Reliquary House: Nate Boyce and Oneohtrix Point Never

I’ve been following the career of Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never for a few years, ever since he released the triple LP Rifts back in 2009, a collection previously release  EPs, compilation tracks, and other limited edition work.  Initially, Oneohtrix Point Never’s sound was heavily  based on synthesizer arpeggios and spectral detuned drones—very appealing stuff for fans of German kosmische artists like Popal Vuh, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze.

Lopatin could have continued churning music like that forever and have kept his fans happy, but something more interesting happened. The definitive break from his old sound came with album Replica in 2011. Synthesizers remained present in the mix, but in a diminished role. Vocal samples, often edited and distorted beyond recognition, became the basis the album’s most effective moments. The music still retained the hazy textures of Lopatin’s early work, but the chaotic structures and harsh tones put it at a far distance from most ambient music.

R Plus 7, Lopatin’s newest album, marks an even more radical change in style. Bright digital tones predominate. Digital piano and choral pads lend a mood of Clinton-era nostalgia, Window’s 95 start-up music and the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country. Lopatin fashions these rather banal ingredients into something far stranger and more compelling than the slick, corporatist digital-utopianism with which this type of music is associated.

Nowadays, what I find most compelling about Lopatin’s work is not his music per se, though I like R Plus 7 quite a bit, but rather it is his willingness to collaborate across disciplines. When I saw him on tour following the release of Replica, he was accompanied by disorienting and beautiful projections by the video artist Nate Boyce. Like Lopatin, Boyce uses the artificiality,  the synthetic texture of digital media as a creative departure point.  His 3D animations are “wrong” in the conventional sense that they do not form a coherent, realistic environment, but that is the point. They show the strangeness and instability lurking behind a supposedly frictionless digital reality.

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