Simulacra & Simulation: An interview with Oneohtrix Point Never

The hazy hypnogogia associated with his earlier releases has been transformed into high-def ‘living scenes’ of arresting music and video. Steph Kretowicz explores OPN’s new uncanny valley, plus five scenes of their creative plunder. Photo by Timothy Saccenti.

Describing his childhood personal as being an “above average pupil but not excellent, ” Daniel Lopatin grew up with Russian parents in Boston. The son of expert musicians, his father was also knowledgeable in engineering, Lopatin presents qualities of both: a mathematical mind combined with a talent for songs production—art, science, and philosophy serving into his latest album since Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven . Burning back and reshaping his sound in the hazy hypnogogia of his name-making releases— Rifts , Replica plus Returnal— to the high definition “living scenes” of sonic miscellany, Lopatin goes beyond just redefining music to completely reform it. Working with and being inspired by visual artists and friends Takeshi Murata and long-time collaborator Nate Boyce—he makes explicit reference to both in the “lyrics sheet” for monitor “Still Life”—Lopatin wants to take songs beyond the realms of the fuzy and into a visual, physical ‘other’. Like Replica and his collaboration with Bernard Hecker Instrumental Tourist , R In addition Seven sounds like everything and nothing I’ve ever heard before.

R In addition Seven is a complex composition of samples, synthetic voices, and instrument emulators, stitched collectively in a playful, though deeply disturbing, patchwork. The undulating reverb associated with “Cryo” generates an ominous sense of the unknown. As it tunes in and out of different frequencies, jarred vocals plus twitchy, layered samples create havoc on “Inside World”, itself the fractured and fragmented portrait associated with perception. A squawking accordion sound scuttles across a brief arpeggiated synth-line. Simulated barking becomes a hooting owl, or something else entirely. More than simple audio, all these elements become visual simulacra; manmade organisms that populate an overarching structure of discovered objects, where those objects would be the sounds themselves.

That sense of ‘unreal realness’ goes some way in describing the complex logic behind L Plus Seven , as Lopatin freely explains the shattered subjectivities and destroyed narratives it pulls from, with accompanying videos by Boyce and Murata visualizing them. Sat across a wooden along with outside London’s Warp headquarters plus wearing a familiar deep khaki clothing and UNO record label cap, he casually expounds on his affects. From social constructivist Bruno Latour, philosopher Manuel De Landa, fuzy impressionism, surrealism, tableau and procedural poetry to Ableton Live 9’s audio to MIDI conversion, textual content to speech software, and Spectrasonics Omnisphere, R In addition Seven is an completely constructed, synthesized experience.

Above: It for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Problem Areas” uses a pre-existing work by Takeshi Murata for its video

You have a lyric sheet?

Yeah, it’s weird. We all made all of these scripts and had text-to-speech programs read back all of these scripts that we had written. Then we sliced it up, put it chromatically on the keyboard with sampler instruments, and then just applied pre-existing MIDI from the songs. Just plopped it into the monitor that had all of the text plus it kind of played.

So you had those vocals chop up chromatically, essentially remixing the text.

Yeah. And then no matter what happened to be on whatever octave, or even whatever note in the piano roll that correlated with MIDI from one more track that was playing whatever melodic line would just happen. But then on the record, you just hear it in these oblique moments of only a single word of something. Therefore , a lot of that stuff ended up becoming specific to a moment. But we all decided to include the lyrics anyway, despite the fact that they don’t really exist.

That reminds me of Nate Boyce’s video intended for “Still Life”. It’s sculpture but it’s not because its digital. You can find forms but it’s also formless.

Yeah. They have got this sort of undercurrent of art history to them; they’re historicized objects after which heavily displaced. That’s why we all [Lopatin and Boyce] link up so well, generally, because we all just see the world the same method. You can actually have both operating at the same time, in a way that is an honest appraisal.

I guess it’s component of this malaise, or frustration that you can have with music that’s no more presented as an object, it’s become this other thing.

Exactly. I think the market is most likely concerned with it on some other degree, but then music often doesn’t even recognize how it’s changing. This continues to just be music, which is a little tedious to me. I still like it and I still need it and I nevertheless want to use it the way that I want—like If I’m cooking, or in case I’m taking a shower or no matter what, there are practical aspects to it. But , in my own work, I think I am primarily interested in getting away from those techniques a little, or at least trying to find a way to characterize the whole experience. It would be cool to literally make objects, and I’ve been trying to for a very long time, however the objects I want to make are very costly [laughs]. For now I like the particular format of the record because I could do it.

With regards to your references, you seem pretty informed when it comes to the history of particular forms of art.

I do, but I absorb it in a kind of juvenile way, informally. I want to know the crux of many things and then I’m kind of abusive, in that way. My parents always criticize me for this, because—well, their background is they’re very Russian. So they learned in a really specific way, and they learned to respect history in a very specific method. I was always just like, “I’ll take this. I don’t know why. I just want it. ” I understand the rudeness of this, but at times I think it helps me make generate new work.

I suppose respecting history is respecting it in a particular way that someone else decided was respectful.

Yeah. That’s why it felt a little suspect to me. But if I was to express, “OK, speculative realism informed the album, ” it’s both the lie and a truth. I would never ever phrase it that way. I would just say that my friends and I were delivering each other random Wikipedia links of a Bruno Latour pdf because I was too cheap to buy it, and am would just skim it or just randomly find stuff; sometimes duplicate and paste text and throw it in with this procedural poems stuff I was writing.

It reminds me associated with hearing a philosopher say it’s not so important to understand the whole text but to take what you can.

Even, I think, Derrida believed to just open up to the middle of the guide. I think it’s a healthy thing to do. But I would hate to be on a panel discussion at Oxford or some thing, with people that actually know. And I am sitting in a room where I actually say, “Well, I just abuse this particular shit but go ahead ask me questions. ” I’d like to believe that I’m not a parasite though; that I have a way of coexisting. But I am definitely an exploiter; that’s the role.

Many of the sound palette sounds really acquainted but totally alien at the same time.

The palette just comes out of just being self-centered I think. I really love Korg Wavestation, Korg M1, this sort of early substitut, uncanny valley attempt at emulating real instruments.

I caught the uncanny valley reference with that mask in your press shot.

Specifically. [laughs] That was a very happy accident that the photographer, Timothy [Saccenti], just brought those in because his wife was a prop designer. He just delivered a box of bullshit, after which I saw those masks and I was just like, “Perfect, lets do that. ” That sort of creepy moment right before things are real is a sweet spot for me.

Your entire album embodies that creepy minute for me.

Definitely. I want that but I still have this narcissistic need to make it individual, to have some sort of oblique sense associated with narrative, even if it’s a feeling associated with narrative. Not narrative itself but just the feeling of, like, tableau. It’s very specific but I believe that’s what I got from that will. It’s like, “Yeah, this is unusual when I don’t know what’s happening, because I can kind of sense a sort of classical aspect, of tragedy or even comedy or whatever. But I actually couldn’t tell you what the fuck’s happening here. ” That’s something that can be done with music so wonderfully, plus I’m always, like, “Why is not everyone doing this? ”

Impressions of an “exploiter”—five scenes of Lopatin’s creative plunder (Titles in daring indicate selections by Lopatin himself):

1 . OULIPO

Citing procedural poetry technique, OULIPO (an abbreviation for the French “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle” and roughly translating to “workshop of potential literature”), as a main influence, it’s not hard to see the connection between Lopatin’s “slicing” his singing simulations across the melodic line of tracks like “Still Life” and Georges Queneu’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes ( A Hundred Thousand Billion dollars Poems ). Inspired with the horizontal strips of those exquisite corpse-like children’s picture books, Queneu applies the same technique to a book of ten sonnets, where each page was cut into fourteen strips to create infinite syntactic possibilities.

One also gets the sense how the original lyrics sheet follows the Oulipian constraint of “N+7″, exactly where every noun is replaced with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary, except that ‘N’ is definitely replaced by ‘R’ for the recording title— R Plus 7 . What the recurrent ‘R’ of all of the most recent Oneohtrix albums stands for is definitely anyone’s guess.

2 . Get Light

A talking heads documentary following the stories and the people behind early “computer adventure games”. In the early eighties, enthusiasts in universities and engineering companies created these primitive text adventure games, comprising a maze of puzzles plus stories to create a world of “living books” in a computer. Lopatin also attempts to embed his own individual narrative in the “interactive fiction” associated with R Plus 7 the album plus beyond.

a few. Tableau Vivant

Tableau vivant , which is French intended for “living picture”, was an early form of entertainment, predating radio, film, plus television, and peaking as an art form in the late 19th century. This combines stage, painting, and digital photography into a scene posed by costumed and theatrically lit models.

As another level down the strata of inspiration, tableau is cited as an influence on the development of the particular “visual novel”. It’s a branch of the aforementioned “interactive fiction” plus prevalent in Japan, where stationary, usually anime style-graphics, complement narration of these programs made for PC.

4. Georges Schwizgebel’s The Rapture associated with Frank N Stein (1982)

If you watch this ten-minute animation by Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel, you’ll not only recognize the particular haunting, bare, and dreary area of the R In addition Seven album protect, you’ll also notice the similarly eerie tone of its soundtrack. And that is not mentioning the apocalyptic connotations of its title reflected in the recently banned video for “Still Life (betamale)” by artist Jon Rafman. (Although banned from YouTube, since time of writing it is still watchable on Vimeo and OPN’s own site. )

According to online digital music community Data Garden, Lopatin and media archeologist Daniel Rehn are developing an interactive design based on Schwizgebel’s film.

5. Omnisphere Spectrasonics

If you listen through this demo of the patches available on Spectrasonics’ digital synthesiser Omnisphere, you’ll recognise some of the sounds in L Plus Seven . When talking about some of the sounds he used, Lopatin had this to say: “I was getting really in into MIDI and getting really into the micro details of MIDI, that I could do finally that I never could do before; getting really specific regarding note placement and changing tempos, stuff like that. I just thought “He She” sounded right with an straight bass. What you heard was some type of plucked instrument, like ‘Kind David’s Lyre’ was the name of it, it had been really funny. ” ~

Oneohtrix Point Never’s L Plus Seven is out now on Warp. He performs Berhain in Berlin on Fri, October 4th.

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