Track By Track – MAX COOPER – Human


A man known for his preference for working in smaller forms, Max Cooper has now released his first full album via FIELDS. Combining homages to heroes such as Philip Glass, Tim Hecker and Max Richter with a multitude of melodies, ‘Human‘ has been a long awaited full album from the former genetics researcher. Max talks us through his project in our latest track by track and explains the concept behind his first full album…

I wanted to make an album about the Human condition, where each track represented a different aspect of being who we are. Working with concepts like that aids my creative and production process, pushing me in new directions I wouldnt have found otherwise. And hopefully some of the ideas and feelings of the tracks will come through to you when you hear them too. Music has a special way of communicating direct to your emotions and subconscious without needing the intermediary of spoken language, so hopefully some of the tracks can communicate more than my words can alone.

1. Woven Ancestry

I chose some ancient plucked instruments from different parts of the world for this track. The European harp, the east-African nyatiti and the west-African kora. There are several instances of each instrument, and every one plays a different rhythm and arpeggiated melody, with them all merging to form complex woven whole. There is also a layered binaural recording of human activity, people for all over the world talking and going about their business.

This approach was designed to represent the woven cultural and biological ancestry, all the thoughts and lives of our predecessors, which combine through complex processes to give rise to each one of us in a unique form. The music mirrors the process, and carries some of the feelings I associate with it.

2. Adrift

This track is about our search for meaning and purpose, so its a deep emotive approach melodically, but really its all about Kathrins beautiful voice which brings the whole thing to life. I recorded her on my crappy 8 pound Maplin mic, so I think its even more to her credit that she still sounds great.

3. Automaton

This one ties back to my old job in genetics a little – in that its about humans as biological machines, constrained by determinism. We feel we make our own decisions, but ultimately were just bystanders playing out the cards were dealt with. If you accept mind and brain are the same thing this is no problem, but given a lot of people dont its a nice conundrum to talk about, and one simply represented in the track by BRAIDS I cant stop it vocals, and the robot-like chopped human vocals. Its been through a few different edits and versions before this final album track, hopefully this one is the best, or my endless fiddlings and obsessing were all for nothing!

4. Supine

Supine means lying down, and this track is all about a relaxed easy vibe, nothing too crazy or challenging happening, just a nice summertime style housey track that Ive been enjoying playing in my sets recently.

5. Seething

Just when you thought everything was going to be ok, the album takes a turn. What better way to represent seething angry intensity than some big distortion and some pained pitch bending chords? Well that was the idea anyway, its not supposed to make you feel angry though, its more a track about the intensity of it all. Maybe I should have made a track with 5 bleeps followed by 7 minutes silence, that would have actually made you angry and would have been truer to the concept.

6. Numb

This is another track Ive reworked for the purpose of the album.

It used to have a massive RRRRGGHHH noise in it, but I decided it might make a nice techno sort of track rather than the old broken beat noisiness. Again, with Kathrin in there, its really all about her vocalising. This time it was a jazz-style scat, where her voice acts a much as a form of instrument as a normal vocal. Its a bass and glitch detail heavy attempt to Numb via sensory overload, although really the original was more of an overload I have to admit, well worth checking out Henning M. Lederers video for that too, where we applied the concept to being numbed by the capitalist machine in visual form.

7. Impacts

The album hits its nasty peak here, with an atonal jarring drum and glitch solo. Some people have been asking why this is in there – I was trying to represent the human condition in some way, and of course we dont all live perfect happy lives all the time, we have to deal with impacts, represented here with literal mechanical impact sounds, hammering again and again. But hopefully in the end its something more fun, especially for clubs, and we get through the impacts coming out stronger for it.

8. Empyrean

I love trying to maximise contrasts in music, so as to drive home the differences in neighbouring pieces of music, and hopefully strengthen the messages of both in the process. This is a prime example – the nastiest track followed by the most beautiful (at least in a melodically obvious sort of way). Empyrean is an ancient Greek concept of heaven, so it was a simple task in trying to make something warm and soft and enveloping, to hopefully deliver the concept.

9. Apparitions

This seems to be the track that most people dislike, but its possibly my favourite, and its one of the oldest tracks on the album (probably 2/3 years old) which has made it through all the cuts and purges unaltered – I think I wrote twice as many tracks as are on the album to get down the final selection. Hopefully its a grower and youll come round to it, or maybe Ive just lost my mind a little after listening to all these tracks on repeat for years – its always impossible to maintain good objective views on your own music, you just have to stick with your gut feeling, and my feeling was I had to have this on there. As for the concept, its some sort of ghostly vocal-like eerie pads and piano piece, with sparse clicks and some nice analogue tape delay courtesy of Andy Ramsay at Press Play Studio.

10. Potency

This was a fun track to make. I wanted to try and make something purely noisy and intense, but always delivering a feeling that 100 times more power was still fighting to get out, like the potency of human nature. After deciding on a basic chord structure, it was just a matter of layering and layering, which gave an interesting interference result, you can hear the different waves interacting to give beating patterns. The layers were made from some Operators in Ableton with Guitar Rigs and Saturators, plus a Moog Minitaur with a fast LFO with high resonance, plus Andy Ramsays overdriven guitar amps and speakers re-recorded, plus Phil Kierans tape saturation/distortion – its basically a right mess! You can even hear some of the leftovers on Phils tape at the end, with him speeding it up and slowing it down. Interestingly, that Moog on there was the only analogue synthesiser used in the whole album, the rest was all sourced digitally, albeit with some subtle analogue compression and analogue mixing desk throughs at the end.

11. Awakening

So, after all that, I wanted to finish on something nice and peaceful, so as to leave people in a good place to get on with the rest of their day. And its also about waking up from the album process, going back to reality maybe. The track starts with a simple repeating melody, and then the rays of sun come through to wake you up in the best possible way. No crazy stress alarms going off in the morning. Unless you get the unique bonus version, theres one album out there which suddenly goes BLEEEEEP BLEEEEP FUCKING BLEEEEEEEEP.

Catch Max Cooper live at his official album launch on April 5th.

Human‘ is out now via FIELDS. You can buy the album and find out more about Max Cooper on his official website.