Max Cooper: ‘scientific research taught me how to produce music’

The Groove on the Grass DJ has a PhD in computational biology that has influenced his immensely detailed musical aesthetic. Yasmine Ziadat finds out how we will be walking through his 'sound fields' in the future 

Have you always loved electronic music?

Early on I was more interested in synth music, listening to Pink Floyd, the early Prodigy work, FSOL and Orbital. When we were growing up near Belfast, my older sister used to play me the classic synth pop stuff in the ’80s and early ’90s. I think the purity of the form of synthesised music strips away everything to the bare bones of what music is, in terms of ratios and comparative structures of wave frequencies. I was always taken with this simplicity, and still am.

How did you get into music production?

Having loved science from an early age, I went on to study it and got into research before moving over to music, which had long been a hobby. I started off DJing, but soon realised I was more into writing music. It tapped into a lot of the things I found rewarding about doing research, it was a way of bringing together my main interests.

Max Cooper 1

The purity of the form of synthesised music strips away everything to the bare bones of what music is, in terms of ratios and comparative structures of wave frequencies

Has your background in computational biology influenced your music?

I think the connect is often overstated. Doing scientific research teaches you how to direct your own learning to achieve goals, so it was useful to apply this to generate my own music production approach without any training in music theory or production techniques. But I don’t necessarily use science to directly create music, it’s just that my interests, including science and arts, form the basis of my aesthetic musical choices.

Can you tell us a bit more about this aesthetic?

If you think about the simplest natural object, like a rock, it’s full of immense detail if you look closely, but it also has clear large scale features. I try to make music that also has simple large forms of arrangement and dynamic, large structures in chords, smaller structures in melodies, smaller still in percussive patterns, smaller still in modulation of individual sounds, and then right down to variation at the smallest scale of clicks and tiny sounds. It is an aesthetic I’m naturally drawn to from the world around us. 

Max Cooper 2

I don’t necessarily use science to directly create music, it’s just that my interests, including science and arts, form the basis of my aesthetic musical choices.

Would you say that experiencing your work is as much about visuals as it is sound?

I’m more of a visual thinker than anything else, so when I’m working on a track I often have a visual scene or colours in mind, and I try to work with visual artists as much as possible to bring these things through. That doesn’t mean someone else needs to think of my music like that though, I don’t want to be too prescriptive. I see art as something that is more about the experience it produces, than what it contains physically, or how it was conceived in the mind of its creator.

What has working with 4D Sound been like?

I love creating immersive music, and I’ve dabbled in several surround sound projects, like 4D Sound. It’s a system developed by Paul Oomen and others which uses 50+ sound sources and spatial modelling to create sound fields that you can walk through, rather than just hear coming from the edge of the room. I had a lot of fun working with it and I’m hoping to do more next year in Budapest.

Groove on the Grass

And how did you find Groove on the Grass?

Amazing! Playing in Dubai with the huge skyscrapers in the background, it’s not something I’m used to at all. I’m very much looking forward to another visit.

Finally, what’s in store for the future?

Next up is the Emergence LP being released in November, the whole album is a score to a live visual project which I will be touring around the end of this year and into the next. I’ve also got some really exciting collaborative projects coming soon after that, featuring direct translations of art and data into musical forms.

Max Cooper DJ PhD
'Scientific research teaches you to direct your own learning to achieve goals, so it was useful to apply this to generate my own music production'