Oneohtrix Point Never plays the most hard-hitting ambient music I’ve encountered. His works are extreme in their garishness to the point of absurdity, with melodies flushed out and plugged like so many unwitting Duck Hunt participants. Daniel Lopatin’s project also is like a silent version of that laughing dog, wherein every botched attempt the listener makes to lock into a groove is puckishly undermined. This is brain schism, not brain dance, but it’s bracing. And the kick-off show in Rensselaer, NY for his R Plus Seven tour reinforced this notion for me. Of course, I was among those (everyone, as I recall) who failed to recognize that there were applause breaks (sometime collaborator Tim Hecker played the same venue with no breaks), so there was awkward silence at the start.
Perhaps it never stopped. I honestly can’t tell how the audience was receiving things. Many of those in attendance were students with nothing else to do. But I was floored. Not only was the set full of surprises (for one piece, there was a churning, almost sans-live drum Add N to (X)-type progression, the likes of which I have never heard from the man), but the visual elements were perfectly synced. Nate Boyce and his contorting CGI renderings of various abstract sculptures blended with OPN’s stunted, jarring spa-core missives in a most uncanny fashion. It was a thrill to see and hear such brazen works of abstraction. Even though Hecker’s sound setup was more elaborate (apparently a week was spent setting up site-specific multiple-speaker arrangements), OPN was considerably bigger sounding. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Lopatin works with bright, clean sounds rather than decaying, fuzzy ones, but there was a lot more Maxell commercial-level intensity.
On a related note, if you don’t live too far from the capital district of New York, I highly recommend EMPAC as a venue. Most of the performers are of the more prestigious, experimental variety (though past guests Deerhunter and Japanther aren’t necessarily much more than rock music, and folk singer Josephine Foster has also played there), but the sound quality is impeccable.