Max Cooper Meets Tom Hodge: Fragmented Self & Emergence

Radialsystem Berlin

In an industry rife with coasters, plain-sailors and navel-gazing hangers-on, it’s up to the train drivers of electronic music to take the controls and make sure we’re not all just going round in circles. As someone who’s shown willingness to steer the course of musical performance down brave new tracks on numerous occasions, Max Cooper is a man who’s earned his place at the front of the cabin.

Not content with being the first ever DJ to perform on a four-dimensional soundsystem last year, 2015 has seen the PHD-educated Irishman return with yet another first for the industry – an audio-visual extravaganza by the name of EMERGENCE in which he’s able to manipulate both the music and video himself in real time. Tonight’s show is only the fourth time it’s ever been performed, and the sold-out crowd at Berlin’s Radialsystem feels primed for the occasion.

Beforehand, however, we have another first: his debut performance alongside classical pianist and now serial collaborator Tom Hodge. While Max has an established track record muddying the waters between analogue and digital in his productions, seeing the two diametric forces arranged opposite each other on stage has a pleasing sense of equilibrium about it. Entangling over a series of nebulous ten-to-fifteen-minute compositions – some calm and nocturne-inspired, others frenetic and jazz-like – Cooper’s sharp-edged synthesis ricochets off the tinkling ivories of Hodge’s grand piano and Wurlitzer (instruments he occasionally plays at the same time) in an incredible display of man-meets-machinism. Cue emphatic standing ovations at the close.

Returning after the break, we find the man himself positioned in front of his colossal video screen ready to kick off what is described as ‘a story of how everything comes from simple natural processes, built upon each other.’ This translates to a series of disparate musical vignettes – everything from microscopic cellular division to the growth of cities and critique of life in capitalist, consumer society – all soundtracked by Max’s inimitable brand of heavily glitch-laden techno. While a couple of the videos have been seen before (Nick Cobby’s excellent Fragments of Self video from 2013 gets a re-airing), for the most part it’s entirely new material, the majority of which is a real feast to behold.

While the manipulation effects seem (at least to the discernible eye) to be limited to distortions and warping of the overall video image, rather than individual elements within it, the lasting impression is one of an exceptionally well-choreographed live show, united by an intriguing central theme. With performance dates around the world racking up all the time, EMERGENCE has the potential to become one of the year’s big festival shows. We can’t wait to see what follows in its aftermath.


Photography: Markus Werner for Um:Laut