Max Cooper: 'My music is primarily an emotional expression and the science usually comes in the structuring of those feelings'

Max Cooper: '

credit: Satyajit Das

As Sonica returns to Glasgow, we find out what to expect from Aether, the ambitious interactive performance by musician, scientist and producer Max Cooper

Sonica, Cryptic's award-winning festival of visual sonic arts, returns to Glasgow this autumn with a programme that ranges from the domestic environment (Yuri Suzuki's Furniture Music), to the cosmic realm of quantum physics (Michela Pelusio's Spacetime Helix), via ocean life and ancient forests. Scotland-based artists presenting include Heather Lander and Alex Smoke, Sue Zuki and Robbie Thompson, Lo Kindre, Kian McEvoy, and Ela Orleans. The festival also unveils a new venue, The Engine Rooms, which hosts AUSNA's enveloping sound installation 100 Keyboards.

The festival opens with Aether, a spectacular performance from musician, scientist and producer Max Cooper and design collective Architecture Social Club. Thousands of threads will hang from the ceiling of the Tramway, catching moving points of light to form a diaphanous, constantly shifting matrix that responds in real-time to Cooper's electronic sounds. Audience members can move around the space to view the patterns from every angle, as they morph from interlocking geometric grids into a swirling cosmic vortex.

Cooper trained as a scientist, but he finds it difficult to say how his studies have influenced his composition and production. 'My music is primarily an emotional expression, and the science-related part usually comes in in the structuring of those feelings. There's always that human-machine balance when I'm working with science-related ideas and visuals.'

Audio-visual performances help bring these wider interests into Cooper's creative process and live shows. 'It's hard to map data to music. We have very specific requirements about how sound waves need to be structured to sound musical to us. Whereas visually it's much more open, we can use real science data and generative models based on abstract ideas to create things which many of us find appealing.'

Aether was created by Satyajit Das, Regan Appleton and David Gardener as a response to Cooper's question of how to bring the live audio-visual experience out of the distant performer on stage model, to the audience instead. 'It's very different from most AV shows in this respect,' Cooper explains. 'You can walk around it and see a hovering three-dimensional moving image from all angles. It's a beautiful live creation to get to play with.'

Max Cooper: 'My music is primarily an emotional expression and the science usually comes in the structuring of those feelings'

credit: Michal Augustini

Would it be fair to say that his work isn't about science in itself, but rather about how we as humans relate to it? 'Yes, that's one way of putting it,' he responds. 'Not all of my work is science-related. I made club music for years before I started getting a grip on how I could bring my other interests in, and that is an ongoing process. But for what I'm mainly doing at the moment, I'd say it's about the aesthetics of science, or put another way, how natural aesthetics make us feel. So yeah, I guess that's about how we relate to science as people, our emotional response to seeing a deep structure of nature that we wouldn't usually see – like the distribution of the primes, or Rule 110, or cellular morphogenesis.'

Cooper adds that his forthcoming album / installation, Yearning For The Infinite, which features vocal contributions from Alison Moyet and Fife legend James Yorkston, is more 'human-nature related' using science-related visuals set against footage of people going about their day to day lives as a means of linking human nature to underlying structures: 'setting us in the context of the system in which we exist'. Cooper insists that there's nothing pessimistic about it, though. 'It's more a matter of seeing the beauty in these natural systems in which we exist, rather than needing to get that from some other external source and denying us being part of the mechanistic world.'

Although they are separate projects, Cooper feels Aether and Yearning For The Infinite have much in common. 'The aesthetics of simplicity, iteration and emergence are there in both, as in all almost all of my visual projects. Aether very much follows the theme of how the simplest boiled down natural structures – a line, a circle, a sine wave – can be extrapolated to create something beautiful an unexpected. In the case of Aetherit's how these things translate to a moving stretched out three-dimensional point cloud, and in the case of Yearning for the Infinite, we visualise the limits of these sorts of extrapolations when they're allowed to continue indefinitely on multi-flat-screen renders.'

As for his personal Sonica highlights, Cooper mentions cabosanroque's exploration of Catalan poet Joan Brossa and Robertina Šebjanič's Aurelia 1+Hz proto viva generator, a sonification of underwater environments. 'They look amazing, but hopefully I'll get to see everything and learn something new. Everything seems linked by the application of existing technologies to unusual mediums – taking what's there and joining it together in new ways – which is exactly how I define creativity.'

Aether, Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 31 Oct; part of Sonica, various venues, Glasgow, Thu 31 Oct–Mon 11 Nov,

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).


Cutting edge performance by established international artists, crossing the boundaries of music, theatre, visual and electronic art. It is produced by Cryptic, who are responsible for some of the most fascinating live performance work in the country. Since its launch in 2012, the festival has presented over 400 events by…

Various venues: Glasgow

Thu 10 Mar

Times to be confirmed

Fri 11 Mar

Times to be confirmed

Sat 12 Mar

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…and 8 more dates until 20 Mar

Architecture Social Club & Max Cooper: Aether

Part of Sonica Glasgow 2019 Design collective Architecture Social Club, in collaboration with musician, producer and scientist Max Cooper, open Sonica with a one-off immersive audiovisual work, Aether. For one night only, Tramway will be hung with thousands of dangling threads pulsing and glimmering with moving points of…