The electronica and techno producer talks about his new 4D project
WORDS: SAMUEL FRYDATE: SATURDAY 02 NOVEMBER 2013
Max Cooper must be one of the most innovative music producers in the UK right now. Currently performing and developing music for a new 4D system, Max spares some time to talk about his creative process with Samuel Fry.
Seen as one of the bigger electronic acts in the UK and having worked with artists like Hot Chip and Michael Nyman, Max Cooper is getting quite the mainstream following. However, that is not stopping him from experimenting. Max is interested in combining highbrow science and big ideas, but is also someone who plays Bestival, Fabric and Ministry. All of which has lead him one being of last year’s top acts at Resident Advisor and being named one of Beatport‘s top 10 artist of 2013.
Sat in Bar Kick in Shoreditch, Max talked with drive and passion about combining the things that he loves: music, art, science, technology and philosophy.
Sat across from one another, on a small two seater table, I asked him about the challenges of combining mainstream interests with more experimental work:
You are often described as an electronica and techno music producer. Yet, your background in science and interest in technology means that you do more than just that. How would you describe yourself? Do you find this particularly difficult to do?
It’s funny actually. In the past I have often said that I struggle to define my music. I have said that, “It is difficult to put into words and it doesn’t really fit into any one genre.” But that’s not a very interesting way to describe yourself. It is true that I try not to be pigeonholed.
I find that a lot of music artists get very pigeonholed into a certain genre. Then they are forced to make a certain kind of music. Their fans say, “What’s this? I don’t like it.” I fear that loss of creative space. If people say I am too much of one thing, then I will purposely do something different to snap away from that. That way I have the space to explore things artistically. Musically, there still has to be a thread. For me, that is more personal, emotional, experimental music. I still try to experiment. Most of the time my music is concept driven. I will take something non-musical and try to represent it musically. I am interested in communicating an idea, which all music should try to do. A lot of the time people don’t think about it on that level. But that keeps my work interesting and allows me to tie it in with my other interests. I’m not just interested in music. I love music, but I am also interested in science, art and philosophy. I’m interested in lots of things.
How did you get into music in the first place?
When I started going clubbing really. So, when I was 17 or 18 in the nineties. I started DJing, which was great fun but a very standard route.
I only started writing music initially because I wanted to DJ more. I thought, “How can I get more gigs? I’ll have to release music.” But it was only after I started writing music that I realised that it tied in with my science work. There were a lot of parallels, it was something that I really enjoyed and that, eventually, completely took over. DJing is great fun but it is hard to make it meaningful. Whereas when writing music, you can make it as meaningful as you want.
Did you try to bring in your science background when you first started writing?
I found that science was a useful tool. When you sit down and want to write music, you need a very strong idea and one that you are personally attached to. The medium of music is very imprecise. Music is like a language where people only know half the words. You need a very clear idea, from the start so that you can get your ideas across. I found that by drawing on other interests I was able to push my music in different directions.
I have always got way more ideas than there is time to make them. When you start along the road of “How can I convert this thing that isn’t music into something that is” it opens lots of doors creatively. There are a lot of ideas to work with.
When I started writing music I was also doing my PhD. So, it was natural to try and find ways to link the two. But, all that said, often there is too much emphasis on that link. It was a link that aided me creatively, but it is not explicit. It’s not like I used scientific processes to write the music. It just gave me ideas of what I could write and sometimes techniques I could use within a track. But that’s as far as the link goes. Sometimes people think that I use science, or I use equations when writing music. I don’t, it is more of a creative tool.
I’m interested in what you said about not having the time to explore all the things that you would like to. Many of your recent projects have included collaborations. Have they come as a result of that?
In the case of the 4D system, those guys have been working on it for the last 5 years. It is a huge piece of work. What I do is only a small part of the whole picture. I could never have done something like that on my own. It is the same with my new EP; my new release that is out this week with the composer Tom Hodge. Collaborating with someone brings something fresh to the table. It enables you to do things that you would not have done otherwise.
I still do my own solo work as well. It is good to do projects where you have total control. My album, for example, is very personal to me. But I love collaborating with people that have interesting ideas. I love remixing, I don’t really understand people that are against the idea of collaboration. Some people refuse to get involved in remixes. I like socialising. It is fun working with people that share common interests.