"We are one hundred billion sparks. One hundred billion neurons whose firing creates feelings and ideas. One hundred billion neurons that make us all different yet connected."
Max Cooper has carved out a unique position for himself as an artist, merging electronic music, visual art and science through installations, live audio-visual and immersive sound experiences. His label, Mesh, the embodiment of these passions, releasing music which is part of wider collaborations in the arts and sciences.
2018 sees the release of Cooper’s third studio album 'One Hundred Billion Sparks' in which he interrogates notions of identity whilst profiling the complex mechanisms that make us all wonderfully unique.
We spoke with Max Cooper on his music adventure throughout life, longing dreams and aesthetic beauty of nature.
Artifex: It's been quite a long journey for now, almost 12 years from your first release in 2007. What have changed since then?
Finding my musical identity is probably the main thing. At the start I was always trying to replicate a certain style or fit into a genre, but eventually I discovered, through making lots of shit music, that if I instead looked inwards and just made what I was excited about at that moment, without worrying about whether it would work in a club or fit into a genre, the results were better. Whenever I could express something more human, people would respond. So I went down that route, sometimes making bad mistakes musically and not always getting it right, but pushing forward to try and find techniques and a sound that felt right for me.
Artifex: Had you ever imagined where music would bring you?
No, my friends always used to talk about “making it” and playing big gigs and that sort of thing, but I never thought like that, I don’t find it healthy to obsess about some potential destination which probably won’t happen, as I always knew that music was not a stable career choice. I prefer to focus on the positives of what I have control over, the fun and beauty of creating music and working with ideas, and the enjoyment of learning new things and approaching new creative challenges. That side of things is countlessly richer than any vague idea of a destination in my opinion. Unfortunately we’re force fed a lot of pop stardom success nonsense as a society. If that’s the only aim with no artistic grounding then success just means jumping through meaningless hoops for other people for your whole life.
Artifex: How did the first message you wanted to share with people through your audio-visual performance transformed?
I first approached an audio-visual show with Emergence, which began purely as a live show. But I discovered that creating a visual story and chapters, scoring music to them, and collaborating with visual artists to create a live story, was a really fun and engaging process, so it’s stuck with me as my general format for working now. It opens doors to all sorts of interesting collaborations and conversations, research and learning. Music has never been my only passion, so this process is how I can engage my wider interests.
Artifex: What is the most inspiring thing out of your music career?
The discovery of the aesthetic properties of nature, which I have learnt about by approaching scientific ideas from an artistic perspective. I started out looking for interesting form in nature’s building blocks which I could use for live visual shows, and what I found was that nature is full of incomprehensible aesthetic structure and beauty at it’s most primordial level. There is artistry woven throughout science when you look for it. That is an idea I find very inspiring. See https://maxcooper.net/the-nature-of-nature, https://www.onehundredbillionsparks.net/ and http://emergence.maxcooper.net/ for more on that.
Artifex: Do you still have dreams that you want to achieve through your music? Or anything else?
Absolutely, I’m driven by a strong urge to express my feelings in a more explicit way. Every new project is small step forward, but overall I feel like I’m only a fraction of the way along the path to making something decent. There’s such a huge realm of ideas and possibilities out there, I just wish I had more time to work.
Artifex: Being a musician comes with a lot of stress, overloads, lack of sleep. How do you cope with these problems? Any special advice to young artists?
Yes, touring takes a toll on your body, I’ve had times of overdoing it and my work has suffered as a consequence. For me it’s just been about learning my limits and how I need to do things to stay healthy. Mainly, how to get enough sleep, and how to keep stress levels minimised on the road. That means enough time at home, and carefully planned travel and gig arrangements, no last minute rushing etc. And going easy on the whiskey.
Artifex: Do you listen to modern music? How do you feel about main tendencies? Who inspires you?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Bing and Ruth recently, and Lusine, Ben Lukas Boysen, Brecon, Rob Clouth, Skee Mask, Winged Victory, Philip Glass, Tim Hecker.
Artifex: What would be your smart advice to newly born talented artists?
Just to grab hold of what makes you enjoy music most, and don’t let go. That way you can be sure to get something positive from the process irrespective of whether it becomes a lifelong career or not.
Artifex: You just released new LP «One Hundred Billion Sparks». As far as I know you moved outside the city for its creation. What was your feeling when you came back to real life? Are you energised?
Yeah I always wanted to have proper time to focus on a music project without any distractions, so I spend a month in isolation in the beautiful Welsh valleys south east of Snowdonia. After a month of isolation from most human contact it was strange to enter back into the world of the information barrage that we live in. Actually I’ve been a bit less attentive to my emails and messages ever since, but I still waste too much time on them.
Artifex: Let's imagine you had met yourself from the nearest future 5 years older. What Max 5-years-older man would say to Max-now?
I’m sure I’d tell myself that everything I’m stressing about right now is pretty meaningless and I should just sit back and try and enjoy it. It’s so difficult not to get sucked into everything and lose perspective, so that I start stressing about small things, that’s just my natural way of thinking. The same for music, I get obsessed with the details after any amount of time working on a single track. I spend a lot of my time trying to step outside of my current situation and see it more objectively, mindfulness, basically, but not getting absorbed in something that demands a lot of work is easier said than done, it’s an ongoing challenge for me how to be excessively busy and with pressures, but to be able to just enjoy all the many positive aspects of the process.