Over the course of a steady stream of heady mixes and original compositions, Max Cooper has been gaining attention in the electronic music world – and not just for his Ph.D in computational biology. With an unconventional sensibility that’s like Philip Glass for the dance floor, Cooper brings a cinematic touch and classical influence to cerebral concepts. We took the opportunity – in advance of a performance at Public Works’s two-year anniversary party – to probe Cooper’s brain.
SFBG How did reworking composer Michael Nyman come about?
Max Cooper My best remix work seems to happen when I get hold of some real world audio, be it vocal, instrumental or other forms such as field recordings. Maybe because when I work on a remix, I’m always looking for some small element to grab me and give me a feeling or concept to run with - real audio seems to push me in an interesting direction, and even better, the live orchestral works of a great composer like Michael Nyman. So we approached him with the idea and he gave me the green light to break his recordings down.
SFBG On the subject of words, your EP and track titles are notoriously intellectual – playing into your biology background. Are the labels a marking of what inspired you or a key to unlocking a deeper (nerdier?) conceptual understanding of the music?
MC More often than not the titles relate to something embedded in the music - The Nyman Deconstruction and Reconstruction for example, literally describing my technical approach to each remix, one taking the original into tiny parts to form something new, the next trying to build the original back up from the deconstructed parts. When I post my tracks on Soundcloud I usually provide an explanation of the concept of each track and how it relates to the music and the title, so that people can delve in a little deeper if they’re interested.
The links can often be more cryptic than literal though, for example the track I posted up today from my forthcoming EP on Traum is called “Gravity Well” - which describes an area of space warped by a large mass, in which bodies, such as us feel the strong pull of gravity. I wanted to make a track that envelops the listener in a heavy soft feeling. I think a piece of music could be made to fit almost any concept or object - I’d love to do a project where I ask people to submit any idea, and then I have to make pieces of music to represent each one.
SFBG Will computer simulation and modeling be used in the future to make beautiful pieces of music with little to no human intervention?
MC Either someone clever who knows a lot about music makes the program that follows the rules of their knowledge or someone writes software to analyze existing human music and recreate based on machine-learned rules. Either way, the programs are just an extension of us. But yes, given my disclaimer, no doubt computer simulations can make beautiful pieces of music, there are already computer-composed albums out there today which some people find beautiful (David Cope‘s Emily Howell for example).
But will computers ever be able to consistently outperform human composers? I’m not sure. I imagine even if they did capture all the subtleties required, people would still choose human-composed music, as hearing music has a lot more to it than just analyzing a sound wave in our heads. Every piece of information relating to a piece of music is important in how it is heard--just look at the link between promotional budgets and popularity of current music. It’s pretty evident that some objective form of musical merit isn’t what’s important in making a no.1 chart smash. (And you can't dress a computer up in a tight skirt and make it dance around with all its fit mates. I'm thinking it will be awhile before we get to that stage, whatever weirdness it might entail.)
Public Works Two-Year Anniversary Party with Max Cooper
Thu/4, 8pm, free with RSVP; $10 without
161 Erie, SF