Max Cooper : Emergence

Ahead of tonight’s live performance at Public Works, our friend Max Cooper had some words …..


1) Tell us about the music behind the Emergence live set. Did you compose new work specifically for Emergence, or does it comprise work from your back catalog–or a bit of both? 

A bit of both. I had some old music videos whose concepts fitted well into the Emergence narrative – how natural laws create the world around us through the process of the development of the universe and its systems, from star formation to the workings of the mind and all sorts in between. Because the concept of the show draws on a wide range of ideas as it moves through the epochs of the universes development, it encompassed some of my old music videos like “Gravity Well”, which was like the view from inside a black hole (that we fall into during the show as the first star collapses in on itself), and “Numb”, coming later in the show when humans have arrived, and the man is enslaved by the capitalist machine. So those tracks were already designed specifically along with video sequences, and it was just a matter of me editing the music and videos, and changing them into a live format for the show.
The rest of the content came from two sources, either me writing music and giving it along with a video brief to have the video made to fit the music, or me working first on the video concept and then scoring the music to the video later. The first was more of the usual music-video format that I’m very used to, so I really enjoyed working the second way in the scoring sense, as it was a new challenge I haven’t experimented with so much with in the past.
2) What’s your setup for controlling the performance like? I read on Resident Advisor that you designed a custom system to control both the visuals and the audio simultaneously. Sounds remarkable — is it hardware-based, or software-based? Does it utilize Max/MSP or something else altogether?
I use Ableton for the audio side, and Resolume for the video, running on separate laptops which are synced by OSC messages. Every time I trigger a clip in ableton, or adjust a filter, do some live drumming, or glitching, via MIDI, the changes in the audio also drive matched changes in the visuals. So I can basically jam with both at once and they stay perfectly synced.
The video stock from each artist is rendered, so I don’t have the flexibility of a generative video approach, but I find there is a lot I can do with video and audio effects and sequencing, and this sort of system allows for highly rich video content, which was important for me.
I didn’t have to build the whole system from scratch though, as there are some useful Max patches already out there for linking Ableton and Resolume. I just had to put a lot of work in creating an interface between the two which really allowed me to play around live, in a way where the types of things I do to the audio, make changes to the visuals that seem to make sense together – so you can see and hear, the live performance process.

3) Your music, to me, has always been very visual — when I listen to your tunes, I see and feel stories in my head. I presume that when you’re writing music, it’s a very visual process for you, too. What was it like crafting the visuals for Emergence? Was it a challenge to design visuals that work in harmony with your music? 

I’ve always loved visual art, and have always had a visual memory (I’m bad with words). That is probably why I’ve always been drawn to working with video artists whenever I could, and also why I’ve been so obsessed with creating spatial music – In the sense of using a lot of psycho-acoustic effects, binaural recordings, and the 4D Sound project, all of which are ways of turning music into something which has a physical existence out there around the listener, which can be visualised as much as heard.
The Emergence project is just another excuse to have fun with these links between music and visuals. But I can’t take credit for the challenging part there, all I had to do was the fun part of making the concepts and choosing the artists I liked and who I thought could create the right style of visual content for each chapter of the story. Then I would go back and forth with them on ideas, and pull certain content into the show, and leave it other content, build the performance system and storyline etc – I think the really challenging part happened in the details of the video design though, just as the difficult part in creating the music was in the technical details, not the overall concepts and feelings which we can all relate to.

4) Some of the most impressive electronic performances I’ve seen in the past couple of years have been audio-visual performances, where the artist deliberately designs visuals that correspond with the music. Speaking personally, I find that live electronic performances have taken quite awhile to really find their stride — I’m thinking of the common criticism of live electronic music being just a dude or two quietly turning knobs on gear on a table — but some recent A/V performances I’ve seen have really pushed the envelope of what a live electronic performance can be. Do you think Emergence is a part of this vanguard? Are audiences responding to it differently from your previous non-visual performances?

Yes, people are definitely responding differently. It’s designed to be a bit less of just a party, and a bit more of a reflective experience, than my usual club shows. I’m doing most Emergence shows earlier on in the evening in more of a live gig format, and some shows in sit down concert halls, where I play more ambient sections. I must be getting old! But I’m still really enjoying my club shows too, for me, variety is the key to keeping me passionate and working hard on music, I hope I can keep experimenting with new formats and ideas until I’m 90. The audience feedback has been great too, so I’m going to keep developing this project for a while, hopefully extending it outside the screen into a more immersive experience for everyone involved.
I wouldn’t say I’m pushing the boundaries of what an electronic performance can be technically, as my set up is simple in comparison to some. But what I’m trying to do instead, is deliver a beautiful, meaningful story, rather than just aiming for something that looks and sounds great.

5) Finally, as you well know, America is in the midst of a renewed love affair with electronic music. Is there anything you find particularly appealing about American audiences?
I’ve always enjoyed playing in the States, I’ve made a lot of good friends, and always found audiences to be enthusiastic and inviting…..a pleasure to play to.

Max Cooper presents EMERGENCE – trailer video from Max Cooper on Vimeo.