Max Cooper on electronic music and Yearning for the Infinite
Max Cooper is an electronica and techno music producer. He recently released the remixes of his 2018 album One Hundred Billion Sparks and is working on his forthcoming project for the Barbican Centre, Yearning for the Infinite.
You’ll enjoy our discussion whether you’re an electronic music fan or not, as for Cooper music is almost a by-product of his lifelong interests in maths, science and computational biology.
He discovered arts and science and convergence of the two disciplines at a young age. They provided him with a form of escapism and offered a safe haven much needed for a son of Australian parents, growing up in turbulent Northern Ireland in the 1980s.
It wasn’t until computers became commonplace though that Cooper found himself able to translate his creative ideas through sounds – that’s when he started producing electronic music. He embarked on the process of translating the notions of escapism into music through the use of binaural sounds and low-frequency harmonies. These would create an experience of being wrapped within an immersive, resonating space.
When asked about his creative process, Cooper highlights that he always starts with a philosophical thought rooted in science and maths – whether that’s our mind and its hundred billion neurons or the concept of the infinite. The concept is followed by Cooper thinking about how it would be expressed visually. Only then Cooper starts working on the music - almost as if it was a soundtrack for the film he created in his head.
This multidisciplinary approach to his practice led Cooper to a long-term collaboration with the Architecture Social Club on Aether - a three-dimensional audio-visual installation in which music manifests itself through space and light. He was also involved in a project ‘Behaviour Morphe’ which saw Zaha Hadid Architects and Andy Lomas collaborate on a lightmapping projection on the 170m façade of a Baroque castle in Karlsruhe, Germany, coinciding with the town’s Schlosslichtspiele Festival.
Back in the world of music, Cooper reflects that over the years he learned to restrict his creative palette. He points out that when making music digitally, it’s tempting to indulge in its unimaginably big world of thousands of different synthesisers and tens of thousands of plugins to explore. But over the years, he learned that it’s by truly engaging with a selected choice of sounds and exploring them fully he can create sonic experiences which are reflective of the ideologies and concepts he wants to convey.
With his unrelenting interest in science, what also fascinates Cooper, is how he can creatively use programming and machine learning. He’s yearning for a system which can map his music production process, with its hundreds of small decisions and sound iterations. He would then use this recorded decision-making path to create algorithms which can create music on their own. All so that Cooper can work in tandem with technology on further exploring the possibilities of electronic music.
As our conversation nears the end, we discuss Cooper’s autumn show for the Barbican Centre, called Yearning for the Infinite. He explains to me thoroughly the idea of the infinite – from its ancient roots in various religions to the problem of quantifying infinities, which is supposed to have sent some mathematicians insane. The show is set to be a multisensory experience which combines sounds with light and visual projections. All designed by Cooper in order to, without words or figurative visuals, immerse us in the idea of infinity and the concepts related to it such as singularity, data explosion, and death.
If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, you’ll also like my conversation with musician Beatie Wolfe in which we discuss her augmented reality projects and my interview with the curator Suzanne Livingston, covering her work in the field of artificial intelligence.
Production and music by James Green