September 24, 2012
This week’s selection is a “why didn’t it happen sooner” pair-up between two princes of the ‘net/cassette audio landscape, on Vermont’s uniformly excellent New New Age Tapes. Boston synth stalwart Dan Lopatin goes deep and disjointed on the next chapter of his Oneohtrix Point Never travelogue, and Portland/LA drifter Rene Hell (Jeff Witscher) lets his inner Satie shine on a series of digitally augmented piano-and-string miniatures.
OPN’s side is cerebral extension of the sample-based psychotropics that defined his last album “Replica”. Rapid-fire verbal stutter is the common thread through the side, while Lopatin’s signature dark, warm tone-float grounds the pieces with a sense of sincere melodicism. He’s embracing the glitch, while eschewing the coldness of a pure laptop vacuum. Harsh walls of industrial laser welding occasionally punctuate the dreamy proceedings, adding a sense of tense unease. A lonely, romantic, flickering landscape with dread lurking just below the surface.
Lopatin’s compositional strategy is a striking “live mixing” of chopped sources with more static beds, bringing to mind one of my personal favorites, circuit shredder/sampling pioneer Nicholas Collins (who’s definitely getting a proper Globule homage in the near future). The listener struggles to grab hold of stray phonemes in the warping word-salad, which in their arrangement evoke Peanuts-style adult/child conversations, testimony playback, and dream language. His hyper-looped editing style has an almost literary bent, occasionally verging on the Concrète poetry of late-sixties academics like Kenneth Gaburo or Luciano Berio.
The layer of searing test tones and “classical” aleatoric cpu-blurt are what differentiates this side from Lopatin’s more serene, measured efforts, and while its still a compelling counterpoint, it’s just slightly inarticulate. There is a definite ‘dissolving into data’ component that’s quite alluring, as words and tones are atomized, serialized, and dispassionately re-assembled. An excellent “next step” in OPN’s impressive catalog.
Rene Hell’s side shows a similar forward-momentum, ditching almost entirely the lush, pulsing darkness of his earlier work in favor of more “advanced” digitalisms. The suite of short pieces begins with some wistful piano, with a somber, legato lilt, accompanied in time by all manner of stereo-traversing, band-passed zappage, and vintage mainframe bleep-bloop. Over the course of the side, the listener is treated to a catalog of ‘classical’ moves, with somber, romantic overtones.
A two-note ostinato on synth and piano blooms into almost ‘emotronica’(sorry!) urgency, with a virtuistic edge. Passionate strings of unknown origin swell and linger, in full-on Godspeed! cinematics. “Moonlight Sonata”-lineage plodding relaxes in sunny room ambience. All the while, digital effluvia prance and charge across the stereo field.
In their brightest moments, these digital/classical hybris are wistful, yet energetic experiments in contrast. In the duller spots, the juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic sound seems forced and dispassionate. It’s a dizzying and slightly schizophrenic listen on the whole, permiated by an almost subliminal sense of longing and fantasy. A promising attempt, for sure, as Witscher pulls himself out of the basement, and vies for a seat in the academy.
Dig an excerpt from OPN’s side below, and get hip to the new digital underground.
(And thanks, of course to Noise Park for the hilariously spot-on profile pics. I just couldn’t help myself.)