Markus Popp was originally a member of the three-piece electronic outfit Oval, but ever since Sebastian Oschatz and Frank Metzger left in 1995, Popp *is* Oval. For someone whose bread and butter are synthesizers and programming, Popp has done a wonderful job of staying on top of technology and how it applies to his music. Software and programming manipulation, the anticipation of AI trends in composition, hauling computers on the road for live performances – it’s easy to fall behind in a music genre so dependent on state-of-the-art technology. But Popp has stayed remarkably prolific over the years, releasing a steady stream of albums that champion the art of electronic, ambient, and noise-leaning sounds.
Eksploio is his latest EP, and it’s something of an appetizer to his next full-length album, Scis (to be released in January 2020). The album continues Popp’s on-again, off-again relationship with Thrill Jockey, a label known more for heavier, guitar-oriented music. Thrill Jockey probably sees a kindred spirit in Oval, as the music tends to teeter on the edge of chaos. The title track of Eksploio begins innocently enough with slightly glitchy keyboard figures. But as more and more interesting sounds and patches enter the mix, it becomes somewhat overcrowded, but not necessarily in a way that suggests complete disarray. It’s more along the lines of gleeful mayhem, a party packed with boisterous guests with great stories to tell.
“Paragramm” is a great example of Popp incorporating unique samples that fall outside the perimeters of “normal” electronic music. Airy sounds of wind and rain creep in and out of the mix, letting the song breathe a little within the noisy drum programming. “Blissous” includes what sounds like a prepared piano that brings to mind the recent ambient works of Ryuichi Sakamoto. The start/stop glitches that invade the otherworldly “Ambik” is electronic music at the height of sonic fidelity, reminiscent of Joe Williams’ Motion Graphics project. It’s playful chaos, a celebration of everything experimental synthesizer programming can be, and while it delves into moments of disarray, it never seems to be at the expense of melody. Popp is focusing more on the compositional aspect of his music than ever before.
By the time Eksploio closes with the warm tangle of “Brockaat”, Oval’s brief 2019 offering is a fast, exhilarating ride through the futuristic musical mind of Markus Popp, and a joyous preview of the full-length album that awaits fans in early 2020.