There are few artists who occupy the middle ground between music, science, art and technology quite like Max Cooper. The Belfast-born producer’s repertoire often portrays complex scientific theory through the medium of sonically beautiful shapeshifting electronica. Shaped by his studies in computational biology and genetics, One Hundred Billion Sparks is his first full length album since Emergence in 2016, and documents Cooper’s search for artistry amongst the mechanisms, emotions and constructs which yield identity and experience.
Crudely put, individuals are distinguished from one another by their differing combinations of one hundred billion neurons, each of them capable of creating feelings and ideas that spark greatness. Entranced by the maddening incomprehensibility of this powerful (and pleasantly rounded) network, Cooper isolated himself in the Welsh village of Llawryglyn, making him basically uncontactable, seeking clarity on the constructs and building blocks of our identities and the systems that create us.
True to his muse, One Hundred Billion Sparks encompasses a wide breadth of identities, with the twelve tracks showcasing a range of music styles and genres. ‘Incompleteness’ introduces One Hundred Billion Sparks with brooding swathes of warm ambience, before delicate symbols and drum patterns yield the first pulse of the LP in ‘Hope’, materialising through heavy remnant throbs from the opener into a scintillating yet understated crescendo. Elsewhere, the crystalline pulse of ‘Rule 110’ lays an early benchmark for the album’s highlight, swirling minced vocals and chopped synthesisers into a pulsating and shimmering glam-tinged post pop belter reminiscent of B12.
Cooper burbles (‘Emptyset’), and chimes (‘Violition’) his way through a dense and complex mid-section before reaching the all out techno stomp of ‘Identity’, a dark and unhinged six minute Jon Hopkins-esque floor-filling centrepiece. ‘Reflex’s’ otherworldly synths craft an elegant and promising serotonin-fuelled crescendo, before dropping off off much like a botched botox job, slipping and sliding into a post-dubstep apocalyptic wasteland of warbles and dissonance. ‘Memories’ ensures the album finishes strongly, mirroring opener ‘Incompleteness’ in its noticeable absence of shape and rhythm, instead transcending the listener with washes of grainy modular synths.
As with any Max Cooper album, music is just one small part of the narrative, with art and technology combining for a critical role in the experience. The live show contains the visual projects on a 270 wrap around screen format, bringing the audience to the centre of the scientific theory. In short, no matter what sticking points you may find on the music, Cooper is certainly going to blow away any doubts with a brave and uncharted use of visual software.
Much like its cover sleeve suggests, One Hundred Billion Sparks is not just a kaleidoscopic exploration of identity, but a powerful and timely reminder of the merits of isolation and disconnectedness. The breadth of the experiment is likely to churn some results that aren’t to everyone’s sound palate, but the LP is a triumph for an enduringly exciting electronic artists. Dominic Edge