Big Ears 2014: Oneohtrix Point Never

Big Ears 2014: Oneohtrix Point Never

photo by Timothy Saaccenti

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With its disorienting layers of fragmented sounds that don’t intuitively mesh, Daniel Lopatin’s 2013 album R Plus Seven points to a whole new way of creating and thinking about electronic music. It can be difficult music to describe, though; the most creative attempt I’ve come across compares it to how you might imagine 3D-printed music sounds.

Like Lopatin’s music, his Oneohtrix Point Never moniker can seem willfully baffling and tricky. The phrase is a play on a garbled pronunciation of 106.7, the call numbers of a radio station in his hometown of Boston. It’s not incidental that the radio station has a soft-rock format, as that genre, along with other once-maligned musical styles like jazz fusion and new age, have been reconsidered and reappropriated by a younger generation of musicians. Much of this is in the form of straight-faced homage or mocking irony, but Lopatin seems to be genuinely intrigued by how and why these forms work on listeners the way they do, interrogating this in his own music.

“I don’t think I have to play the jester to the world of zeitgeisty musical ideas, but inevitably it happens sometimes, because I get interested in trends and the way that people think,” Lopatin says. “I’m always responding to what I’m hearing—on tour, music in cabs, or just everyday soundscapes that permeate. But it’s the most generic postmodern technique to just pay attention and make fun of something. I like thinking about the formal aspects, like what’s between me and this thing, in terms of affect. How does it make me feel, and how do I take that and imbue it with something that’s mine? I’m less about fragmentation than listening to my own affective way of dealing with other people’s artistic gestures.”

The title R Plus Seven tweaks the name of N+7, a procedure created by the French literary group Oulipo that asks writers to replace each noun in an existing text with the seventh noun that follows in a dictionary, creating a new work. Lopatin draws inspiration from such techniques.

“I don’t really start a project until I have a conceptual idea, even if it’s really informal,” he says. “Once I have conceptual parameters, it’s pretty easy to figure out what sort of sounds I should be using. I used procedural poetry techniques for this record, excavating texts from several sources. What you end up hearing on the record represents a small fraction of the archival work I actually did, but I like doing that kind of work because it’s repetitive.”

Lopatin is one of the most discussed and celebrated avant-electronic musicians of recent years. He’s been highly influential on more forward-thinking electronic musicians, and, along with James Ferraro, a major touchstone for the hyperactive, consumer culture–critiquing genre vaporwave (and, inevitably, post-vaporwave). A lot of talk surrounding Lopatin’s music can tend toward the academic, and it’s no surprise he has equally ardent critics. Lopatin finds the negative reactions more interesting than insulting.

“Most of the time it’s fine, even if it’s mixed or negative,” he says. “I have a pretty good baseline understanding of how things work, and it’s more like a curiosity. But I’m much happier creating problems for people than leaving them thinking they’ve been fulfilled because something I did was exactly what they thought it would be like. People who come to the show without any specific data points have the best time, I think.”

Oneohtrix Point Never will perform at the Bijou Theatre on Saturday, March 29, at 3:30 p.m.

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