Max Cooper in Berlin

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  • "I don't like it when you have to know what the art is in order to make an interpretation of it," Max Cooper told the small group that had gathered to hear his lecture on Emergence, the live audio-visual show he's been touring around Europe for the past few weeks. His stop in Berlin brought him to Tresor, where he presented a lecture on the show's inspirations and creation, followed by a performance. The lecture delved deep into the show's origins and influences, so much so that despite his initial statements, my interpretation of the performance ended up being heavily informed by what he told us. Cooper's talk was interesting. The group was small enough that the gathering felt less like a lecture and more like a conversation, which worked in Cooper's favour, given that he appeared endearingly nervous throughout. "Essentially, emergence is a process in which larger patterns arise through the interactions of smaller parts," he explained. "That was the main inspiration for the show." He then walked us through the building blocks of the show's video component, a long-form piece comprised of many short snippets created by Cooper and a variety of mathematicians, videographers and digital artists. Inspired by the evolution of the universe, the project deals with the interaction between chaos and perfect order. The video snippets ranged from literal interpretations of bigger ideas (a chugging machine pumping the parts to a human circulatory system, a city expanding exponentially) to more conceptual assimilations (splashes of colour, real footage of hydrophobic oil in water, Sacks spirals). Programmed in both Ableton and Resolute, every audio piece that Cooper played live would trigger a specific video clip, meaning that every show would look different depending on what he played. The lecture was great, although at times too dense (I saw more than a few eyes glaze over while Cooper discussed prime numbers and mathematical equations). The bigger issue, though, was that I was worried it would take some of the magic out of the performance. I left the lecture feeling pretty unexcited for what was to come. In the end, though, the show blew the lecture out of the water. Anything I thought that Cooper had exhausted in the talk was brought back to life by the music, which ranged from atmospheric ambiance and glitch to bassy fractals and full-on techno. Bits of the lecture that had been perplexing were suddenly clear: it was obvious why Andy Lomas' heaving, multiplying cell organism was Cooper's favourite part of the video, or how artists like Venetian Snares and Squarepusher influenced Cooper's take on glitching in art and sound. The mention of these points during the lecture gave the few of us present a deeper knowledge of the show at large, but judging by the rest of the audience's reaction, Emergence was just as stunning whether you were in on its secrets or not.