Pravila igre napisana ispočetka.
Brooklyn-based, Soviet-born writer and musician Daniel Lopatin is a fixture on the electronic-music circuit’s left-of-center regions. As Oneohtrix Point Never he has been cranking out tapes and CDRs like a man possessed for the last couple of years; they range from demented meditation drones to straight-up noise. His first release on Editions Mego, Returnal (2010), made him more of a household name, landing him collaborations with Antony Hegarty and Tim Hecker. Lopatin also records with his friend and fellow Software label-honcho Joel Ford as Ford & Lopatin (formerly Games), who released their first joint LP, Channel Pressure, to much critical acclaim in 2011.
If you have listened to 'R Plus Seven', make a list of ideas that R beautiful now that you have listened to 'R Plus Seven'. Here's mine: savannahs, stairwells, Mondrian, electric blue suits, cursors, a sharpened set of colouring pencils neatly arranged in order from red to violet, skylights, orchids, cleaning the windows of Liberty Place on a crisp April morning, a plane, learning to draw the human body, collonades, Sid Meier, vanishing points, heuristics and finite sequences of steps, amino acids, chess, self-constructing and self-replicating factories, ateliers, the set of all real numbers, the set of all recursive languages, the old weird technocracy.
To say that somebody 'reinvents' music would be a pompous cliché best left to jaded press releases and the twentieth century, wouldn't it? No one 'reinvents' music these days, they just reverently but despondently turn over its coals and prod its embers, or so we're often told. And yet there's no denying that reinventing music is precisely what Oneohtrix Point Never has been doing for the past few years, and more and more with each new release. Even if they melted into abstraction over time, there was something palpably 'neo' about his earlier releases that slotted nicely between the graveyard tributes of hauntology and the dumpster-diving of hypnagogic pop. But then there was the curveball of 'Replica', an album which people talk about in hushed tones as if it were a giant baleful asteroid hanging in the sky and just watching us going about our daily business. 'Replica' was a mystery humanity may never solve, an ancient curse on the limbic system, a system of doorways leading only to other doorways. It managed to unify enormous godlike emotional forces and apparently inconsequential little sonic granules in some kind of fuck-me, Klein-bottle, infinite-Escher-ascent scenario. It was an album that could only be explained with the principles of string theory (and partially, at that) and yet made as much sense as does fleeing from an oncoming beast.
This new album 'R Plus Seven' is so quizzical that it only barely interfaces with a human player on levels such as familiarity and emotionality. It cares nothing for your human need for unity. It cares nothing for your human hierarchy of musical signs. It cares nothing for your human categories of culture. After decades of 'new' music only reflecting our own expectations back at us with a veneer of subversiveness, this is what interfacing with reinvented music should feel like - like learning to listen all over again, like being an infant and not yet knowing how things are supposed to go together. 'R Plus Seven' is ahead of us, self-generating its own logics, but this is not to say it is inhuman. When needed, in response to demanding environments, the domain of humanity expands to encompass new logics and new forms of expression. And 'R Plus Seven' is a demanding environment.
"These sounds interbreed like a broth of protein strings, creating new sequences, new heterogeneous textures and new organisms galloping over the plains with their strangely bending limbs."Well, maybe there's the occasional scent on the wind of mid-to-late eighties Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, or some other synth wizard, but at what point do we proto-humans, Daniel Lopatin included, inevitably read these things off the technological surface itself (relatively untouched since then as it is)? 'R Plus Seven' is at least halfway between the yuppie/adult-contemporary 80s kitsch of hypnagogic pop and something else without name or form. Oneohtrix has been 80s as Games, Ford & Lopatin, Chuck Person (the latter being how, like some Greek mythological figure with a weird wound, he gave rise to vaporwave) and others, but the least you can say about the recognisable objects of 'R Plus Seven' is that they appear in strange contexts - there are few games of spot the reference here (a game Ferraro has mostly given up on as well). Or if there are, they're paltry, not nearly as fun as whatever game those kids over there are playing, the ones eight feet tall with blue skin, ten limbs and magnificent crania. If people are left cold by 'R Plus Seven' this might be the reason, that it's all but stopped playing those same old games. Oneohtrix is no longer here to simply to remind you how cool 1970s and 1980s synthesiser music might have been back in the day.
And how do we navigate in this game? See for yourself. For me it's about pure sense, snatching an information packet as it rushes past and comparing it with another one. Same or different? How so? After a while, one can begin to sketch up a new cladogram. 'R Plus Seven' has several species of soft sounds (not as in quiet - woozy, hazy, pastel-coloured, rounded) and hard sounds (pinging, slamming, tinny, metallic). It is singular sounds (this note, that one, that pipette-blob of whatever it is) and multilicious sounds (bells, bunches, combinations, conglomerations). Organic sounds (human voices, water, was that a bird?) and non-organic sounds (for which only formulas can currently be given) - well, they're all both organic and non-organic and neither, really, 'R Plus Seven' makes it difficult to draw the lines. Discrete sounds (attacked, decayed, sustained and released into the silence) and continuous sounds (drones, breezes, atmosphères). And then you realise that actually all these species can interbreed, and are doing so rapidly, like a broth of protein strings, creating new sequences, new heterogeneous textures and new organisms galloping over the plains with their strangely bending limbs. And so surely enough, with all the joy of a Carl Sagan hand movement, complex life is born, music reinvented.
"'R Plus Seven' is such a reinvention of the musical game that it strikes me as a world generated almost from scratch by an artificial intelligence. The album might be what the computer that used to work for the Art of Noise does on its own time."And the life is definitely up to something, whether we know what it is or not. Most tracks are built in a modular fashion, with wildly different bits and pieces - sometimes starkly monophonic - bolted together like parts of a space station. This is what other producers are doing, even Kanye, much of whose 'Yeezus' was constructed in the same way - one thing, then another thing, then another thing, all different musical images but dispensed one at a time, laid out neatly in a row, like in a museum. After all the crowing about maximalism, the cutting edge seems to be a modular/sequential minimalism, but for Lopatin this also comes from an interest in quasi-modernist 1980s graphic design I think, with its immaculately rendered tropes of abstraction (for a light-hearted look at which, click here; see also Steph Kretowicz's piece on the role of 'object fetish' and 'masculine' synthesiser presets). The process is not just jarringly and disruptively absorbing, the infinite made countably finite, but a kind of storytelling too. What might be 'happening' in tracks like Zebra and Still Life? We can hear the plot - that A gets to B gets to C - but what's the story?
This whole adventure throws a new light on everything. Maybe all kinds of things, things in sequence and combination, can be beautiful and absorbing in the same way. Maybe there are things we forgot were things, or never even noticed were things before. This is where blundering about in non-human games gets you. 'R Plus Seven' is such a reinvention of the musical game that it strikes me as a world generated almost from scratch by an artificial intelligence. The album might be what the computer that used to work for the Art of Noise does on its own time, an AI enthusiastically generating art, who once wouldn't admit to preferring modernism to postmodernism but now refuses to be ironic or ashamed of the so-called uncanny valley. 'R Plus Seven' wouldn't quite be the sort of thing to play to the tech-investors next time they come around, maybe we'll stick to 'Moments in Love' and 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' but we'll keep it on diskette, maybe one day humanity will have ascended to the point where it can be grateful.
Herein lies a drawback of 'R Plus Seven', not that it's robotic but that at times the facade of the non-human logics slips and we get something recognisably human or even sentimentally human, some structure of melody or harmony that might have come from the soundtrack to a movie about hopes and dreams. This is especially true of the final track, Chrome County, which feels a bit too much like a happy ending, as if in the midst of the sublime Oz-spectacle Lopatin pulls back the green curtain and gives a little wink. The same thing happened at the end of 'Replica,' everything became pleasant and relatable (if I'm reading the runes optimally, and I'm probably not). I don't want to be welcomed home - home was a lie and it's doomed anyway - I want to be taught how to be more than human, to evolve, to interface with non-human environments and make humanity there. I hope it isn't just me. Would you like to play a game of chess? - Adam Harper
Beyond its initial purpose, the previews forged a fervent and visceral response through its disconnected arrangements, which revealed more about its future host than the intricate makeup of each piece, a demonstration that would later see the deep tones on the first sonic element unfold into a quieted jamboree of bells, voice, and birdsong in “Along,” the broken vocal sample of the second loop play out into some phlegmy pulse on “Problem Areas,” and the plucked strings of the third shrink into the confides of the record’s shortest but potentially most exquisite track. The recordings, in their cut-and-paste condition, hinted at a release destined to split into micro-compositions. But while these loops sketched out a glossy aesthetic, it also reinforced a freshly divulged melodic strategy. On a foundational level, this has a huge impact on the full-length playback experience, because as a listener, you are permitted to follow the foretelling snippets as they blossom into an album that may appear more accessible on the surface, but ultimately digs deeper than anything Lopatin has produced in the past.
With Replica, Lopatin’s curiosity was grounded in the digital graveyard of expired commercial messages, in reworking their matter to align some newfangled suitability — an unapologetic exhumation pastiche. Redundant sound files were repackaged, detached from original sentiment, and played back as new material, void of the cultural significance they once carried. But it was the subverted content, not necessarily the method by which it was achieved, that made the most impressive statement on the album. In this respect, R Plus Seven doesn’t expose such a dramatic shift after all. The most fascinating clues to its luscious textures and staggering harmonic sequences lie, quite expectedly, in the most unexpected places.
In an interview with RBMA, Lopatin talked about Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, not so much as an influence, but as an allusion to his use of sample material. On location in Latin America, actor Klaus Kinski would take a photographer or two with him into the jungle, where he posed in an attempt to portray his love for the outdoors — a personalized manifestation of the exotic. Herzog was adamant that, regardless of his display, Kinski was fearful of the jungle, and that he only returned into the thicket when a camera was able to witness his inspired musing. And yet, the actor still wished to create such fantasy. Herzog asserts that nature is brutal, cruel, violent, and distressing, in spite of ideological personifications of the wild as peaceful and meditative. This is an idea Lopatin seems sympathetic toward, and so he makes use of the portrayals that continue to persist in music, film, and photography alike. It’s the prolificacy of these depictions, bolstered by an interest in personal representations of experience through disjunctive logic, that the artist is inspired by here: an idealistic vision of Mother Earth that’s projected into abstract concepts such as New Age music by way of smooth jazz and even porn soundtracks, which are used to beautify subjective characterizations of “the erotic.”
These dimensions are exposed in a number of settings on R Plus Seven, namely the religious (“Boring Angel” and “Chrome Country”), the mechanical (“Cryo” and “Along”), and their relationship with the anthropocentric. On the surface, these references are often explicit (the rushes of water and bird calls on “Along;” the tweets, chirps, and fluttering of wings on the brilliantly titled “Inside World”), defused entirely from musical contexts in which they might otherwise be found. These allusions create a lining for the paradoxical song structures and subjects Lopatin tackles here while coinciding with modifications of the peaceful, natural setting that Kinski seemed so determined to represent. Such stark contrasts indicate another parallel between R Plus Seven and Replica in that they both bridge opposing ideas: soft drink commercials are typically lively in their depiction of how a product can transform real-world experiences, but in the case of the latter album, they were presented as a heap of bones, all signifiers chiseled away to leave a cold, fractured shell; in its use of contrasting imagery, the former bears predilection for juxtaposing the sacred with the temporal, indicating some imagined secular utopianism that’s undercut by a peerless flare for parody.
It’s important to recognize, however, that an analysis of symbolism remains a secondary factor here. There is little point in having an idea about subversion and a calculated means of presenting it unless the results come grounded in aesthetically pleasing arrangements. R Plus Seven sounds fucking fantastic, and a lot of that has to do with the album’s euphonic influence as well as any theoretical interplay. Sonic inspiration is limitless when taking into account anonymous meditation CDs and babbled field recordings with seductive narration, but in terms of specific comparison, it distinctly brings Tom Recchion’s Chaotica to mind. With its crumbling throb and jittery percussion sections, “Is It A Baldwin?” mirrors “Zebra” in some disjointed incarnation of the sublime. In the same way, a track such as “Floating Cans” bears resemblance to “He She,” not so much with regards to texture, but in equanimity and impact — both LPs feel as though the musicians are exploring a technique that’s new to them, as though they are in search of a deep resonance without coming from strictly “trained” musical backgrounds. In an interview with The Wire, Recchion discussed his inability as a composer of songs: “Not being a trained musician I thought it felt a bit like Evil Kenivel attempting to configure a melody. Of course there are a gazillion untrained song writers but for me it felt more risky.” Recchion’s uncertainty guided him around his experimentation, which seems to have taken Lopatin along a similar path as he approached his synths, this time with Chaotica as a distinctive blueprint. The consequence of both artistic efforts might lead to a fruitful discussion on semiotics, but the method is seated in the most instinctual of aspirations: the base desire to sit down with musical instruments and write a melody.
It might follow, then, that the songs’ fragmented structures have been deployed to tackle multiple themes, a catalog of floating signifiers or symbolic gestures submitted for decoding. But that would undermine any bedrock motives for exploring dulcet composition and the skill involved in writing a tune that’s captivating in its disconnected form, particularly on a track like “Americans,” which sees Lopatin demonstrating a spectacular gift at building tension and heightening emotion through waves of detached sound, from sensual harmonies to frantic vocal cuts. It doesn’t “work” in the sense that the melody maintains a structured trajectory; it instead carves a path permitting Lopatin’s fascination for static surrealism to pour through. This allows for an incredible transformation of ideas, which come housed in pristine harmonics embodying a manipulated vision of the meditative pastures others are so keen to beautify, from soundtracking a bukaki climax scene to offering calm, inspirational visions of nature.
Of course it’s important to search for meaning within instrumental electronic works, even to extrapolate from digitally encoded blips and keys; the fact that people are interested in these external components implies an engaged audience, and it’s hard to think of a record in recent years that has captured attention in the same way while sounding so awe-inspiring. But R Plus Seven needn’t be consumed in the multimedia cocoon that now surrounds it, regardless of Lopatin’s reputation as a hyper-aware digital artist performing for listeners who have grown up with the internet (not as an experiment in communication, but as a fully-formed and functioning emotional domain). Despite the coded sound files, interactive website, and spellbinding videos, the album exists independently as a case for disjointed representations, cultural citation, and enchanting music. The ideas behind these songs aren’t lofty; they are based on an adjustment of artistic fabrication while exploring the listener’s level of expectancy and associations with the cliché, bridging a gap between tones that instigate comfort and warmth, even with their misappropriation and overuse. The effect is deeply profound and challenging, especially for fans who consider Rifts or Zones Without People to be the most essential works in the artist’s back-catalog. What Lopatin leaves us with is a stunning example in the evolution of an artistic premise and a flawless embodiment of emotive responses to sound, which unite here in their most fractured form: a moving stillness for the digital age. - Birkut
Synthesizers are now at the core of mainstream pop music but they were originally designed not for mass media but out of an interest in academia and technological advancement. FM synthesis was developed as a technique for transmitting radio before John Chowning, an academic at Stanford, discovered that by changing the frequency of a waveform in relation to its amplitude musical sounds could be generated. His 1973 paper eventually led to the mass production of digital FM synthesizers; one of the most popular, the Yamaha DX-7, is heard in almost every pop music track made in the latter part of the 80s. While synthesis expanded rapidly into the realm of mainstream music it never completely severed ties with the intellectual and technical considerations that have formed it from the outset. Students of synthesis have continued to examine not only the technical capabilities of synthesizers, but the broader questions of musicality (what is music?), appropriation (is it really new music?), and progress (how can we change music?) that are an important part of the world of new media and digital music. Daniel Lopatin is a student of synthesizers. Since 2003 he has been using them to make a mixture of severe textures, expansive drones, and ambient soundscapes. Yet, with the release of R Plus Seven, he has once again demonstrated what sets him apart: Oneohtrix Point Never, in the tradition of men like John Chowning, is as much an intellectual experiment as much as it is a musical outfit.
R Plus Seven is a fascinating and sonically beautiful album.Arguably, music shouldn’t be overly intellectual. Some find it at its best when it is an organic outpouring of musicianship – something that can’t be explained and, in any case, doesn’t need an explanation. But it is vital to have musicians who take an analytical approach to their work. They don’t just consider how the music sounds they also take into account the effects of process, the different ways their sounds can be interpreted, the cultural influences on them and their listeners, etc. In other words, they try to make music not just for music’s sake but to make a point about or investigate something broader. Many artists do this subtly but Daniel Lopatin is explicit about the conceptual and analytical underpinnings of his work. Of R Plus Seven he said: “I just want to create a room and decorate it with musical objects. And I want those objects to be naked and stable in a way, but when you touch the wall maybe your hand goes through it. Or maybe you look away and when you look back, certain things have shifted around.” He wanted to create music with “verticality…thats allows for your mind and body to be involved.” This analysis is not meant to be a replacement for the listening experience. R Plus Seven is, absent Lopatin’s interpretation, a fascinating and sonically beautiful album. But when coupled with an understanding of the intent behind its various aspects, the album is drawn into clearer focus and new thought processes are engaged and altered.
In contrast to most everything else he has done, R Plus Seven is precisely structured and often separated into distinct compositional units. The first three albums from Oneohtrix Point Never (one of which, Rifts, was a compilation of Lopatin’s work up to that point) employed various synthesis and looping techniques to create electronic compositions ranging from the harsh to the serene. But these releases all had an improvisational character. The tracks swirled hypnotically, interjected seemingly at random with jarring or lilting samples that had been tweaked and re-contextualized any number of times. This approach reached its logical endpoint with Instrumental Tourist, a collaboration between Lopatin and Tim Hecker that found the two artists creating live electronic improvisations. R Plus Seven approaches many of the themes that Lopatin has worked with (i.e. cultural appropriation, repetition, digital reproduction) but it does so from a completely different angle. Here, the carefully selected synths and source material are placed in pockets of crystallized sound, like small sculptures being precisely arranged on a desk. Some sections are driven by harmony (as on parts of “Zebra,” “Americans,” and “Along,” where the melodic structure can feel strikingly traditional) while others are atonal, making use of texture or rhythm. The overall effect is that the various movements, or songs within songs, are drawn into contrast with one another, and the listener is invited to experience them on their own and as a part of something more intricate. As an exploration of sound, it is an intriguing and vibrant listen.
The dense, snake-like arrangements, like those found on “Still Life,” are the real achievement of R Plus Seven.The composition of R Plus Seven allows Lopatin to take each sound that he is interested in, hold it up to the light, and see what is reflected back. “Boring Angel” opens with an organ and an ominous sense of reverence. Lopatin has said that he was fascinated with that organ sound and, as it reappears at various spots on the record, he interprets it differently. On “Boring Angel” it is subdued by a flood of arpegiattors and reprocessed synthetic loops. The digital noises end up sounding more angelic than the church organ. The final polyphonic chords are abruptly cut off and, with “Americans,” the scope of the album’s stylistic approach is brought into full view. The opening seconds could be a song from The Field, with the dreamy, off-kilter loops, but things shift and jump abruptly. As the nature samples (bird calls, rushing water) start to intertwine with the bubbly, cinematic instrumentation one gets the sense that Lopatin is exposing the listener to different environments, both natural and man-made. The arrangements snap in and out of focus like a satellite image that is surveying at random. On “Zebra” we hear pristine voices being swept aside, making way for synth tones that seem carved out of stone and a series of passages that pit ominous, metallic clanks against gently ebbing melodies. “Cryo,” like “Along” or “He She,” develops more linearly and allows for moments of relative calm. While not standout tracks, they foreshadow the mechanical and foreboding (as in the case of “Cryo”) or further distort the album’s take on nature (“Inside World”). Still, the dense, snake-like arrangements, like those found on “Still Life,” are the real achievement of R Plus Seven.
The video for a given song has become increasingly less useful as an analytical tool but, true to Lopatin’s cinematic nature, the gruesome images stitched together for “Still Life” are undoubtedly relevant. The song acts as a kind of cultural horror story, exposing and evoking the dark crevices of the digital age through sight and sound. The disjointed series of images mimics a song that splices together dreamy vocals, deep bass stabs, melodies reminiscent of Final Fantasy XI, lightbulbs flashing, a two second rap clip, throbbing synths, acoustic guitar, and what sounds like a sample of a fog machine. This song, and the album as a whole, is successful not because it makes cultural references or because it uses lots of different sounds. It’s because it does both of those things, and does them extremely well. Some of the seemingly mundane sounds appropriated by Lopatin are made interesting through questions of how they were processed, the feelings that they innately bring with them, or considerations of what the song might be trying to evoke. Knowing that OPN is an intellectual project and reading about R Plus Seven‘s background makes us, as listeners, more critical. That is valuable in and of itself. But, more importantly, R Plus Seven delves into sound with a precision and clarity that pays tribute to the technical genius that birthed the synthesizer. It simultaneously respects and warps electronic machines, making for an ideal entry point into the disparate segments of digital life: the horrifying as well as the beautiful. - DREW MALMUTH
The dance floor is both the lungs and the trading floor of music. New sounds and structures are breathed in and out on the dance floor, in a rich exchange of ideas that are disseminated on a global scale. It's a space that allows for new shapes — no, demands them — because bodies need new lines to trace and new energy to feed off. This is new territory for Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. New York avant-garde musician Oneohtrix Point Never.
That isn't to say R Plus Seven is a dance-music album — it's not — but that it's alive with vibrations from the dance floor. It's Lopatin's most colorful record to date, almost delightful at points, as well as delighted with itself. To say it's a curve ball would be to miss a trick, though. While form-wise his early albums skirted the drone and noise worlds, earning him hyperbolic descriptors like "synth lord," his approach has always been about excavation. 2011's Replica was concerned with memory and media; with how the two obstruct and abstract one another. For R Plus Seven, Lopatin's debut album on new home Warp Records (out Oct. 1), Lopatin focuses in on the act of listening itself.
Which is where the dance music comes in, via super-specific and sometimes startling references. "Inside World" features synths that recall the cool allure of Fatima Al Qadiri, while "Zebra" opens with a hyperactive rush evoking . There are moments in both "Americans" and "Problem Areas" that evoke Far Side Virtual, James Ferraro's 2011 masterpiece that wove sinister and saccharine works from tones loaded with consumerist signals. "Still Life" features background-vocal sighs that scream Orbital and Opus III. What's more, and 's footsteps can also be heard on R Plus Seven. It would be hard to believe that these references weren't intentional; instead, it's tempting to see the album as an architectural survey of this most contemporary of compositional realms. A listener's digest, if you will.
Lopatin uses sound like brushstrokes: stippling it here, dabbing it there, splattering the canvas at will. Any semblance of traditional melodic or rhythmic structure is shunned, for both would swallow up the gleaming sounds he's labored to build monuments to. And, boy, do they gleam. In "Problem Areas," pointillist tones line up to do somersaults in your inner ear, while in album highlight "Chrome Country," a soft synth patch called Japanese Boy Choir is manipulated to a metallic liquid, flipping from angelic to anguished with a wink.
R Plus Seven is both celebratory and reverential, excited and excitable. In zooming in on the material nature of the sounds to which he pays homage, Lopatin directs focus to the individual voices taking part in dance music's ever-evolving conversation. His role — as indicated by "Still Life," which could be the album's tagline — is of enamored observer: the artist enchanted by the changing light in the sky, painting it to forever capture the feeling for all to see. - Ruth Saxelby
If you’re reading this, the easiest way for you to tell the most important person in your life that you love them is probably to use a network operated and surveilled by people in control of more money than you can imagine. You can send photos, sound, video, and text to this person almost instantly. It will probably make them smile. The swarm of metadata that surrounds your actions is stored somewhere on a server that you will never see. What you click and how you click, and who you text and who you call every night before you go to sleep constantly thickens the digital shell around the human you.
This is what it is to participate in the Internet. You trade privacy for accessibility, anonymity for immediacy. The technology that has democratized communication to an unprecedented degree is still controlled by invisible entities with questionable ethics. The most powerful tools ever invented for understanding human consciousness are used by those in power to manipulate human consciousness. Advertisers optimize screen time with complex algorithms, while grocery chains hire consultants to determine exactly what music will inspire customers to buy more products. Digital utopia doubles as cyberpunk dystopia, just like iPhones and unemployment seem to indicate that we’re living in both the Great Depression and the Golden Age. Ours might be the most dissonant millennium so far.
“You can’t find your way out of the maze you are convinced has been created solely for you,” says a disembodied voice over Oneohtrix Point Never’s video for “Still Life (Betamale)”. The video, which has since been algorithmically removed from both YouTube and Vimeo, depicts pathologies exacerbated and made visible by the Internet. A man with multiple pairs of underwear stretched over his face appears to threaten suicide, a pistol aimed at each temple. Photographs of filthy keyboards and workspaces coated with empty Red Bull cans slide by under fetish videos. Women tease the viewer with their faces obscured by plush anime masks, while furries simulate sex through animal skins. Someone in a fox costume sinks into quicksand.
It’s easy to feel simultaneously like an individual and a data point online. The work of authentic self-expression shares a Venn diagram with the voluntary labor that sustains billion-dollar social media enterprises. Web designers and content producers work to drive repeat clicks, drawing in advertising revenue by engineering compulsions in strangers. Your behavior is a battery, but it sustains you, too. As tracking cookies follow you from page to page, it’s easy to feel like the maze is just for you.
Daniel Lopatin thrives in that dissonance. His new album as Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven, sounds like it was titled after an excerpt from an algorithm designed to harness the mass of data around human life. The music illuminates the tension between desire for connection and fear of control with unprecedented lucidity. This is the most successful album I’ve heard that attempts to make sense of the strange emotional states engendered by constant participation in the Internet.
R Plus Seven draws from a similar palette to its predecessor, but diverges from Replica‘s hypnotic loops and steady drones. There are few grooves here. The record flits from idea to idea, rarely settling, always chasing itself into flat shadows. It twitches inside a sterile space. Like a video that calmly illustrates the mechanics of a cancer cell using primitive computer animation, R Plus Seven traces hidden dread with clear, perfect lines.
Starting with the low groan of “Boring Angel”, R Plus Seven condenses a religious timbre into an eerily airless territory. Organs and choruses swell like they would in sacred music, but always sound artificial. There are voices inside, or patches that mimic human voices — it’s impossible to tell if anything you hear was ever sung or if it was all cooked up inside a machine. The album sounds like it’s been ported directly from one computer to another, like it’s never bounced around in real air.
“Americans” renders a stutter like a word replicated with a glitched-out clone stamp. In between shafts of heavenly light, voices struggle like they’re trying to communicate only to collapse under a pile of meaningless syllables. As soon as they manage a conversation with the song’s driving arpeggio, the track ends abruptly, cut off by the menacing chime of “He She”. For a minute and a half, strings keep time while more voices dart over sticky, bestial grunts. “Inside World” lets melodic gusts of breath punctuate what might be shredded Gregorian chants. Occasionally, the edge of a consonant appears in the voices, hinting at language, but no words form.
That hunger for language, for meaning inside a chaotic stream of media, is the same hunger that drove nearly a quarter of a million followers to @Horse_ebooks before the Twitter account was recently exposed as a deliberate artistic project. In the torrent of information that lies readily accessible through a computer screen, simply carving out a corner of the noise can be an act of creative joy. Twitter users loved assigning significance to the supposedly random snippets of text that Horse spewed constantly. They responded to a machine designed to sell them something meaningless — ebooks about horses — by creating meaning in the static between the ads.
Oneohtrix Point Never works with the same mechanism. Lopatin built Replica from old advertisements, dissecting and reassembling them beyond recognition. R Plus Seven also seems to draw from the wealth of sound originally designed to manipulate people into buying products, but this time the collaging is secondary. The album focuses on discrete melodic moments composed from scratch, a new process for Lopatin that he melds perfectly with old strategies. Tensions rise from textural contrasts, but there’s also raw beauty in R Plus Seven‘s melodies and progressions. With its energetic loops, “Problem Areas” even feels fun. It’s here that R Plus Seven breaks through the stutter to offer its first word: “white.”
The record’s tension peaks with “Still Life”, as the tick of an abstract clock creeps back in, echoing “He She”. Fake angelic voices compete with guttural smears in that strangely empty field. We get another clip of language: “is that—?” The track assembles into an action sequence score complete with cyberpunk sound effects, only to fracture back into melancholy voices and piano before anything can actually happen. As the album glides into closer “Chrome Country”, a track with a title that could point to a landscape lacquered in mirror or the landscape users see through Google’s browser, the tension starts to settle in sad streaks of fake strings and childlike vocal burbles. Then, Lopatin blasts apart the calm with organ, like the triumphant end of a High Mass. It feels spiritual, like catharsis, though I’m not sure that there ever was an organ — probably just a computer trying to sound like one.
“I find you in the grace of cyberspace,” says the narrator of PronunciationBook, @Horse_ebooks’ sister project on YouTube, in the last video counting down to its reveal. That word, “grace,” implies that what we’re all doing here is religious, and in a sense it is. Users participate in a kind of collective effervescence through the wires. Just like with church, moments of community participation and personal transcendence strengthen a powerful hierarchy. There’s no way to participate without the shadow of that power, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of the community that the Internet enables. I pay Comcast to be here right now, but these words aren’t for them.
The NSA might be watching, but your feelings are real. You express them through the Internet in the hopes that other people will see them and understand, and some of them do. R Plus Seven could be the inner sound of the machinery that connects the millions of people who use the Internet, receiving and sending bytes without ever understanding the emotion they carry. Listening to it feels like watching that invisible process in motion, like living in the electricity between consciousnesses. All that hope, and anxiety, and anger, and wonder fly through, coded, inscrutable to the machine, but not to you.
R Plus Seven might be the first album to crystallize the simultaneous joy and terror inherent in a life of constant connection and constant surveillance. With music that simultaneously unnerves and pleases, Lopatin digs out the ghost in the algorithm. - Sasha Geffen
Here’s a confession. Barely a minute into my first listen of R Plus Seven, I was struck by the bracing futility of reviewing it. Not because it isn’t excellent—it is—but how do you describe this stuff? Throw the word “glitchy” around and hope the aural indicators get through? Namedrop a pretty handful of drugs you imagine Daniel Lopatin may have used during its recording, none of which you’ve actually sampled? Front as if you have a genuine sense of precisely how Lopatin constructed this particular batch of dizzyingly intricate sonic puzzles? That I won’t do.
But let’s back up. R Plus Seven is the third or so studio LP by experimental knob-twiddler Oneohtrix Point Never, the nom de plume of Daniel Lopatin, also of Ford & Lopatin, though his most interesting work falls under the OPN moniker. It arrives two years after a significant critical breakthrough, the feverishly warped Replica, which chopped bits and slivers of audio from 1980s commercials into inscrutable compositions marked by formless synth tones, spare piano, and disembodied children’s voices. The result was heady, dreamlike, and brilliant, neither fully melodic nor rhythmic but propelled by interwoven hints of both melody and rhythm.
Lopatin could have done well by repeating Replica’s inimitable bag of tricks. Wisely, he hasn’t as R Plus Seven is more of a departure than you’d expect, and it’s an excellent one. As on Replica—and Returnal before it—Lopatin puts hazily familiar aural signifiers of the past to work in the construction of sound pieces that are fiercely, almost effortlessly futuristic. But here, “glitchy” actually isn’t the descriptor that comes to mind. R Plus Seven is the first OPN album where adjectives like “majestic” and “lush” are substantially more applicable. In brief, R Plus Seven deemphasizes Replica’s sense of walled-off claustrophobia, letting thick puddles of light filter into Lopatin’s lair of sound.
Samples still abound, but Lopatin’s preferred textures have shifted beyond lo-fi commercials and children’s toys and into the far grander realm of the ‘70s experimental minimalist tradition. That’s readily apparent 90 seconds into the opening “Boring Angel”, when a steady organ hum explodes into a majestic arpeggio pulse that, at quadruple the length, could have been cribbed from Einstein on the Beach. The piece’s lengthy opening and 15-second coda isn’t a fluke—Lopatin has discovered the church organ, one of several elements undergirding R Plus Seven’s more earthbound textures.
Elsewhere, R Plus Seven contains at least two more uncanny nods to Philip Glass. The best of them is “Zebra”, a stuttering burst of staccato orchestral jolts that plays host to Lopatin’s trademark layering before collapsing into a soupier but no less dreamy mélange. “Americans”, by contrast, feels mesmerizingly indebted to Steve Reich. It’s one of the album’s brightest cuts, opening in a burst of what closely resembles summery birdcalls and climaxing in a shimmering cycle of xylophone pulses. Lopatin splatters the mix with hushed choral-voiced tones (think Music for Airports, “1/2”) that are key to R Plus Seven’s kaleidoscope sensibility.
R Plus Seven’s eerie underbody culminates on the dark, searching “Still Life”. Slight missteps dot the trail—“Inside World” feels unfinished, a scattering spurt of sonic elements that never coalesce, while “He She” rumbles with the sort of groaning harshness the producer has largely left behind—but they do little to disrupt what Lopatin has accomplished. The closer, “Chrome Country”, thrusts towards a stirring crescendo of disembodied “Ah”s, panning piano arpeggios, pipe organs—maybe even a singing saw?—that fades out in a burst as warmly, humanly melodic as anything Lopatin has constructed. Some, I think, will miss Replica’s inscrutably alien flourishes. That’s fair. But the producer’s singular aesthetic hasn’t been compromised. It has simply expanded. - Zach Schonfeld
After a run of three albums in three years, Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never went on something of a hiatus: he waited all of two years to release his fourth studio album - and label debut on Warp Records - R Plus Seven. Lopatin is one of the few artists of the short-lived (mainly) Brooklyn lo-fi explosion to have survived in the public consciousness, thanks mainly to his ability to evolve beyond sounding like just another indie kid in a loft in Bushwick with a retro synth.
R Plus Seven sees Lopatin continue along the same experimental path trodden by his previous three releases, but it is somehow lighter and more accessible whilst remaining almost impossible to grasp. The all-pervading melancholy of Replica and the confusing but grounded atmosphere of Returnal have been left behind, replaced by an altogether softer and more ethereal New Age soundscape. As a whole it exists in a vacuum – timeless not in a seminal sense, but actually feeling cut off from time itself.
R Plus Seven is a record made to be listened to in one sitting, as a few notable exceptions aside, there is very little here resembling a stand-alone moment. In places tracks seem to segue into each other, whilst in others silence that last seconds but feels like hours stretches in between. Indeed, with album opener ‘Boring Angel’, the song seems to end, only for 14 seconds of dramatic organ to appear out of nowhere before ceasing abruptly. There are nods to certain genres and artists along the way, with the Gold Panda-like ‘Zebra’ and the clipped Mount Kimbie vocals of ‘He She’, but overall its fractured flow, complete disregard for traditional structure and semi-conscious ambience render it almost indefinable. It is what a dream would sound like, as faces and surroundings dissolve and evolve with focal points always remaining just out of sight.
Vocals play a prominent role, more so than on his previous works, with heavy doses of MIDI choir, distorted male and female voices, and on ‘Problem Areas’ the insistent appearance of a child saying “Wait”. It is the way in which he crafts these vocal elements which gives the music its most dreamy and unnerving quality. His established mastery of synths takes the forefront, but the at times Dilla-esque jumbled male vocals on the likes of ‘Americans’, and the chopped up staccato samples that punctuate the analogue wooze are at both times cheesy and haunting. Throughout, and particularly on tracks like ‘Still Life’, where the MIDI choir is joined by computer game noises and overly melodramatic organs, the dreamlike quality is given a kitsch feel, like looking at a gaudy neon sign through mist.
R Plus Seven can be confusing, jam packed with samples and contrasting elements, but it's never overbearing. At the same time it is hard to put your finger on exactly what is appealing about it. Rhythm and melody appear and disappear in seemingly random fashion, washing over you at points but then unnerving you at others as the songs stutter and jump about, being both tacky and beautiful at the same time. It does come over as over ambitious in parts, making you wish he would just stick to one idea for more than a couple minutes at a time instead of letting each of the myriad of themes devour each other constantly. But despite this it is soothing and transportative, and is able to define itself a little bit more with each listen. - Alex Baker