Born in 1980 and raised in Belfast, his university years saw his first incursions into DJing and genetics, leading to a PhD in computational biology while liberating his first work in 2007. Since then, he has left behind his academic career and expanded his musical taste to include psychoacoustics, sound design, field recordings, and a focus on melody volatile in electronic music circles.
Max Cooper has carved out a distinctive position for himself as artist intent in curating multi-sensory proficiencies, across emotional dance floor experimentation. Max used sound design, fine art and unique visuals to create an understanding and insight in to science.
As Max Cooper prepares to bring his stunning ‘Emergence Live’ show to Islington Assembly Hall, we caught up with him for a quick chat.
Can you talk us through the concept of Emergence… what can we expect on the night? Is each show different?
Each show is different yes. Over the last couple of years I’ve been working with many different visual artists to create a stock of video that I’ve written music for, and built a performance system that allows me to play with the music and video content live. For every different form of audio control – triggering elements, live drumming, glitching, filtering, layering etc, simultaneous control is applied to video clips and effects so that the two work in harmony. I’ve got a whole range of musical and video styles that fit into the storyline, so that I can play a sit down, standing, or dance form of show. So with all of this flexibility, every show is unavoidably different.
In terms of the concept, it’s a science idea which I find interesting, and one which lent itself to a rich array of visual content, hence the reason for using it for a visual show and album project. The idea is that simple laws can give rise to unexpected outcomes. Whenever the behaviour of the system as a whole cannot be easily explained by the behaviour of its components, that is emergence – the whole is more than the sum of the parts. It’s also a nice example of something that’s a little more than dry science, it’s a signpost for when we’re surprised about something and can’t easily explain it reductively, which I like. And when I applied the idea to a universe timeline, looking at natural laws and processes from pre-time into the distant future, it allowed for a visual exploration of a lot of beautiful natural processes and ideas.
What are the importance of the visuals that go alongside the music and what they add to the whole experience?
The visuals were the starting point for the project really, the whole concept is delivered visually, and the music was a score to the show. Rather than the visuals being the secondary part of the project as with most albums and shows. It was mainly just a way for me to bring together my main interests in addition to music, which are, visual art, and science, into one project. But it was built to work as a standard music show too, there’s no need to know about or be interested in the science or the visual side of things if those aren’t of interest for you. I prefer art that allows people to make their own interpretation rather than trying to be too prescriptive about how you should or shouldn’t experience it.
You’ve worked with some genius contemporary classical composers such as Michael Nyman and Nils Frahm, what influence does classical music have on your sound?
Nyman’s “heart asks pleasures first” was always a favourite when I was a child, I tried to remix it too, it was an impossible task to improve on what is so close to perfection. And I’ve always loved minimalist classical in general, even though it took me a while to discover it in amongst all the overly dressed frills of so much other classical music. I’ve always just been drawn to the core feeling chord structures of music, and I found that in classical and electronic music mainly, although not solely. So now I try to draw on all the influences I have, often working with Tom Hodge the pianist, and strings players occasionally – I’d love to delve into this world further, but one step at a time, I prefer to fully explore each new musical technique I add, before moving on to the next. Another project to mention in terms of influence would be Koyaanisqatsi with the Philip Glass score from the 80’s – it showed beautifully how loops and visuals can be combined to massive effect.
Does your scientific background influence the way you make music?
It influences what I’m interested in, and who I am, which in turn feeds into my projects, like Emergence. But I don’t think there’s really a strong link to my writing process, no.
I probably use much the same process as everyone else. But I think about ways I can fit music with non-musical ideas, and this sort of creative tool may push me in different directions to others. So the way I’m making music is the same, but the ideas are different. And it’s the ideas, the inspiration, what you feel and what you like and don’t like, which is the essence of music, not the way in which you create it.
Your diary coming up features some amazing shows, including Tokyo, Paris and Amsterdam… where are your favourite places to play and why?
Usually it’s the hub cities that are my favourites – London, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco, Mumbai, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires – places where there are people and ideas from all over the world and where people are most open minded as a result, and happy to hear something a little outside the norm.
Musically or otherwise, what has influenced or affected you the most lately?
Ben Lukas Boysen, Kimyan Law, Joe Farr, Tim Hecker, Rival Consoles, Lusine, Vessels, Patrice Baumel, John Tejada, Arvo Part, Steve Reich, A Winged Victory for the Sullen.
Max Cooper brings Emergence Live to Islington Assembly Hall on Friday 2nd December.