Skip Navigation


Belfast-born Max Cooper talks to Juno about his audio/visual project Emergence in which he explores the idea of natural laws and their creation of the world around us.

After combining his day job as a genetics researcher with DJing at night, Max then decided to focus primarily on his music, although as his latest work shows his scientific background never left him.

With Emergence, Cooper weaves together a fascinating auditory experience, ranging from a variety of atmospheric ambiance to full-on techno. This 11 track album is accompanied by visual art, using the idea of emergence as a metaphor which “is a very important idea in much of our understanding of the world around us, and within us,” Cooper tells Juno.

Emergence is Cooper’s second album since Human released in 2014. Here he talks us through the creative process around his unique surround sound project.

Interview with Max Cooper

Max Cooper

Your project is very much unique. Can you give our readers a brief description in your own words of what you were trying to achieve? What was the thought process behind it? And how long did it take to complete?

It’s been about 3 years in the making. I was just trying to bring together my interests in music, science and visual art into one project, so that I could work with interesting people on interesting ideas in the context of still making a living from electronic music. It started as a live AV show, but then as I delved in I realised it had a whole lot more legs creatively, so I decided to turn the music I was making for the visual show into a standalone album, and pursue bringing the whole thing together as a surround sound bluray/movie to finish.

You have collaborated with people outside the music industry such as animator Nick Cobby, mathematician Dugan Hammock, and visual artist Andy Lomas, were they music animators initially, how did you choose them and how did the collaboration work? Did you work with them individually? Collectively? How did they influence the finished product? Are there any other disciplines you would like to work with in future?

Nick came from more of a traditional animation background, whereas Andy and Dugan are mathematicians primarily. I was interested in presenting some real data for the show, as well as artistic interpretations of the ideas involved, so I found Dugan to help with visualisation of deep natural structures in the context of number theory and hyperdimensionality. Whereas Andy already had a career in generative art, and it was a fortuitous hookup with a mutual friend who spotted the potential overlap in interests. Now Andy and I are working on a new project which also fits into the Emergence story, creating a visualisation of DNA folding data. Science is full of beautiful things which aren’t presented as art, but could be. I want to change that, and it makes for rich visual content for the live shows and videos.

There were 20 or so different visual collaborators, and plenty of musical collaborators, across the project. The part forming the LP is only a portion of the whole thing. I found every collaborator based on their previous work, and spoke to each about the ideas and made suggestions of how their form of art could integrate into the overall story. But every collaboration worked differently, sometimes I was heavily involved throughout the creation process, sometimes they went away and came back with a finished product without needing much guidance at all, and sometimes we hammered out a long and painful road to the released format. The bottom line was getting the video content I was happy with, and everyone works differently, so I tried to work with them as best I could while still getting what I needed from each part to create the full story.

In terms of the music, sometimes it was created before the visual, sometimes after, sometimes in parallel. Where I created it before, I had in mind which part of the show and story it should fit into, and then briefed the visual artists according to that.

And yes, I’m interested in working with people from many different disciplines. The new label project, Mesh, set up for releasing Emergence is about exactly that. One of the other projects being a collab with Architects on a 3D light field installation called Aether, for example. I’m interested in how music can function as part of wider creative projects, and Mesh is set up for exploring these ideas.

Your latest work is a multi-sensory experience. How do you expect your album to translate without the visual and enhanced sound experience? For someone listening at home…

The visual show is 90 minutes, whereas the album is 60, and not all the content is identical, in the live performance vs recorded context. The album has been designed as a listening album that stands up in its own right, while being part of this larger project. Also in terms of the multi-sensory thing more specifically, the album has a lot of binaural recordings, simulated binaural effects, and a lot of work on spatial aspects. If you listen on headphones in particular, I have very much attempted to bring an enveloping spatial experience to the record, as I have been trying to do with my music productions for some years. Spatiality in sound makes that connection between music and visual art, in that spatial music has a physical identity, and can be experienced as something that seems to be out there around you in space. So even without the visual and surround sound systems around you, I still hope to be able to convey some of the same feelings and ideas.

I’ve been lucky to see your show in London (unfortunately it was a cut version), and you were talking about the last part which you described as an “apocalyptic messy” future. Do you have a pessimistic view on how humans and their interaction with technology affect the “beauty of nature and natural form”?

Yeah the story gets much darker when humans arrive and start messing things up and creating strange idealistic prisons for themselves to live in. But I’m an optimist overall, things may be messed up, but we’re killing each other a lot less than we did 200 years ago, and a lot less again than 1000 years ago, and so on – the trend is going in the right way even if there are a lot of bumps along the road. The part in the live show where humans are gone is so far into the future as to be unimaginable. In billions of years’ time, for example, when any living descendants would be impossible to recognise. So I’m not foretelling the end of the world in some sort of righteous rant, more the inevitable end of what we see as the world now. And it’s all just an audio/visual experience where I wanted to try and bring something more than it just looking nice, into a live music setting, there’s plenty of room for interpretation, I don’t like art when it’s too prescriptive in regards to how you should experience it.

You will be touring with this new album/project how long are you on tour and do you have any favourite venues?

I’ll probably tour this show into next year and then launch the next live show in the summer. In terms of favourite places to play, I have to say, for surround sound shows, Berghain nailed it – it’s often hard to translate surround sound to a club environment, as details can be lost, but they’ve got such huge sound there and we did a simple 6 channel surround, which translated really well. Another favourite would definitely be 4D Sound, now in Budapest. That’s the opposite end of the scale with 50 or so speakers/channels – it’s a subtle and amazingly detailed immersive audio experience like no other, because you can walk through the sounds, they don’t just come from the edges of the space. In terms of more mainly stereo sound events which are favourites, anything by Mutek is up there at the top for me. And events like Mira, Norberg, Decibel, Atonal, Glastonbury, LWE, NGHTDVSN, there are loads – I won’t even go into clubs, so many to mention, and it’s more the places and the people there who I look forward to playing to, rather than specific clubs.

Your work is very involved. How long does it take you to move on to other projects? Are you already thinking about your next collaboration? Next album?

Yeah I’m already thinking about and fiddling with ideas for two new albums. But before I can get stuck into that there are at least two big collaborative projects coming for the early part of next year, which are really exciting. I’ll need to focus on those towards the end of this year and into next year, and then get back into album after that. Each project can take a long time, so I run a few in parallel, with at any one time, one being the main focus and the other simmering, as I’m bad at multi-tasking.

Projects go best when the obsession kicks in and you can’t sleep until you’ve spewed out the ideas. So I try to work on whatever I’m most excited about, which makes planning difficult, but leads to the best result. It’s no good trying to communicate a particular idea musically when that’s not the mood you’re in. For me if it’s not an honest expression it ends up a crap piece of music. That’s part of the reason why I make so many different styles and moods of music, because like anyone, I experience all of those states of mind. I don’t understand how some artists are so focused with the style and feeling of their output. Maybe they have huge stockpiles of other forms of music they don’t release, or maybe they’re just darkroom angry or EDM party all the time. Or they can just make music to fit the category and it’s not an expression of feeling, which removes the main reason I make music – it’s some sort of urge to express things which can be hard to put into words. The DJing and performance part is secondary to that. Sorry I went off question a bit there!


Max Cooper - Waves (official video by Kevin McGloughlin)

Follow Max Cooper





Reviewed this week
Ah yes, it's the unstoppable Mushroom Project back to dominate our nu-disco charts with their inimitable swagger, and it's the Leng label that welcomes the back with open arms. To be honest, we're overjoyed to see them again, especially if they're bringing this many tunes along with them - all marvellously diverse and rich in harmonic texture. "Rivea Corymbosa" and "Rio Paraiba Do Sol", for example, are simply two sublime slice of balearic funk, while other tunes like "Dirty Bolas" veer onto more beat-laden territories. Tribalism and funk are very much at the core of all these tunes, and while it's all too easy to go for the big names and forget those riding below the radar, this release by Mushroom Project is both some of the best music these guys have put out, and makes for one of the best EPs on our charts this week. Warmly recommended.
If it wasn't for artists like Trikk, the Portugese dance scene would not be where it is at the moment. The Porto native has rapidly grown in both skill and fame since his first EP for Man Make Music, back in 2012, and a series of fine EPs for imprint such as Drumcode and Optimo Trax have really helped to solidify his version of house music. This new four-tracker comes courtesy of the mighty Innervisions, and we hear Trikk in a slightly more contained mood than usual, leading with the deep tribalism of "Florista", which falls neatly into the sparse, aquatic house medley called "Veneno". "Mozam" is a fine since of dub-leaning micro-house, propelled into gear by fluttering bleeps, and "Wardance Dub", as the name implies, pushes the boundaries of Trikk's house style into more dubwise territories. A sublime EP from the rising artist of Oporto.
Statue is a new Australian percussion-based dance project by two drummers: Tom Gould and Nicolaas Oogjes of Melbourne bands Worlds End Press and NO ZU respectively. The pair now collaborate on Statue, a project said to have drawn influence from artists diverse as Floating Points, Pachanga Boys and even Ricardo Villalobos. You can certainly hear it across this handful of oddball balearic/exotica infused grooves. The polyrhythmic drum workouts on "Entrance" or "Admiration" will certainly appeal to fans of Harmonious Thelonious, while "Monument" gets a brilliant remix by Tel Aviv's enfant terrible Moscoman, rocking those funky steel drums even louder than the original!
Throughout the years, Icelandic producer Yagya has been a fundamental member to the growth and evolution of the dub techno sound. While he has collected less praise than some of his contemporaries, there is no doubt in our mind that the producer's music has been both integral in terms of making the downtempo genre as interesting as possible, and also singular in every way. Holland's Delsin feels like the perfect home to his new LP, Stars And Dust, because we know them as a label that's accepting of every sort of dance music, from the hard-edged to the mellow and pensive; and that's what this album is, a ten-track voyage through the murkiest, most dubbed-out waters you're likely to encounter this week. If escaping through music is your kinda thing, then this is for you.
55 Cancri E may be known as a distant exoplanet to some, while to others it is some truly beautiful and ethereal folk/nu-gaze business courtesy of Malmo via Berlin's Sara Hausenkamp. She appears again on Denmark label Music For Dreams with her new release. The album is about the search for peace in the soul, a longing to find a home and a journey between planets Tellus and 55 Cancri E. Hausenkamp's seductive yet angelic voice soars above some endearing and transcendental arrangements. We particularly enjoyed the mellow country/blues flavour of "Att Lamna Tellus I (Oknen)" or the eerie and contemplative "Alltid Du" which indeed really showcases that amazing voice of hers.

Peter Broderick is no stranger to the Erased Tapes label. In fact, the label is firmly impressed on the artist's catalogue and, thanks to other releases for the likes of Type, he has really managed to develop significantly over the last eight years. He's back on the former with these five tracks, a collection of the neo-classical, and the veritably downtempo. "Goodnight" and "Low Light" are both piano-led songs with a beautiful yet crestfallen outlook, while "Violin Soo No 1" uses a different instrument to communicate Broderick's mood. "It's A Storm When I Sleep" is the most electronic track on here yet, dissolving those piano keys into deep waves of euphoria, and "Eyes Closed & Travelling" ties this pensive EP off with one final burst of pianos and subtle electronic manipulation.
There is an interesting story behind Emotion; it is one of the first releases recorded by Matthew Puffett as Future Beat Alliance and was meant to appear back in 1997 on Void. Supposedly, that label went out of business before it could do a full release and until now, only promo copies have existed. Thankfully, Subwax has stepped into the breach to assist Puffett and his cult following. It has certainly been worth the wait; the album showcases the UK producer's less documented side on the broken beat "Lost Souls"; the funk-led "Life Span" and "Earth Message", where he shows a passion for jazz. Needless to say, Emotion is also full of the type of deep techno soul that is synonymous with the Future Beat Alliance project, with the emotive pads and Larry Heard bass of "Mode 3" and the dreamy synths of "Routine" impressing most.
Top Labels
Wax N Soul Germany
Eighteenth Street Lounge Music US
K7 Germany
New State
Music For Dreams US