Hello and welcome to my latest audio-visual project, “Yearning for the Infinite”. The project started as a commission from the Barbican centre in London, around their yearly theme on technological advance and its impact on society. I wanted to boil the whole thing down to some principle which I could visualise. I have also found great reward in looking for the fundamentals of nature, both aesthetically and in terms of my own learning. This question of our constant quest for knowledge, growth, improvement, materialist, financial and personal gain, it was all indicative of the fact that we need the infinite as an endless source of meaning. If your team wins the biggest competition you don’t stop following the sport because you achieved your goal, you set new, even loftier goals for them. The same principle applies throughout society in many different ways, everyone getting up each day and ceaselessly doing “stuff” in support of their abstracted value systems and yearning for the unreachable.

 

I set about trying to tell this human story using the history of our obsessions with the infinite, and its many different renderings in Religion, the arts and sciences. Vast abstract infinite structures are set against imagery of us, telling a story of our nature, but also putting us in place as part of the system, not free from it, but biased and constrained to embody our human-ness.

 

The project also reflects my desire to present the power of everything, all the scale, noise, intensity, emotion I want to express, all spewed out onto every surface around the audience using layers of projections and all the natural surfaces of the auditorium I can access. The concept gives me the tools I need to make this a reality, it’s a heavy AV experience, with many aesthetics and ideas crammed in. This website sets out each chapter of the story as they appear on the album, explaining the ideas and collaborations involved. For the live shows there are some additional chapters, combined visualisations and reordering in order to tell the story most effectively in that context. There is also a final section here about the live set up and how I deliver the live multi-visual experience.

 

Album cover image by Renick Bell.

ABSTRACT

 
 

CONTENTS

LIVE

 

LET THERE BE

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Thomas Vanz

I wanted to start the project with the earliest visual example of the infinite I could find reference to - the bright white light of Kabbalah. The magician of liquid systems, Thomas Vanz told me he had a new secret recipe which could deliver what I needed, so I set about scoring to this idea based around what I know of Thomas’ work. The whole project functioned in this way, starting with my written descriptions of each chapter, then finding a visual artist to carry out that side of things, while in parallel I scored the music to the imagined final result. At some point down the line the first visual and musical sketches arrived and things could be refined at each end to marry the music and visual together seamlessly.

 

The music for this chapter needed something with a feeling of grandeur and space, mysteriousness and mysticism. It all came down to some really sparse drawn out chords and plenty of different layers of saturation with pedals (plenty of Metasonix F1, Moogerfooger overdrive, Industrialelctric RM1N, Fairfield Circuitry Meet Maude, WMD Geiger Counter), with smatterings of more distorted hits running through a heavy (Big Sky) plate reverb to punctuate the scale even more. 

 

Visually, we complemented Thomas’ growing light animation with ancient cave painting imagery in order to tie the visual abstraction to the human story, and the birth of our yearning for the infinite.

 

For the live show I use two layers of screens to first show the structure hovering in front of stage, then to slowly reveal the rear backlit screen and my position between them, as a means of slowly adding a 3-dimensional depth effect as the music and visual peaks.

 

REPETITION

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Kevin McGloughlin

For each track I explored a different way of referencing the infinite. In this case, simple repetition, over and over with the stabs to give the feeling of a hypnotic never ending structure. The visual accompaniment by Kevin McGloughlin is about the growth of our cities, with repeated structures mirroring the music and giving the impression of never-ending cityscapes as a futuristic vision of our infinite yearning and where it is taking us.

 

Initially I wrote an ominous piece of music trying to highlight the negative aspects of our rampant growth, but it didn’t seem to fit. There was something beautiful in there as well, so we changed direction on this one and added some natural imagery as well, also playing on the use of parallax to try and show huge built structures stretching off into the infinite distance. In the end, it was too wide ranging an idea to value judge as positive or negative, it’s a vision of people doing what they do presented from an artists perspective.

 

I tried to keep the music really stripped back to the Prophet 6 stabs and on topic, just with a few pads and a Minitaur bass noodle to add enough musicality to keep it engaging. One of the simplest pieces on the album.

 

PARTING WAYS

Audio: Max Cooper (with Six Sigma)

Video: Maxime Causeret

One technique I employed for this record was down to the fact I was tackling something that by definition, I couldn’t express directly. But I thought perhaps with intuition and artistic licence, rather than just procedure, I could approach the idea of the infinite, which meant live improvisation sessions. This was something new for me, as I previously always built melodic form via tinkering. This is the first live session on the album, along with my friend Mark Seavers / Six Sigma. We got together and spent an evening on explorations, one 7-minute section of which yielded the melodic and harmonic form of this track. Myself on the continuous Prophet 6 and Moogerfooger MIDI Murf improv running throughout, and Mark on the musical bassline. I then took this structure to Andy Ramsay’s Press Play studios where the great drummer Adam Betts added some live percussion to continue the theme, which I later augmented with some spectral effects for detailing, in addition to some extra layers of pads and that mid-way arpeggiated synth line.

 

This whole improvised playful approach was the right fit for the visually playful style of Maxime Causeret, who tells a story of creation via endless division. The first abstracted units of matter dividing and dividing into ever more complex form right through the realm of life and onwards to splitting universes and beyond. It eventually loops back on itself, showing a story of a curved spacetime/self-contained multiverse if you’re into that sort of thing. Just a bit of fun visually really, a vision of infinite division. You’ll notice the parallels with Andrew Brewer’s old music video work and those of the Emergence project here. This was one part of the YFTI story which overlapped with several older projects.

 

PERPETUAL MOTION

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Nick Cobby

I wrote this track as a closing song. For that moment at the end of the night after all the madness, when it’s time to play something catchy and simple to put a smile on the face and let go of the intensity which was earlier in the set. In that sense it’s all about the chord riff, which I tried to keep as stripped clean as possible, with just enough small-scale detailing jams to keep it interesting spatially, and provide a touch of progression and pace.

 

For the visual show the track also takes that role as a closing song, where several of the previous chapters are fused into one by Nick Cobby, with humans in perpetual motion filmed via drone in Mexico City, set against different infinite structures: Endless branching from Andy Lomas, aperiodic tiling from Jessica In and transcendental digit structures from Martin Krzywinski.

 

The idea here being that we can witness the abstracted endless nature of people in action, set against the more literal imagery of the same thing. It’s a microcosm of the whole project, as a closing song to summarise it in the live context.

 

CIRCULAR

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Paraic McGloughlin

The circle with its infinite degrees of rotational symmetry, endless path structure, and infinite unstructured digits of pi, was a key visual form in the project, and one which Paraic McGloughlin had a beautiful idea for rendering.

 

I went for a curving form of musical structure. A slow and smooth melodic pulse which had its own rhythm, but which I could also play at my own pace. It just seemed to embody circular form to me, hopefully you can hear what I’m talking about!

 

With this in place I set about making my first almost entirely improvised piece of music, I think I only added a single bass and pad element, and a couple of sound design additions to complete it after extracting the entire piece as a live recording. This gives it a much more fluid structure and melodic form than is normal for my music, which is one of the main differences throughout the album from those which have come previously. It was certainly a nice way to work on a personal level, and something I’m continuing to explore.

 

Paraic has delivered something of a masterpiece for his visual interpretation. Something like 170 hand drawn circles of epic proportion telling the story of human obsession quite literally as well as metaphorically. It puts a big smile on my face to see this, hats off to Paraic McGloughlin and Kevin McGloughlin for their beautiful art and for allowing me to be part of it.

 

ALEPH 2

Audio: Max Cooper

(Feat. Adam Betts Percussion)

Video: Martin Krzywinski

Ever since I first read about Cantor’s transfinite numbers I thought it would be a fun thing to try and capture musically – layers of intensity and scale built on top of what previously seemed the largest and most intense scale possible. It was part of the seed for this whole project.  

 

Musically the path was clear, layers upon layers of distortion, reaching the point of maximised intensity only to add another layer and see how that sounds. Then much painstaking work to try and sculpt the noise mess back into something more palatable which wouldn’t burst too many eardrums in the live setting.

 

Visually however, it was much more of a challenge. Luckily I managed to find a data scientist with a love of quantitative visuals and mathematics, Martin Krzywinski, who I set the challenge of visualising Cantor’s work. After much experimentation I think we came up with a system which quite authentically explains the key ideas.

 

It begins by showing endlessly counting lists of integers, then shows bjiections, whereby all members of one infinite list can be paired with all members of another to show they have the same size. Cantor’s diagonal argument is used to show how all fractions (the rationals) can be counted by the whole (natural) numbers in this way, and another diagonal argument is then used to show that the real numbers (those with decimal expansions) are uncountable and comprise a larger form of infinite set. The visualisation then shows the process of taking powersets of sets as a method for constructing ever larger infinite sets, maxing out at a cardinality (set size) of Aleph 2.

 

That may sound a little impenetrable explained so briefly, but the point is that the essence of the techniques which put the infinite onto firm mathematical grounds by Cantor have been visualised. And they form their own equally intense aesthetic for storytelling in the live show context.

 

SCALAR

video coming soon

Audio: Max Cooper (feat. Alison Moyet)

Video: Andy Lomas

Another live jam with a rapidly pulsing synth patch gave rise to this one. The music is set to the growing fractaline structures of the mathematician and artist Andy Lomas, which show a subdividing space which wraps around the audience for the live shows using many projections and surfaces. It’s a story of endless division of a single surface, held back only by the limits of existing graphics processing when we reach millions of fragments.

 

I embarked on an experiment with the amazing vocalist Alison Moyet, where we chopped her voice into a million tiny fragments like that of the visual surface, and reconstructed rapid rhythms and electronic tones with it. I love to use the voice as an abstracted instrument like this, but don’t expect any classic Moyet singing here please, it’s not that sort of thing!

 

NANOTECH

video coming soon

Audio: Max Cooper (feat. Wilderthorn)

Video: Sage Jenson

As part of my attempts to approach the infinite I wanted to see how far I could push the layering and micro-structure of my music. I already often used over 100 layers in my music, but with some of these new album tracks it got up to 240+, many of which, as in this piece, are semi-generative renders of chaotic synth and effects modulations which yield a heavily detailed textural feel. I was finding that more layers didn’t add more perceptual detailing however, and I felt I’d maxed out the technique for this particular song structure and approach at least. I recommend listening on headphones or with a good stereo field, as many of the details are given binaural positions so that they’re audible amongst everything else, but you’ll only hear that if you have a clear stereo signal. These techniques are applied throughout the album, there’s a lot to find in there - over one hour of audio is in every minute of music on average.

 

Visually, we see the simulated organic-style growth of microchips by Sage Jenson, to tell the story of endless technological growth, in fitting with the nano-tech theme.

 

PENROSE TILING

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Jessica In

Another way to approach the idea of infinity visually was via Penrose Tiling, an aperiodic tiling system developed by Roger Penrose in the 1970’s, which can tile an infinite plane without repeating. This idea of the link between non-cyclic structure and the infinite was also central to the the processes of improvisation used throughout. But for this piece I wanted to mirror the tiling regime more explicitly.

 

I opted to do that by having all loop lengths corresponding to prime numbers. This yielded the equivalent behaviour musically, where at least for the length of the track (and for two weeks or so if it had gone on playing), there would be no exact repeat of any bar - loops without loops. The feeling of this idea was a nice rhythmical syncopation which I applied to some live instrumentation with the sansula to begin with, and built more and more layers of tight percussion around as the piece progressed.

 

Jessica In built a real animated Penrose Tiling visual environment to accompany to great effect. Using the roof, walls, floor and two front surfaces of animated tiling structures to engulf the audience in beautiful fine detailing work which bursts to life towards the end.

 

TRANSCENDENTAL TREE

MAP

video coming soon

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Martin Krzywinski and Nick Cobby

Transcendental numbers such as pi, have an endless string of non-repeating digits, an infinitude of information and variation which is compressed into their form (the circle in this case). Martin Krzywinski specialises in visualising these digits amongst many other things, and one of my favourite images is his tree map of pi, which presents this endless nested chaos in beautiful visual form. I wanted to map that growing randomness and chaotic detailed structural form to the piece of music, so I collaborated with the great music software developer, Alexander Randon on a special tool which allows the construction of musical fractals and many other complex melodic forms. With this tool I started the piece with a simple melodic structure, which is iteratively broken down into more and more complex melodies as the tree map breaks down the initially simple first digit into more and more complex sub-structures. With the aesthetic as a whole becoming this sea of interacting notes, partly random, but with the global precise form emerging eventually.

 

Nick Cobby collaborated with Martin to bring this to life in animated form for the visual show, with a hyper-detailed tree map structure growing all around the audience.

 

MORPHOSIS

video coming soon

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Memo Akten

This chapter was created by Memo Akten, using artificial neural networks to create morphing images of scale. The system explores how natural structures from the most tiny to the most huge, share aesthetic properties, as recognised by the trained network, and recreated in continuous flowing sequence via these connections. It’s a study of the seemingly infinite nature of space and natural physical structure, which can loop back on itself to give endless visual exploration and variation. The music needed to be equally organic and free flowing, the result of an improvisation session where I tried to keep the parameters constantly and slowly changing to mirror the ebb and flow and morphing style of Memo’s work.

 

VOID

Audio: Max Cooper

Video: Jessica In

I wanted to try and render the cold dark void of emptiness with this chapter, which meant some darkroom industrial sounds, and lots of power. I started by making binaural recordings of a huge metallic structure which I hit to create these huge low resonances, then the sounds of cosmic collisions, it was a lot of fun to work with, and sounds pretty mad on a big system.

 

For the video, rather than just going black screen, I thought a low-fi approach could work, focused on simplicity, intensity and the use of parallax to create the appearance of distance with infinite vanishing points. Jessica In created a super intense moire-pattern version of this idea which fits the audio perfectly, and forms one of the most intense moments of the live show. For the live show I also layer over some infinite cityscape imagery on the gauze screen, blended with the abstractions, to link back in the human side of the story.

 

A FLEETING LIFE

Audio: Max Cooper (feat. James Yorkston)

Video: Kevin McGloughlin

On universal scales, our lives are a tiny flash of light amongst a vast sea. I wanted to tell this story of our fleeting lives, sat between the infinitudes of existence either side. The chapter starts with darkness for a long drone sequence where James Yorkston uses his beautiful poetic skills to set the scene, then a single minute is used to tell a whole life story, images flashing up on screen before it’s all over and a return to darkness.

 

Kevin McGloughlin achieved this powerfully with his knack for memory-provoking imagery and precise rapid cutting. It’s a moving visualisation of the infinitude we all have to face, with a drone audio track developing into a single musical phrase of a bright and short existence. This visual sequence is used in different contexts to both start and finish the live show as a means of grounding the story in one of our lives.

 

IN PURSUIT OF GHOSTS

Audio: Max Cooper (with Tom Hodge)

Video: Kevin McGloughlin

The final track from the album was written with my long-term collaborator, the great pianist and composer, Tom Hodge. Visually it’s a story of how, as individuals, we are compelled to keep going, indefinitely. The imagery from Kevin McGloughlin uses an early example of moving image, featuring a woman walking, the simplest few frames, yet a scene which speaks a thousand words. It needed something somber but with hope, our endless pursuit and attempts to make sense of the world we live in, and my synth work didn’t seem to do it justice. It needed an old instrument to match, so I drew on work with Tom to find the right musical fit. The same applies throughout the project, the music is primarily defined by visual requirements.

 

LIVE SHOW

I wanted to convey the infinite not just musically and in terms of the video content, but also in terms of the physical live show format, using all available natural surfaces within the concert hall, but also two layers of forward screens to yield depth effects. This approach allows me to maximise on visual intensity and try to approach the infinite power and feeling I wanted. But it required some custom live system design to make it a reality.

 

Firstly, I needed a system for running multiple stable and synced visual outputs. Generally touring laptops don’t cope well with more than 2 separate visual outputs in my experience, so instead I ran 4 outputs in 1920 x 1080 via a single 4K image, using the AJA HA5 4K splitter. This allowed me to bundle all 4 outputs into a single HDMI 4K 60Hz output which was then split into 4 1080p 60Hz outputs to go to the projectors all tightly synced.

 

But I needed 8 outputs, all driven by my music parameters in Ableton, so I used two visual machines each with 4 1080 outs, both controlled via OSC using Mattijs Kneppers Resolume Dispatcher, Parameter Forwarder and Clip Launcher Max for Live devices. Mattijs was kind enough to edit his existing devices to allow my single Ableton live machine to send duplicated OSC signals to both laptops simultaneously. Because the clip launch position in Ableton corresponds automatically to the clip launch positions in each Resolume machine I could add different clips to each of the 8 visual outputs all triggered from Ableton.

 

In terms of the visual effects, I was mainly happy to have duplicated effects for the two machines receiving the duplicated OSC signals, but for those which I didn’t want duplicated, I could simply rely on putting the video clips into slots on dry channels, or with only one of a pair of effects relating to two simultaneous control messages, for example.

 

A large part of my set up relies on having macro control devices in Ableton to which I assign multiple on/off switches to various visual effects. I use param2param Max devices to map through these switch values to macro devices on spare control channels which sit next to Mattijs’ Parameter Forwarder devices. This allows me to turn on and off any combination of visual effects on any particular visual output channels, while also having those effects opacity and values synced to filter cut off frequencies (or any parameter I want) in Ableton via more instances of param2param mapping and macro controls next to Parameter Forwarder devices. This allows me to filter in sounds, while with the same control, slowly bringing in any number of different visual changes. I use similar techniques for mapping Lemur controlled live glitch sounds to sudden visual changes.

 

Anything I can control in Ableton can be linked to anything I can control in Resolume like this, and after a lot of time working on how I want each sound control to map to each visual control in terms of XY parameter relationships (ie if audio parameter X fades in, should corresponding visual parameter Y also fade in, and with what sort of curve etc) I have a full jammable AV system all controlled via MIDI into Ableton only, with all visual controls happening automatically downstream. I’m not sure I would recommend setting it up like this for everyone though, it’s a pain in the ass to set up with hundreds of parameter mappings and parameter forwarder devices in Ableton, but for me it was a way of building a system whereby I could control of the visual and audio parameters simultaneously without needing separate controls for each. And it was all made possible by Mattijs Kneppers Resolume control devices.

 

LIVE AT THE BARBICAN

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this deeper insight into this album, there's other sites for One Hundred Billion Sparks and Emergence.

 

And if you'd like to keep in touch with my work you can sign up to my email and get exclusive content on my site and follow on socials

All tracks written, arranged and produced by Max Cooper. Parting Ways written in collaboration with Mark Seavers aka Six Sigma, In Pursuit of Ghosts written in collaboration with Tom Hodge. Scalar featuring vocals by Alison Moyet, Nanotech featuring vocals by Jon Bilbrough aka Wilderthorn, A Fleeting Life featuring vocals by James Yorkston. Parting Ways, Aleph 2 and Scalar featuring percussion by Adam Betts recorded by Andy Ramsay at Press Play Studios.

 

All tracks published by Manners McDade Music Publishing Limited. All mastering by Matt Colton at Metropolis. Cover artwork by Renick Bell. Ⓟ and Ⓒ Mesh under exclusive license to Phases 2019. A&R Anthony Faulkner at Mesh. Management James Bullock at The Wild Seeds.

 

Website by Mitch Wade Cole.

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