Photo courtesy of Warp Records

Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘Age Of’ Is As Unbound As Its Title

On Oneohtrix Point Never's latest, Age Of, his iconoclastic approach to composition brings forth a reflection of the the post-internet experience -- a bombardment of cultural and historical inputs.

Age Of
Oneohtrix Point Never
1 June 2018

Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project has always remained on the fringes of all cultures and genres. OPN is a true reflection and participant of the post-internet age. Perhaps the endless online catalog of information and music has fatigued most people, but for Lopatin, it has inspired a decade of dizzying compositions. He refers to his artistic approach as “Compressionism” — the process of compacting the oversaturation of cultural and historical inputs into a graspable idea or sound. Accordingly, OPN’s ninth studio album Age Of presents Lopatin’s most ambitious Compressionist piece. It is a masterful performance of iconoclasm that deconstructs the so-called high and low music categories. Each composition finds far-reaching musical links in antilogies to develop a confounding, yet whole identity. Even as an unfettered abstraction of ages and aesthetics, jumping from Baroque music, ’80s pop, industrial music, and so much more, Age Of is entirely an expression of Daniel Lopatin.

OPN exists to uncover new experiences in forgotten or clichéd sounds. Lopatin’s 2010 album Replica samples 1980s and ’90s television commercials, and his 2013 album R Plus Seven features unabashedly synthetic horns that sound like they came from an outmoded, battery-powered keyboard. In a 2013 Reddit AMA, Lopatin comments that his blend of archival samples and MIDI presets “remove the difference between real and generic… manipulating the effects themselves, instead of being used by them, to reinforce their stereotypes, histories, etc”.

For Age Of, Lopatin digs even further and unearths an instrument that went passé in the late 19th century: the harpsichord. While the bright, brittle twangs of the harpsichord dominated the sound of Baroque music, they are now disregarded by modern keyboard players for its limited expressive capabilities. The harpsichord plucks its strings with fixed velocity, restricting the player’s control over dynamics and tone colors. Hence, the harpsichord was eventually superseded by the touch-sensitive pianoforte, which literally translates to “soft loud”. However, it is now the age of the MIDI and DAW, so Lopatin is able to fully manipulate the soft-loud qualities of the harpsichord with sound synthesis.

The MIDI harpsichord adds sensitivity and variation to a once fixed instrument, and Lopatin explores every possibility of these new functions. The title track “Age Of” begins with a harpsichord riff that becomes increasingly delayed and culminates in a wave of sound that escapes the instrument’s original timbre. Furthermore, in the short interlude “”, the harpsichord rings a series of dissonant arpeggios that intensify until ruination. In each use, the MIDI harpsichord unpredictably moves from soft to loud; from clean to washed in reverb; or from forward to reversed. These erratic movements evoke a pleasurable discomfiture. It is a challenging listening experience, but after all, OPN was never about easy listening (just sampling it).

The MIDI harpsichord is not entirely a sound of the past or present. As Lopatin displaces the harpsichord from its intended artistic age and genre, it exists without dominant aesthetic rules. In an interview with Couch Wisdom, Lopatin says, “if you had no punchline to that sentence [Age Of…] it became way more cosmic”. With no “punchline”, the album title frees the listener from the aesthetic expectations that define and separate artistic ages. Thereby, Lopatin establishes the Age Of as an aural space for questioning and even toying with music traditions.

The abstraction of ages is also expressed in the album artwork, which features Jim Shaw’s The Great Whatsit. Shaw’s painting depicts three women donning vintage knitwear, standing in awe of an illuminated MacBook. The pedestalized laptop is placed within the aura of ’70s suburbia, disorienting any linear understandings of time and space. Similarly, Age Of amalgamates intergenerational, cross-genre sounds that challenge conventional linear album structures. Often, a genre may restrict an artist’s sound for the sake of flow and style. Age Of does flow, and OPN does have a style, but it is inapt to describe the music with a single broad title such as “experimental” or “electronic”.

As the album title and cover suggest, Age Of does not subscribe to any age or genre. Lopatin finds as much inspiration and merit in Western classical music as adult contemporary pop. Hence, harpsichord-heavy tracks are followed by romantic ballads, orchestral ambient-scapes, or bleak industrial beats. “Babylon” sings an ’80s inspired vocal melody about the rise and fall of the ancient civilization. “Toys 2” sounds OPN’s familiar warm pads to score an imagined sequel of the 1992 film Toys. “We’ll Take It” couples a menacing, piercing beat with distorted samples of a MADtv sketch to paint a bleak scene of capitalism. Each song almost acts as a snippet of Western music history, or as an abstract memory of mass media’s past.

However, even with all the shifts in ages, sounds, and ideas, Age Of especially surprises OPN fans with the addition of an unfamiliar, intimate texture. While past albums experimented with vocal samples and ChipSpeech, Age Of features Lopatin’s real voice. For the first time, his conceptual voice is paired with his personal voice. Even processed through the Vocaloid, the presence of Lopatin’s voice reminds the listener that the music steeped in conceptual thought is still a very personal expression. Above all, Age Of reflects Lopatin’s navigation of the post-internet age. It skitters in ages, sounds, and ideas, but that is the intended effect. It is the concretization of an overloaded existence; it is an emulator simulating our anxious digital experience, perceived and programmed by Daniel Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never.

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