In an industry so often saturated with a focus upon aesthetic without substance and tunes that lack meaning, Max Cooper is a blooming flowerbed amongst the faux flora.
We sat down with Max to chat about everything currently going on in his life, from his musical inspirations and future projects, to his scientific researching and personal existential dilemmas.
The most important thing in Max Cooper’s world, right now, is…?
Survival! I’m not a great fan of flying and I’m currently in the midst of some hectic turbulence right now en route back from Berlin. The only good thing about this regular barrage of existential fear is that it’s forced me to accept death. When I can do that the fear disappears, but it’s a difficult position to keep hold of with all that basic biological function encouraging me to think differently. Sorry, not a very cheerful beginning to the interview, I promise I won’t maintain this dark chat throughout.
You have a PhD in genetics (correct me if I’m wrong)… so, Genetics or Music play (or would play) a more important role for Mankind’s Evolution? Could they change the way we perceive the world… or could they change the human relations for better?
So is Darwinian evolution or cultural evolution more important? It’s not a comparison I can directly compare, save to say that both are important, both defining in different ways who we are, how we think, and how we interact with the world. If you’re doubting the role of music in that comparison then I’d challenge you to guess what sort of music someone listens to based on the way they dress, their political views, their religious views, where they’re from. It’s surprising how tightly music is associated with all sorts of different facets of who we are. New music grows in unison with new thought. Obviously over longer time scales genetics is the main force in action, but over short cultural changing timescales changes in music are more tightly linked. Although not necessarily as a force so much as a correlation, the changes in thought could cause the changes in music rather than the other way around.
As to whether music is actually a force in this sense depends on how often we find music we like, and then start to subscribe to it’s wider associations of politics, dress code etc, vs subscribing to those ideas first and getting to like the music later. Is music the gateway to changes in thought? Maybe some sociologists can answer that for us, we’d just need to interview a lot of people to find out, I’m interested to know now!
Your last album was titled Emergence – was that in close relation of the state of the world right now? Was that a reason to bring the Emergence A/V show to as many diverse public or open urban places as possible?
The Emergence project was about the idea of natural law, and how these short squiggles physicists write up on a blackboard can give rise to the richness and complexity of the world around us. I approached the project from a universe timeline with music video projects about the basic laws, then they role in creating the contents of the universe, then later life and it’s evolution, eventually us, and the emergent messiness in which we live. Every chapter along the story was a collaboration with a different video artist, and every piece of music was created with this visual aesthetic and story in mind. It was a fun project, I gave a lecture about it [below], and it’s all summarised in text and graphics on emergence.maxcooper.net
In your music, the Sound and the Image always get the Balance right… How you get the Balance in your life? What’s the DNA of Balance?
Making music teaches you to communicate with a basic toolkit, which I find lends itself naturally to visual storytelling also. I just started to write a description of a piece of music to point out how I might translate it to visuals, and I realised that all the words I was using to describe the music were already visual terms as well – smooth, flowing, enveloping, seething, scale-free, detailing etc etc. So it’s just a matter of being clear with myself about what I’m trying to communicate, and it being a rich enough construct, then the links are already there. I always work with a visual idea in parallel to the creation of the music now, which then opens up lots of doors for storytelling as well, like the Emergence project I mentioned above. It’s nearly impossible to communicate detailed scientific ideas with music, but with a visual addition it works, with the music and visual both rooted in their associated, more general, form.
How do you reach the inner peace? Was your selection for the Balance mix series a question of inner peace?
Death!?….sorry I promised not to mention that again didn’t I. It’s interesting that you pointed that out with the Balance mix though, everything seems so hectic at the moment with communication and life documentation overload, I just wanted to make a little bit of escapism. The start is an attempt to reset your thoughts with some sublime Bing and Ruth peace to begin, so you could be open to really hear what happens later, rather than just going through the motions of listening to a defined genre, if you know what I mean. Or it’s just some ambient music at the start of an electronic mix, nothing groundbreaking!
Actually, in Balance 30, it seems that you use the Rob Clouth’s Transition EP tracks (that you’ve released on Mesh) like stepping points… Funny that Rob Clouth had created them using an algorithmic summary of his entire musical output… could we say, metaphorically speaking, that you do the same with Balance 30 mix – a summary of your own sounds & musical inspirations?
Yes I’d agree with that interpretation, it’s very much a summary of my musical journey over the last 20 years or so, with elements of my rave and jungle past, melodic and electronica parts, techno, trance, ambient and housey elements, it gets a bit of a joke rolling off these genre names doesn’t it! I love a lot of different electronic music and I’ve tried to bring my history of love of electronic music together in this mix, yes. I’ve always got into trouble for playing genres I’m not supposed to in places I’m not supposed to. I get so bored with venues having such strict rules about what BPM and style is cool or acceptable, but luckily for me more and more places seem to be open to breaking the rules now, and I only occasionally get arrested by the techno police.
What can we expect from MESH and from your creative work with Rob Clouth… It seems that this is just the beginning?
Yes, there’s some really exciting releases on the way, and I’m not just saying that to make it sound good, I promise! That’s including some other new artists as well, Brecon, who also feature on the Balance mix, and more to be announced over the summer. I’m looking for people who are interested in the wider links of music to other artforms, installations, new software approaches and new technology. The technology boom at the moment is opening a lot of new doors for the arts, and Mesh has been set up to explore these new connections, hence the name.
Actually, in Balance 30, you tend to include a lot of the producers who remixed tracks from your Emergence album… like Rob Clouth, Rival Consoles, Patrice Baumel, Hidden Orchestra, Kimyan Law… Is that a random fact of musical friendship & relativity or…?
They’re just all amazing musicians and producers, the people whose standard of work that I aspire to, each in their own different area too – Tim Hecker, Lusine, Nils Frahm, Com Truise, Deapmash, Loscil, Brecon, Alix Perez etc etc…so many years of thought and hard work is behind every piece of music on there, and every piece delivering it’s feeling and message strongly. Big thanks to every one of you for letting me using your work on the compilation!
Your music is so “visual”, so cinematic… what’s the movie / the piece of art that has really impressed you lately?
Good Time. Amazing OneOhTrix score, one of the best scores I’ve heard, it’s a powerful experience.
Technically speaking, which of your audio/visual projects was the most difficult to accomplish? Can you tell us the story behind it?
The Aether project was an interesting one, as we have a brand new form of visual system that hadn’t been used before at the time of creation (unfortunately there are a few similar things now but that’s the way it goes with these things!). Architecture Social Club created this 3-dimensional screen, which hangs over the audience and can give moving holographic-style images. We had to develop a new audio-visual language with the system, thinking about what forms and processes should link to what music forms and changes, within the constraints of the system. And we had to figure out how to tell a meaningful story within those constraints, rather than just showing a bunch of random forms. We wanted to incorporate data and a narrative. It was a challenge, and fairly abstract by necessity, but it lead to some beautiful results. It will be touring later this year, details to follow.
For you, as a music producer, which is the Sound that affects most emotionally the Human?
It’s chords for me.
Max Cooper goes back to the foundations of human nature in bringing his One Hundred Billion Sparks album tour to the iconic Camden venue KOKO on the 20th September. Tickets still available via Ticket Tannoy.
You can keep up to date with other features on Max and his movements here.