Oneohtrix Point Never R Plus Seven

[Warp; 2013]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: movement in a static space, incongruent methods of display, backdoor to Sweden
Others: Tom Recchion, Eleanor Lines, Victor Brauner, François Couperin‎

In his portrayal of Georges Schwizgebel, Der Bund arts and culture journalist Thomas Allenbach describes what he loves most about the Swiss animator’s work: “Each image transforms into another, a still image becomes a moving one, which effortlessly surmounts temporal and spatial limits.” It’s almost certainly a cop-out, discussing a separate piece of art through the lens of some analysis by-proxy, but it feels essential in the case of R Plus Seven. Not only does the album’s cover art feature an enhanced screen-grab from one of Schwizgebel’s productions, but the music hinges on disconnected adaptations, on re-imagined scenarios, where description and critique are borrowed to expose some mosaic euphoria. The only notable difference between Allenbach’s depiction of Schwizgebel and the latest offering from Oneohtrix Point Never is that the latter comes grounded in the temporal without once indicating a desire to overcome it, in spite of the religious connotations that spill from its instrumentation.

In the beginning, there was an induction, sonic elements looping on Oneohtrix Point Never’s website that drew a line in the sand. It identified R Plus Seven as an album unique unto its own, separate from anything Daniel Lopatin had released in the past while also suggesting a departure from the commercial surge of Replica. Labeled as embryonic fragments set to evolve, the three sonic elements were constructed upon miniature loops, their very structure exposing an unquestionable bent for the hypnotic. Over a span of 20 seconds or so, the Brooklyn-based musician offered an experience that slipped coded extractions alongside aesthetic divergence, hinting with brevity at what was to come before looping the whole thing back again. Each element replicated itself without adjustment, a static flip book of sound: Schwizgebel’s moving stillness.

Beyond its initial purpose, the previews forged a fervent and visceral response through its disconnected arrangements, which revealed more about its future host than the intricate makeup of each piece, a demonstration that would later see the deep tones on the first sonic element unfold into a quieted jamboree of bells, voice, and birdsong in “Along,” the broken vocal sample of the second loop play out into some phlegmy pulse on “Problem Areas,” and the plucked strings of the third shrink into the confides of the record’s shortest but potentially most exquisite track. The recordings, in their cut-and-paste condition, hinted at a release destined to split into micro-compositions. But while these loops sketched out a glossy aesthetic, it also reinforced a freshly divulged melodic strategy. On a foundational level, this has a huge impact on the full-length playback experience, because as a listener, you are permitted to follow the foretelling snippets as they blossom into an album that may appear more accessible on the surface, but ultimately digs deeper than anything Lopatin has produced in the past.

With Replica, Lopatin’s curiosity was grounded in the digital graveyard of expired commercial messages, in reworking their matter to align some newfangled suitability — an unapologetic exhumation pastiche. Redundant sound files were repackaged, detached from original sentiment, and played back as new material, void of the cultural significance they once carried. But it was the subverted content, not necessarily the method by which it was achieved, that made the most impressive statement on the album. In this respect, R Plus Seven doesn’t expose such a dramatic shift after all. The most fascinating clues to its luscious textures and staggering harmonic sequences lie, quite expectedly, in the most unexpected places.

In an interview with RBMA, Lopatin talked about Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, not so much as an influence, but as an allusion to his use of sample material. On location in Latin America, actor Klaus Kinski would take a photographer or two with him into the jungle, where he posed in an attempt to portray his love for the outdoors — a personalized manifestation of the exotic. Herzog was adamant that, regardless of his display, Kinski was fearful of the jungle, and that he only returned into the thicket when a camera was able to witness his inspired musing. And yet, the actor still wished to create such fantasy. Herzog asserts that nature is brutal, cruel, violent, and distressing, in spite of ideological personifications of the wild as peaceful and meditative. This is an idea Lopatin seems sympathetic toward, and so he makes use of the portrayals that continue to persist in music, film, and photography alike. It’s the prolificacy of these depictions, bolstered by an interest in personal representations of experience through disjunctive logic, that the artist is inspired by here: an idealistic vision of Mother Earth that’s projected into abstract concepts such as New Age music by way of smooth jazz and even porn soundtracks, which are used to beautify subjective characterizations of “the erotic.”

These dimensions are exposed in a number of settings on R Plus Seven, namely the religious (“Boring Angel” and “Chrome Country”), the mechanical (“Cryo” and “Along”), and their relationship with the anthropocentric. On the surface, these references are often explicit (the rushes of water and bird calls on “Along;” the tweets, chirps, and fluttering of wings on the brilliantly titled “Inside World”), defused entirely from musical contexts in which they might otherwise be found. These allusions create a lining for the paradoxical song structures and subjects Lopatin tackles here while coinciding with modifications of the peaceful, natural setting that Kinski seemed so determined to represent. Such stark contrasts indicate another parallel between R Plus Seven and Replica in that they both bridge opposing ideas: soft drink commercials are typically lively in their depiction of how a product can transform real-world experiences, but in the case of the latter album, they were presented as a heap of bones, all signifiers chiseled away to leave a cold, fractured shell; in its use of contrasting imagery, the former bears predilection for juxtaposing the sacred with the temporal, indicating some imagined secular utopianism that’s undercut by a peerless flare for parody.

It’s important to recognize, however, that an analysis of symbolism remains a secondary factor here. There is little point in having an idea about subversion and a calculated means of presenting it unless the results come grounded in aesthetically pleasing arrangements. R Plus Seven sounds fucking fantastic, and a lot of that has to do with the album’s euphonic influence as well as any theoretical interplay. Sonic inspiration is limitless when taking into account anonymous meditation CDs and babbled field recordings with seductive narration, but in terms of specific comparison, it distinctly brings Tom Recchion’s Chaotica to mind. With its crumbling throb and jittery percussion sections, “Is It A Baldwin?” mirrors “Zebra” in some disjointed incarnation of the sublime. In the same way, a track such as “Floating Cans” bears resemblance to “He She,” not so much with regards to texture, but in equanimity and impact — both LPs feel as though the musicians are exploring a technique that’s new to them, as though they are in search of a deep resonance without coming from strictly “trained” musical backgrounds. In an interview with The Wire, Recchion discussed his inability as a composer of songs: “Not being a trained musician I thought it felt a bit like Evil Kenivel attempting to configure a melody. Of course there are a gazillion untrained song writers but for me it felt more risky.” Recchion’s uncertainty guided him around his experimentation, which seems to have taken Lopatin along a similar path as he approached his synths, this time with Chaotica as a distinctive blueprint. The consequence of both artistic efforts might lead to a fruitful discussion on semiotics, but the method is seated in the most instinctual of aspirations: the base desire to sit down with musical instruments and write a melody.

It might follow, then, that the songs’ fragmented structures have been deployed to tackle multiple themes, a catalog of floating signifiers or symbolic gestures submitted for decoding. But that would undermine any bedrock motives for exploring dulcet composition and the skill involved in writing a tune that’s captivating in its disconnected form, particularly on a track like “Americans,” which sees Lopatin demonstrating a spectacular gift at building tension and heightening emotion through waves of detached sound, from sensual harmonies to frantic vocal cuts. It doesn’t “work” in the sense that the melody maintains a structured trajectory; it instead carves a path permitting Lopatin’s fascination for static surrealism to pour through. This allows for an incredible transformation of ideas, which come housed in pristine harmonics embodying a manipulated vision of the meditative pastures others are so keen to beautify, from soundtracking a bukaki climax scene to offering calm, inspirational visions of nature.

Of course it’s important to search for meaning within instrumental electronic works, even to extrapolate from digitally encoded blips and keys; the fact that people are interested in these external components implies an engaged audience, and it’s hard to think of a record in recent years that has captured attention in the same way while sounding so awe-inspiring. But R Plus Seven needn’t be consumed in the multimedia cocoon that now surrounds it, regardless of Lopatin’s reputation as a hyper-aware digital artist performing for listeners who have grown up with the internet (not as an experiment in communication, but as a fully-formed and functioning emotional domain). Despite the coded sound files, interactive website, and spellbinding videos, the album exists independently as a case for disjointed representations, cultural citation, and enchanting music. The ideas behind these songs aren’t lofty; they are based on an adjustment of artistic fabrication while exploring the listener’s level of expectancy and associations with the cliché, bridging a gap between tones that instigate comfort and warmth, even with their misappropriation and overuse. The effect is deeply profound and challenging, especially for fans who consider Rifts or Zones Without People to be the most essential works in the artist’s back-catalog. What Lopatin leaves us with is a stunning example in the evolution of an artistic premise and a flawless embodiment of emotive responses to sound, which unite here in their most fractured form: a moving stillness for the digital age.

Links: Oneohtrix Point Never - Warp


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