As a self-respecting Russian-American musician, Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin is someone I should have known about a long time ago. Growing up in the post-industrial Rust Belt landscape, I gravitated toward electronic music referencing the past purely on its production far earlier than when I discovered it (New Order, Aphex Twin, Gyorgy Ligeti, Krystof Penderecki, Prurient, Foetus, Nine Inch Nails). Feeling the void of cultural communion (the one that pop music tries so eagerly to fill) I thrust myself into the programming culture of decades prior so I wouldn’t feel the cold shoulder of missing out on an era where noise production and atonality felt so advanced and fractured off what precedents came before.
Nostalgia for decades barely lived in is part of Lopatin’s drawerfulls. As a listener, the pre-sets and early computer music sampled in Oneohtrix Point Never’s albums pulls at memories of my father teaching me about IBM and making music and primitive art on Windows 95 without feeling texturally familiar at all. Being Russian-American without really grasping why post-Soviet identity was a hard part of my late-80’s consciousness, I was the kid in class who thought Garry Kasparov was cool enough to write a book report on and saw the clips from Tarkovsky’s Solaris my mom deemed “child-safe.” When I heard Returnal a couple years ago, after studying atonal opera in music school and resisting the canon’s absence of contemporary Slavic works, I filed OPN away as something to look at again when I was finished catching up on Vladmir Vysotsky, Yevgeny Zamatin, Zola Jesus’s Stridulum II. I wasn’t ready to go back to facing coldness’s emotional pull without understanding finally where that pull came from, and talking in technical production and composition terms, I just wasn’t there yet in my own study of content my academic studies omitted from music history.
Eventually, that changed when the casual re-exposure to OPN’s sonorities and synthesized vocalizations in 2012’s reimagined “I Only Have Eyes For You” opened the door to find myself its spatial coldness comforted with the familiarity that comes from repetition. Lopatin’s clustering of timbres from a bygone age at Chicago’s Constellation Gallery on Friday night was accompanied by visual equivalents, the discomfort of organic and inorganic images contorting on a pulse using rendering animation techniques lifted from primarily the same set of years past. Referencing vintage computer graphics, recognizable objects, glitch art flourishes and potential Freudian interpretations of nightmarish images — timed as a metronome to OPN’s pre-set audio controls– left an incomplete meaning to each track’s video clip (at one point, the static still life gave way to cutout portals in the original layering, a chunk of the room gone to reveal a blurred supermarket shelf holding Vaseline lotion, a stab at the thornless stem of the disembodied floating rose). Just as other artists working in computer-based mediums such as Holly Herndon have openly asserted, computers and hard electronics are emotional objects with the potential to carry and transmit data more exemplary of our experiences since their introduction into collective consciousness — sometimes more than using acoustic instruments on which we relying on their resonances to interpret our individual and shared experience.
The projector-controlled gaps of sound and visuals in the set demarcated each track rather than create a fluid piece — maybe for the sake of the individual ideas or technical control switching, maybe for nothing more than as an opening for applause to remind the sold-out audience that the seated show was still presented with the semi-structure of a concert. Whatever the intended reason, there was a shifting of feet for the first few tracks indicating the protocol wasn’t known or established with the opening act, or with the pristine quality of the space. Constellation’s dark, open central room has been perfect for multimedia events, and a little disciplined for Oneohtrix’s program being heavy on long breaks in the music and video. The cutting out/waking up out of extended builds to create such a surreal programmed landscape was the only real moment of awkwardness or emptiness, especially considering that the altered aesthetic morphology of R Plus Seven‘s found-sound, blips and phasing still harkens back heavily to the indiscrete nature of 2009’s Russian Mind LP, re-released earlier this year as a concrete part of Oneohtrix’s discographic progression. The sense of time in Lopatin’s work is a hyperconscious altered reality, bringing everything from the ultracurrent Internet sex culture images of collaborator Jon Rafman’s online video cuts and Second Life-style prop vocabularies giving way to encore looping of Fairlight CMI’s over 80’s-grainy imagined gem-obelisks.
Unexpected moments like the chopped endings of Lopatin’s songs either distracted or grounded an awareness that otherwise innocuous objects onscreen held emotions I’m still plagued and awed by days later: a set of stairs to nowhere, a straight-backed chair made vacuous or incomplete, profoundly sad, menacing, next to metallic or skin-toned textured objects re-conjured from one track in a final compilation piece. Abstract or transfinite moments repeat and fluidly leave, suggesting that thinking about the meaning distracts from the observation. I can’t help repeating the images and themes in my head, but dissecting them seems pointless, aside from acknowledging that the track breaks must have helped me digest. The impression left for me by the aural experience reflected in OPN’s video images was that like images and abstractions from my memories of 80’s technological culture, any concrete analysis of matter misses the point. Oneohtrix’s latest live show is a reminder that paying attention to sensations is primary when conscious of the shift in environments without established rules, observing unfamiliar presentations of time and space as much as we might want to break down the anxiety of unresolved déjà vu.