IN CONVERSATION WITH MAX COOPER
Max Cooper has carved a unique space as an audio-visual artist with a science PhD and an international reputation as a leading electronic musician. His work carries an emotional resonance and sensory immersion, often focusing on humanity’s place in the world. He merges electronic music and visual art with scientific enquiry through installations, live performance, immersive audio-visual experiences, a range of digital media and award-winning music videos. Unspoken Words is Cooper’s 6th studio album and the latest in an impressive back catalogue that dates back to 2007, when he juggled studying Computational Biology with being resident DJ at a local techno club.
He recently supplied the music for a powerful video narrated by Greta Thunberg and Pope Francis and played at COP26, urging world leaders to consider climate and environment in Covid recovery plans. Last year, he became the first techno artist to play at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece! Max is coming back to Amsterdam, he is playing today, the 8th of April, at Paradiso!
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your music style?
I love warm low frequency harmonies, a lot of my music is built around those along with lots of high frequency detailing and complexity. It’s all there in nature already, I spend a lot of time learning about natural systems and ideas which can go into visual collaborations which I score to, the visual side of my output is as important as the music I think. I don’t like genre boundaries and don’t stick to styles or tempos beyond what I feel I want to express. There is plenty of coherence musically and visually, but it just means I can’t specify a genre where you’ll be able to easily know what I do.
You merge your passions for electronic music and your talent for visual arts. Do you have a preference among the two of them or is the intersection of all these passions what you enjoy the most?
I don’t have a preference, and the sciences and philosophy are as important, I spend about as much time on all of them, trying to learn an improve what I can communicate and how. It’s an ongoing process, the key being trying to spend time with ideas and feelings which are positive
What is your aspiration in life and where do you get your inspiration from for projects like Unspoken Words?
My previous few album AV projects were very science-driven in terms of the visual stories, whereas this latest one demanded a different approach with the collapse of the music industry which left a lot of us musicians questioning our identities and livelihoods. I turned to my music as a source of escape and meaning which couldn’t be taken away, so it’s more of a personal therapeutic record than the previous ones.
What does every song represent to you and what was the creative process like for the overall project?
The idea was to use music and visual art to express human universals which I could not put into words – my unspoken words. Every piece of music has a developed story and set of techniques in music, spatial audio and visuals which were designed to deliver the concept and feeling of each idea, far too much to write on here but if you are interested you can read about every chapter and how they fit together into the Dolby Atmos film of the album here: http://www.unspokewords.net
Can you tell us a little bit about your future projects?
We have added a section of the unspoken words (.net) website for anyone to add their own unspoken words. Maybe some lyrics, an exert which means a lot to you, maybe something you want to say but don’t feel you can, whatever the idea of unspoken words means to you or what you feel in the record perhaps. We will be building a database of unspoken words and then feeding them through the same systems we used to create some of the album videos, namely Xander Steenbrugge’s machine learning system and Ksawery Komputery’s text sync system. We will build new music videos which I will score to, with your words, which will become part of the live shows as well. I’m really interested in how we might be able to capture some collective feeling and thought with community art.
How did it feel for you to be the first techno artist to play in Acropolis in Athens, Greece?
It was intense, it’s not easy doing huge historic spaces and I do it all myself, music, mapping, visuals etc. I travel on my own for all my shows, I love playing around with projecting onto strange surfaces and 3D gauze layers and whatever each venue presents. But that one was off the charts mad, a 5000 cap natural amphitheatre build into the hill of the Acropolis 200 BC or so I believe, with a 80m or so wide ancient monumnent spanning across that I tried to cover entirely with visuals, it was hard to take in the scale, but then the acoustics were really close as it had been designed pre-amplification when the entire audience needed to be able to hear a single (human) speaker on stage. So many things made it special, I won’t ever play a space like it again.
Our next issue is about Balance, so how do you achieve balance in your daily life?
Getting away from the city to a forest helps me a lot, there’s something about the natural complexity of life away from the built environment which I find really helpful for putting things in perspective. Like that is what is real and not the mess of the barrage of information shite we live inside.
You are back in Amsterdam on 8 April, what can we expect from your time in the city?
I’m excited to be back it’s been so long and Amsterdam was one of the first cities that ever accepted me musically and has always been one of my favourite places to spend time in. I’ll be showing a screening of the Unspoken Words album film in surround sound (created with String and Tins Studio and Niels Orens) at Melkweg cinema on Weds, then I’ll be bringing my 3D AV live show to Eindhoven on Thurs for STRP festival where I’ll be playing a special one-off live show with a live drummer, Dominique Vleeshouwers, then on Friday I’ll be bringing the 3D AV show (using semi transparent screens to create depth as well as wrap around images) to the great Paradiso in Amsterdam, and I’ll be DJing after with the great Applescal and others!
Author: Mariana Malheiro
More about Max’s music, check out some of his album videos’ below: