Max Cooper Finds the Words That Escape Him Through Electronic Beats

Max Cooper
Max Cooper Photo by Alex Kozobolis
The Belfast producer Max Cooper makes his hardware scream similar to the way the late Eddie Van Halen did on his Frankenstrat. Whether it's gloomy ambient interludes or heady percussion bleeding into drill 'n' bass chaos, it's all orchestrated intentionally through Cooper's hands.

On Friday, August 26, at the Ground, Cooper brings his A/V show — a literal audio-visual performance — to the 11th Street venue.

"The audience can expect audio-visual immersion and a new form of live music experience," Cooper tells New Times via email. "I still remember my last visit well. It was an all-nighter, and I was surprised to be invited to a restaurant at some strange early morning hour and more surprised to see the city bustling and all sorts of goings on as the nightlife met the day life. It was a warm welcome to Miami."

Devoted to music for the past 15 years, Cooper's approach to spinning doesn't incorporate stagnant big drops or blasts of an air horn. Instead, he orchestrates where he wants to take the crowd.

"I love a good party," professes Cooper, who studied computational biology while moonlighting as a DJ in Belfast's techno scene. "That's my background, so I'm all for people interacting with my work, however enjoyable for them. If people want to dance, I react to that."

The Ground's versatility — the venue can host everything from DJs to metal bands to gong players — gives the 42-year-old a blank canvas to push his A/V project. The music likely will accompany a collage of moving images, colors, and shapes that flicker, retract, expand, fizzle, and condense with each noise created.

Further disproving that electronic music is devoid of emotion, Cooper recently provided music for a video narrated by Greta Thunberg and Pope Francis that urges world leaders to consider climate and environment in their COVID-19 recovery plans. Moreover, he is the first DJ to play at the Acropolis in Athens and has collaborated with the likes of Philip Glass, Nils Frahm, Hot Chip, and Moby.

Cooper's latest album, Unspoken Words, was released in March 2022 via his label, Mesh. The producer describes the 13-track album's central theme as the "idea that the machines can talk in ways humans cannot that are just as much enthralling." Like the holophonor in Futurama, it may be beneficial to let electronics guide one's expressions rather than trying to find the right words to convey them.
"I turned inwards to look for methods of expressing things which were important but which I couldn't express by other means, such as words, giving the name 'unspoken words,'" explains Cooper, detailing the method to his madness through machine learning. "Music is able to do this magical thing of capturing an internal state and delivering something of it directly through to the listener so that we can share in universal human experiences together."

On one end is the album's title track and opener with its ethereal, harrowing tranquility. A few tracks later, "Spectrum" brings in a thud between the barking pads and ambient beep-bop. "Exotic Contents," arguably the hardest-hitting track on Unspoken Words, progresses to the point that the synths screech and howl, feeling almost like an early dubstep blueprint. The track oscillates between aggressive in-your-face pangs and near silence.

"My studio is full of classic old synths and emulations," Cooper says. "I love the old timbres, going back to my original early '80s Juno-6 and '70s Space Echo. I'm constantly referencing what has gone before and adding lots of modern techniques — things like complex generative systems, granular and spectral effects, and detailed editing — to push forward as well. Our shared musical history is our musical language, so if I'm trying to communicate with you, that's what I need to reference."

Over the years, Cooper has amassed foresight to know what needs to be played where and when — what works at a museum's exhibit may not apply in a traditional nightclub setting.

"I love creating. Actually, I think I'm sort of addicted to it," Cooper adds. "I get down when I can't express myself that way. I can chat to you about abstract ideas all day, but when it comes to actually expressing what it's really like to be a person and the madness and mess of existing inside this meat machine, then music and visual art are the only way I know to meaningfully communicate."

Max Cooper. 11 p.m. Friday, August 26, at the Ground, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 786-357-6456; Tickets cost $26.46 via
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Grant Albert is a writer born and raised in Miami. He likes basset hounds, techno, and rock climbing — in that order.
Contact: Grant Albert