Oneohtrix Point Never: Interview
“Commercialism isn’t as much evil as it is sneaky and shapeshifting.”
Sometimes the best way to access unfamiliar music is by understanding where its creator is coming from. I enjoyed Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never project when I first heard it, but I didn't really become fascinated with the music until I read an email exchange between Lopatin and Wire critic David Keenan, discussing the lengths of Keenan's new genre label, hypnagogic pop, among other things. Lopatin was clearly an analytical thinker, not afraid to have a grounded, almost academic point of view in a musical landscape where mysticism and vagueness are in vogue.
My interest was piqued, so when I decided to review Rifts (TMT Review) -- a compilation of three previously released OPN albums, plus some odds and ends dating as far back as 2003 (check 'em out here) -- I contacted Lopatin for more insight into the project. And guess what? His answers were fascinating. I figured, what the hell, might as well publish this too. So, here it is: the official interview, wherein we discuss how to make money, get ho's, and get ho's.
I was wondering if you see your music having any relation to popular radio music. I think the point you made about ‘noise' music, with its refusal to engage mainstream sensibilities, leading into a DIY scene that at times seems infatuated with glossy culture is somewhat important, in that it suggests a general shift in youth-culture's political views. Maybe commercialism isn't viewed as inherently evil?
Have you ever seen The Passenger by Antonioni? Jack Nicholson tries to disappear and start his life over, and the punchline is that he can't. For me that's how capitalism works — none of us are totally culture-free, and all of us on some level are sentenced with having to relate to society whether we side with it or not. All music is world music -- music is a way of dealing with reality -- the same system that ignores you can also reward you if you're willing to push it around and break rules and experiment with it. Commercialism isn't as much evil as it is sneaky and shapeshifting.
What do you think of "experimental" music that has no message or political underpinnings behind it, then? Reading into what you're saying about commercialism, even the most vacuous pop music would have some cultural significance if only because it's interacting with everything inside our cultural bubble. I remember getting into an argument with someone over this pop group The Pipettes from a few years ago. They had a line like "I dont care what the song's about, I just want to dance" or some shit, and I kept insisting that even a message like that has a strong political "vibe." But I'm not entirely sure.
For me, the notion of "fuck art let's dance" is political in that it institutionalizes art instead of mythologizing it... but I can understand how someone might feel that it's contrary to the political vibe. The whole either/or setup of art vs. dancing is political though. As an homage to Trevor Tremaine, I'll say that I'm more into the idea of the ATTEMPT, i.e. the force of trying to escape, of trying to separate, of striving towards something confusing or impossible or something like that. Extreme striving pathos is more important than either side of that argument.
"The process of stripping away towards something elemental or burying something elemental within a vast world of sound is something that I'm into."
I can remember a time in America when artist's music being used in commercials was super taboo, which has obviously changed. Maybe a reality has set in that musicians have to survive and carve out a place in a society's economy too. Yet there's the DIY scene that thrives on handmade releases and probably makes very little money. Do you actually make a living off of music?
No, not really, but after reading Insane Clown Posse's Wikipedia entry, my faith in DIY is restored. I'm not sure I could make effective commercial music, because I don't actually know how to make "pro" sounding music. It's like Ween's rejected Pizza Hut jingle, except I'd make some insane Bladerunner-sounding shit. And then it's always a question of how much you're willing to lose and for how much in return. Even Sonic Youth has their price in a free-market universe. People make their choices. Most of the crust punks I've known were either secretly bankrolled or had other lives where they had video store jobs or whatever. No one I know personally is authentically bohemian, whatever that would mean. DJ Screw might have been, but now we'll never know for sure. We all have to survive, but we should remember that the need for money doesn't give us carte blanche to make shitty products or endorse shitty companies.
I was also curious about your feelings towards downloading music. I think the DIY scene is in an interesting position in relation to the the filesharing debate, being so removed from profit in general. But obviously if subsequent generations think nothing of downloading everything they want to hear, and if they get over any desire to have a physical package, that will have big repercussions on every aspect of the industry.
Totally. It's pretty clear that whatever the record industry is doing isn't working. My friend showed me a blog that had posted Vybz Kartel's to-date sales statistics from his last album -- for some reason "cassette" is listed as an option? Anyway, it's just a bunch of zeros next to all the formats and then an eight next to digital downloads. Eight. It's mostly funny to me when considering how much money his people spent on the album campaign etc., and the result could be easily trumped by Whatever Tapes from Anytown USA. The point of the story is that if you build it, they will come. Treat your work like Work, with a capital W, put in the time, and good things will happen. In terms of production and distribution, it's never been a more level playing field than as it is now. Everyone's going hog wild putting stuff out DIY style, which is radical. As far as illegal downloading is concerned, I've never understood the debate. The internet is a giant free-promotion machine. If shitty MP3s + JPGs are enough for people, it's not my job to convince them otherwise. Share away. I'm stoked on stuff like Waffles because it sounds like people are sharing FLAC rips with good metadata and high-quality scans there. I didn't get into music to fight piracy or rally against the digital sea change. The bottom line is, whatever you're gonna do, whether it be pirating stuff, or making art — just do it well.
Okay, let's get back to your music. Do you find yourself still influenced by new stuff? Or have you reached the point where your own process and work is almost self-sustaining and you don't really need to fuel the creative juices from outside sources?
No, I'm a sponge, and I love culture and the process of soaking it in is just as rewarding as working from the inside-out and making my own ‘unique' work — really, I don't see those processes as separate. Recently I've been super into game theory and Halo and Second Life — like on an armchair level... but it'll inevitably morph into a video or music project. I don't understand people who refuse to listen to music while they're recording because it stifles their creativity. I'm more in the Burroughs camp of everything as a mimetic virus -- like I enjoy getting that bug.
This might be a good spot to ask about David Keenan's Hypnagogic Pop tag discussed in [this blog post]. Do you consider your music a part of that label?
I definitely see strains of David's ideas in what I do, especially in the videos. I don't think the hpop tag is representative of a movement or constituted by a select group of artists. I see it more as a discussion about nostalgia and its subliminal effects on culture. I don't see anything wrong with the tag — it's just a way of engaging with a phenomenon. In terms of intellectual engagement with underground music, I think Keenan is putting in the hours and doing the Work, and that's more than most can say for themselves.
"None of us are totally culture-free, and all of us on some level are sentenced with having to relate to society whether we side with it or not."
I'm curious about your process of creating music.
I jam combos of arpeggiators in latch or unlatched modes, sequencers, and free playing via loopers, and then bounce it to computer where I resample and layer the stuff there. I do this process over and over. It can get really time-consuming and insane. There are other tracks that are kind of antithetical to that process, where I just more or less just straight jam, Danny Wolfers-style or Marcia Bassett-style.
On Rifts, why did you feel the need to compile the three albums together? Were they conceptualized as a trilogy, or was it more of a marketing choice?
I didn't realize it was a trilogy until I started working on Zones Without People. There's a clear arc from one record to the next. Octagon is about surrendering to the raw sounds of the synthesizer. Zones Without People is a journey through various stylistic approaches to psychedelic music, some of which have traditionally been sort of kept separate from one another — for example stuff like new age and stuff that's more like noise. And Russian Mind is a reflection of all my work before it — even stuff prior to OPN in terms of computer-edit electronic music. But if the trilogy ever becomes a film, I have the whole storyline down too, so.
I love how stark tracks like "Russian Mind" are, but inversely, your process seems pretty complicated. Is the goal to try to make something that sounds effortless and almost eternal? Or is that just me reading into it too much?
Well, that track is actually really stark and stripped down and wasn't complicated to make, although it was complicated to play because I had to actually remember the chord changes which I never usually do. The goal is to make music with the same intensity as Michelangelo's sculptures — like beautiful, seamless figures, carved almost violently out of gigantic blocks of super heavy, solid marble. The process of stripping away towards something elemental or burying something elemental within a vast world of sound is something that I'm into.
Are there any tracks that you consider particularly emblematic of that? Or just any tracks you're fond of or think turned out really well?
"Grief & Repetition" off of Russian Mind is my top dog. It was also the first thing I ever recorded, in 2003.