committed to one another’s well-being.

Among the connections in Cooper’s new hometown is Jordon Glover, in whose latest Glass Floor arts initiative — a pop-up gallery opening, dance performance and live music showcase on Friday, April 1, in Black Mountain — Cooper will be featured. The composer, his laptop armed with Ableton Live music software and flanked by gadgets including synths and a modified tape recorder, will team up with Kiah Abendroth (trumpet/loop pedal) and Victor DiMotsis (drums/percussion) to perform his new album The Sentence, which debuted at PULP in early March.

Born in New York City, Cooper grew up just north of the metropolis and went on to study composition at the University of Vermont. In addition to experimental compositions under his own name, he produces DJ work under the moniker kuxxan SUUM. He also plays guitar, bass and keys alongside DiMotsis in King Garbage, occasionally adding Asheville rapper Mic L!ve to form L!ve Garbage. In addition, Cooper has scored short films by Black Mountain-based director Greg Herman and recorded numerous artists in his living room studio, but he downplays the notion that the peace and quiet of his new digs have significantly altered his creative process.

“If you’re really serious about making art, it shouldn’t matter where you are,” Cooper says. “Your surroundings will impact the things you make, but there’s no excuse not to be making art.” The primary repercussion from the move south is that it’s separated him from a developed electronic music scene. Though Cooper acknowledges the Asheville area’s strong network of DJs and electronic and experimental musicians, he’s found the scene’s general lack of history beyond Moog Music — a landmark company, but not necessarily a hub for new music — artistically liberating instead of a limitation.

“There’s a deep heritage in New York, and that was both healthy and unhealthy for me. I often felt like I needed to fit in or do certain things that would allow me to be accepted into certain circles,” Cooper says. “Not having a big community has allowed me to really dive deeper into my own style and my own preferences without feeling like I needed to make any gains.”

For The Sentence, that approach meant further exploration of the old recordings that he’d mined and reworked for his previous album, Daniel McClung In Memoriam. The archive includes demos cut in high school, older cassettes of jamming with his cousin, conversations of goofing off with friends and performances of chamber music Cooper composed in college. Devoting time to meditation before turning his attention to the audio, Cooper says he held on to “the peace and pure joy” of that mindset, which granted him an almost childlike openness in listening to the range of sounds and sources. “The ones I was drawn to were very light, in a way, and lighthearted,” he says. “There are definitely moments of heaviness on the record, but it all comes from a place of being light and joyful.”

The resulting dozen song titles spell out, “This is for us to incite stillness in our hearts and minds,” a phrase that harkens back to the method by which they were created. It’s indicative of the opposing yet harmonious sounds to which Cooper alludes. From word to word, the collection flows between peaceful tracks that encourage presence and reflection, to jarring, often atonal works that, while seemingly running counter to that mission, actually encourage focus by drawing attention to themselves. In turn, Cooper has crafted a sonic metaphor for the coexistence of the bustling city of his past and the serene countryside of his present.

WHAT: Glass Floor Gallery Showcase featuring Zach Cooper
WHERE: 108 Sutton Ave., Black Mountain
WHEN: Friday, April 1. Art gallery showcase at 8 p.m., dance performance at 9 p.m., music at 10 p.m. $5

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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