Restoration artist for non-existing senses

Interview with Max Cooper
Words by: Viktor Buda

Musician from London. One of the most innovative electronic music producers of our time, Max Cooper. First of all, thinker. Geneticist. It was the end of the last decade when the Belfast-born musician became easily recognizable beyond techno scene thanks to his ability to combine in his music the emotional perspective together with the eclectic techno sound. In the environment of music specialists he was dubbed “the new genius”. That was in 2007.

At that time no one could imagine that it would take him full 7 years to release his first, debut album “Human” which saw light in 2014.

“Consistently proves himself to be one of the most peerlessly beautiful recording artists in modern dance music” – IDJ

His compositions bear a light cosmic feel – it’s hard to pigeonhole them to a certain genre, this can only be a journey by Max Cooper. But his tracks are not quite the drought of scientific theories. Max is brilliant at synthesizing the sound which, at a first glance, can’t be precisely compared to anything, but which guarantees a fantastic avant-garde feel to his music.

Live performances by Cooper for many years have been the choice of cultural forums and modern art events. Zaha Hadid, the icon of the architectural world, used a Cooper’s remix for the presentation of Tokyo National stadium. His studio records, created together with academic artists, have long ago become his signature. In cooperation with the British museum a work by Max Cooper was presented a few years ago: “Synesthetes Musem: Sounds & Spaces 001”.

Now, after 10 years of producing music and with more than 50 releases (originals and remixes) under his belt, he is one of those electronic music producers whose pattern is inimitable. Max emphasizes it that the album signifies his rejection of the traditional “clubbing scene” music, saying: “This music is more personal for me than the usual clubbing tracks, and this is my approach to all of my music today”.

You are a well-known producer and you are famous for your live sets. What do you think of Ibiza music scene right now?

To be honest, I don’t know much about it. I used to come to Ibiza when I was 17-18. I think I came 4-5 years in a row from 1998. And I came back each summer for a few years, until around 2002. But since then I’ve only been back a couple of times, I’ve only played here a few times, so I don’t know really much about the scene here, actually. It was the first time that I’ve seen this club tonight («Hearts Ibiza» – V.B). I think I love the clubs that I went to in the late 1990s they closed, so the scene is very different now. It’s much more monetized than it was. It’s big business now, American way. America turned electronic music into a sort of…professionalized it, I would say. I think, that’s evident.

The majority of DJs coming to Ibiza start dreaming of getting their own residency here. Have you as a DJ ever dreamed of having a residency here?

No, no. I feel I’ve got more of a connection with Amsterdam, Berlin, London. I’m more interested in the art of music rather than parties. I love visual art, I love installation work, work of scientists, concepts. My favorite thing is actually being home in the studio, making music, working with ideas – not being at a party. Ibiza is all about parties, not about art, in my opinion. I prefer cities which have art scene – New York, San Fran, Paris… This is where I have the most connection to the audience, where I feel free to experiment. It doesn’t have to be a party, people just love see me experimenting with something different.

see future as artists turning more into people that curate a creative piece of software rather than curating the final piece. Music you listen to isn’t even necessarily set in stone, it could be the software that you’re interacting with, and this software is a piece of art. This approach is very much happening now with new technology, that’s why I think that’s an exciting area

You are a well-known producer and you are famous for your live sets. What do you think of Ibiza music scene right now?

To be honest, I don’t know much about it. I used to come to Ibiza when I was 17-18. I think I came 4-5 years in a row from 1998. And I came back each summer for a few years, until around 2002. But since then I’ve only been back a couple of times, I’ve only played here a few times, so I don’t know really much about the scene here, actually. It was the first time that I’ve seen this club tonight («Hearts Ibiza» – V.B). I think I love the clubs that I went to in the late 1990s they closed, so the scene is very different now. It’s much more monetized than it was. It’s big business now, American way. America turned electronic music into a sort of…professionalized it, I would say. I think, that’s evident.

The majority of DJs coming to Ibiza start dreaming of getting their own residency here. Have you as a DJ ever dreamed of having a residency here?

No, no. I feel I’ve got more of a connection with Amsterdam, Berlin, London. I’m more interested in the art of music rather than parties. I love visual art, I love installation work, work of scientists, concepts. My favorite thing is actually being home in the studio, making music, working with ideas – not being at a party. Ibiza is all about parties, not about art, in my opinion. I prefer cities which have art scene – New York, San Fran, Paris… This is where I have the most connection to the audience, where I feel free to experiment. It doesn’t have to be a party, people just love see me experimenting with something different.

So you learn to do it yourself…

Yes. Just by experimenting. I learn some things from a good friend of mine, like some basic things, but I never read any books or did any study – I was just messing around finding my own way. And that’s somehow similar to doing science: in theory when you are doing research, you are doing something no one has done before. Research should be new. There is no pre-defined way, you can’t learn, you can’t go to a lesson… Learning how to work like that was really useful for making music.

I see future as artists turning more into people that curate a creative piece of software rather than curating the final piece. Music you listen to isn’t even necessarily set in stone, it could be the software that you’re interacting with, and this software is a piece of art. This approach is very much happening now with new technology, that’s why I think that’s an exciting area

People often think that I use equations and science to make music – that’s not true. I use a lot of science…ideas, especially in visual shows I’m doing at the moment, it’s all scientific ideas. I have a visual concept, and then I score the music to fit it. But it’s not that I use science to make music – it’s just a part of my interest which fits into wider creations.

How did you learn to do live and visual sets, if somebody show you the basics?

The visual thing, I had a little help from a guy called Spencer Heron in London, he does visuals and he said: “You should try Resolute” and he showed me how to use it. And then once I saw the basics it was me sitting down fiddling with it and figuring how I could use it, which effects I could do. And then the visuals… I had a concept to start with Emergence concept… I wrote briefs for all these different ideas. And then I found lots of video artists, and I thought: “This one can do this, that one can do that”. I briefed them, I worked with them as a movie director: saying yes or no, pushing people, directing people to get want I want visually. And I got a whole stock from these 15-20 different visual artists which I can know bring into the software for playing live with music clips and video clips, live editing and stuff. Again, it’s a big big experiment.

3 years ago you released your debut album, Human. Why did it take so long to release the second one?

I was releasing a lot in the meantime, but it just takes time to make an album. An album is an opportunity to do something different and… I was always releasing music on techno labels that have certain formats – which is great. But I wanted to escape that, I didn’t want to get stuck creatively, I wanted freedom. It just took a while for that to come together. I didn’t jump into the album too early. The new album is a bit more dancefloor and more housey than the last one.

So you forward me to the question about your forthcoming album..

The idea of the visual concept is that Emergence is the scientific idea. Simple natural laws can give rise to really complex, beautiful, unexpected outcomes. I’ve applied that to Universe. The emergence of everything starts with basic things, mathematical laws and visualization of fundamental structures like the distribution of prime numbers or something, then it goes into the physical world with the Big Bang, then there is star formation and eventually life, later on humans and society. Different systems are involved, the beauty of the process is involved… That was the idea for the visual show. There were lots of little bits I could choose from, an infinite number of little stories I could tell. Then I just found artists who were interested in the same idea and we all worked together. That’s a live show, and also there an album coming out in November called of the same name, and then the final product the next year will be the Blu Ray, the surround sound Blu Ray, full movie with all the video content and music, and you’ll be watching it at home. Once that’s done, I won’t be touring anymore – that will be the end of the project, and I will move to another project.

Tell us about the most important moments of your career till these days – if you have..

The idea of the visual concept is that Emergence is the scientific idea. Simple natural laws can give rise to really complex, beautiful, unexpected outcomes. I’ve applied that to Universe. The emergence of everything starts with basic things, mathematical laws and visualization of fundamental structures like the distribution of prime numbers or something, then it goes into the physical world with the Big Bang, then there is star formation and eventually life, later on humans and society. Different systems are involved, the beauty of the process is involved… That was the idea for the visual show. There were lots of little bits I could choose from, an infinite number of little stories I could tell. Then I just found artists who were interested in the same idea and we all worked together. That’s a live show, and also there an album coming out in November called of the same name, and then the final product the next year will be the Blu Ray, the surround sound Blu Ray, full movie with all the video content and music, and you’ll be watching it at home. Once that’s done, I won’t be touring anymore – that will be the end of the project, and I will move to another project.

If we look back in history, we see that the most successful artists have very conceptual approach to their music. How do you see this conceptual approach from your point of view?

I guess my conceptual approach is quite grounded in science. It’s like my new Emergence album that I was already talking about, the same as my last album Human, there were also lots of science-related ideas that have to do with human condition which I would apply as musical concepts. Science is definitely one aspect of it.

Emotion and the human side of things is another big part of what I do. It’s doesn’t have to be emotive in the traditional sense of things: it can aggressive, or intense, or whatever. But it’s still very much my process.

The other aspect would definitely also be just my love of visual art. I’m always seeking to try to make the experience more and more immersive, that’s why I’m using visuals. When I write music I always know what feels right. When I have an idea, I know what this idea feels, looks or sounds, and I convert this feeling in the music I’m making. I choose one chord, and I ask myself: “Is this the right feeling? No”. Then I find the right cord, stick with this one, and then I’m moving to the next and the next one, matching it all up with what’s inside. When I know it’s correct, I leave it. Emotion and the human side of things is another big part of what I do. It’s doesn’t have to be emotive in the traditional sense of things: it can aggressive, or intense, or whatever. But it’s still very much my process. There is sort of opposite: the science, the object, the subject… The object is a word of science, this is how we can explain things outside of our mind and existing in a non-humanized sort of way, and the opposite is the subjective world where you just have a feeling and experience of things, and both are equally as important for me. Even they seem to be polar opposite, I think you can and you have to have both. It’s a bit of a philosophical game.

If we look back in history, we see that the most successful artists have very conceptual approach to their music. How do you see this conceptual approach from your point of view?

I guess my conceptual approach is quite grounded in science. It’s like my new Emergence album that I was already talking about, the same as my last album Human, there were also lots of science-related ideas that have to do with human condition which I would apply as musical concepts. Science is definitely one aspect of it.

Emotion and the human side of things is another big part of what I do. It’s doesn’t have to be emotive in the traditional sense of things: it can aggressive, or intense, or whatever. But it’s still very much my process.

The other aspect would definitely also be just my love of visual art. I’m always seeking to try to make the experience more and more immersive, that’s why I’m using visuals. When I write music I always know what feels right. When I have an idea, I know what this idea feels, looks or sounds, and I convert this feeling in the music I’m making. I choose one chord, and I ask myself: “Is this the right feeling? No”. Then I find the right cord, stick with this one, and then I’m moving to the next and the next one, matching it all up with what’s inside. When I know it’s correct, I leave it. Emotion and the human side of things is another big part of what I do. It’s doesn’t have to be emotive in the traditional sense of things: it can aggressive, or intense, or whatever. But it’s still very much my process. There is sort of opposite: the science, the object, the subject… The object is a word of science, this is how we can explain things outside of our mind and existing in a non-humanized sort of way, and the opposite is the subjective world where you just have a feeling and experience of things, and both are equally as important for me. Even they seem to be polar opposite, I think you can and you have to have both. It’s a bit of a philosophical game.

Max Cooper - Emergence

Emotion and the human side of things is another big part of what I do. It’s doesn’t have to be emotive in the traditional sense of things: it can aggressive, or intense, or whatever. But it’s still very much my process.

How long did the process of your transition take?

I think I’m still transitioning. I’m always trying to find something totally different. So I find different stuff and then I see that people don’t dance to it, and me like: “Shit!”. So it’s interesting, but I can’t play this in clubs. So I don’t know, every so often someone finds something new that people will dance to, and that’s awesome.

Who are the people you’ve been inspired by? Artists, musicians,…?

There is a guy called Chris Hildrey, he is an architect, he makes really amazing beautiful landscapes. Ryoichi Kurokawa - it’s a Japanese audiovisual artist. He does a great job as well, fucking amazing, blows my mind. They are really inspiring.

Do you think your faith on the scene is made totally by your hands. What you responsible by everything what happened to you? Or other relevance you could name… luck maybe?

Everything is always luck. I worked really really hard for, having no money and crashing my head against the wall. I started djing in 1998, djing for 50 quid or so. In the beginning I used to practice scratching for hours every day. Then I realized I would never be able to make it my work just by scratching, even if I went to the DMC championship. And it was around 2008 that I started to think about living off and touring properly. It’s probably 10 years of intense work with not much return. At the moment people who used to be only DJs were transitioning to become producers as well. I realized that, I started to write music, that was a natural fit. Although there is always luck at some point, there is very much persistence, and that’s the key. People are being put off too quickly, since it’s not easy – it’s fucking hard, but at the same time it’s fun. .

How did you come to your own sound? Because you do have this own sound, and I think that’s the most important thing for any producer.

Every person is different, has a different life and different ideas, history, background and culture. It’s all about how you can fit yourself into music. It’s very important to realize, how I feel. It’s the process of finding yourself and finding what you are really into. It’s not like asking yourself: “What is really cool now? Deep house is really cool, so I go into deep house”. Go into what you like. What makes me really excited, happy or sad or whatever. The fact that I tought myself to write my own music was really helpful, because I have my own techniques. The best is when people are doing the thing they are really into, and it becomes cool.

Follow Max Cooper:
http://emergence.maxcooper.net/
http://fb.com/maxcoopermax/

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