There was – there is – something about Rifts. A two-CD collection collecting together over six years of recorded work from New Yorker Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project, this 27-track collection – clocking in at approaching two-and-a-half hours in length – was not just one of the highlights of 2008, but the sort of treasure-trove of music that you could dive into, Scrooge McDuck-style, and never come up for air.
Lopatin’s work under the OPN name has a certain quality, one that’s kind of hard to pin down precisely. It’s easy to spot elements of other genres here, dotting the tracks like footnotes – scraps of electronic Krautrock and noise, the daydream nostalgia of Boards Of Canada and the Yogic dreamtime vibes of that most maligned of genres, new age. But these serene, drifting vistas of arpeggiated synth, cosmic echo and tidal drone nonetheless felt unusually insular, hermetically sealed; as if bound in a capsule and left to float in endless orbit, uncontaminated from the rest of music history past or present.
This impression, it turned out was just, well, that: an impression. Following Rifts, time would prove that Daniel Lopatin is no isolated prodigy, but a networker, a collaborator, and a curator. The spotlight on Oneohtrix also caught a few other Lopatin projects – the likes of Infinity Window, KGB Man and Dania Shapes – plus a CD-R label, Upstairs, dedicated to releasing limited runs of music by fellow synth surfers. His next move would be to sign up to Peter Rehberg’s Editions Mego imprint for the Returnal LP, which built on the sounds and themes of ‘Rifts’ in style.
More recently, he has a new project, Games, an burgeoning catalogue of remixes (Wild Beasts, Gonjasufi, Vlasdislav Delay’s new project Sistol), plus a seven-inch that sees the yearning, vaguely Fever Ray-ish title track of Returnal rendered on piano with a gorgeous vocal from Antony Hegarty. In short, his is a creative energy that’s powerful and sparking in all directions. “There’s no grand plan really, and that’s part of it, I think,” Lopatin tells TLOBF. “Curiosity drives me forward. Developing a unique voice lends itself to generating artistic variety and vice versa. I love that interplay of controls and variables in concert with one another. And I love a good challenge.”
Speaking in terms of you as a music-maker, what was your first breakthrough – the first time you remember creating something that you felt really worked?
“I was in college and started messing around with latched arpeggios and a looper. As I was looping, I would toggle through the presets at random while changing the arpeggio speed. It was a messy version of what later would become a way of generating source material.”
Equipment-wise, I’m wondering, are you pretty much bound to particular instruments, equipment, working methods? Or can you see yourself changing your set-up in radical ways in the future?
“The Juno is definitely my ‘Lucille’. It’s become more than an instrument. Something more akin to a loved one. But it’s rarely used on its own without being sculpted or integrated within an ensemble of other gear. All sound is permissible and I’m always searching for new vibes that interest me, but I’m primarily into keeping it to keys and samplers. I’m not a very good guitarist or drummer or anything else, really.”
What was your introduction to new age music? Is much of that stuff of interest to you, and what do you get out of it?
“New age music in general is interesting because a lot of it is fundamentally structured and arranged the way a lot of contemporary experimental music is, but its considered in bad taste because it’s in aesthetic orbit with ideas that are considered intellectually insignificant. And I get a lot of inspiration from stuff that some consider intellectually insignificant. Fundamentally, I don’t see a huge difference between most musical practices – mostly everything is a folk practice. New age music was interesting to me in that it deliberately opened up spaces for the expression of sacred time and did so in a commercial/utilitarian context. This resonates with me – it’s naïve and capitalist while feigning spirituality. Which is how I feel about academic music – it feigns intellectuality. I don’t see those modes at being bad or good but simply a way of dealing with some sort of lack. Ways of cutting through the noise of everyday life. People align themselves with different causes but ultimately interface with life on that level as a way to deal with the cards we’ve been dealt.
“The other thing I failed to mention is that new age music relies heavily on synthetic sounds as methods of inducing pleasure, but a lot of new age music I find to be pretty grotesque if not disturbing. Take for example Deuter or Andreas Vollenweider. There’s something intrinsically creepy and sexual about their whole oeuvre. Like they are trying to fuck your ears. I like to work with tropes like that and introduce dissonance or some sort of violence into that and see what happens.
“The other side of new age that appeals to me is that although there are a ton of ubiquitous new age releases – lets call them yoga CDs, or whatever – there was a strong sense of the auteur in early new age. There’s an obvious stylistic line you can draw from minimalist and Berlin school traditions to new age, and that sense of composer is there with guys like Steve Roach, Suzanne Ciani and others that were going for their own vibe. Kind of telling, considering the pragmatic, cloud-like use value of the music.”
I read that you wanted to go to film school – do you approach music in a visual way, at all? Do you have images in mind when you record? From the same interview: “…if the trilogy ever becomes a film, I have the whole storyline down too, so.” Which is obviously tantalising – please elaborate…!
“Film, sculpture, architecture… really everything is one in the same. I read a quote from Vitruvius that said that architecture must focus on the themes of beauty, structure and strength and my approach to music is often the same in that I want to create zones that are inhabitable by characters or people or animate life. And these zones have to influence the activities therein. My favourite films are meditative and landscape driven. Tarkovsky is my favourite, but there are lots of others that operate on the same meditative level.”
Do you read much? Any favourite authors?
“Right now I’m reading Carl Wilson’s 33 1/3 about Celine Dion – it’s right up my alley. I’m also been revisiting some of Brian Eno’s essays and I just picked up Freakonomics. I don’t read much literature. I love reading philosophy and memoirs and interviews and generally, about the way things work.
I think I read you’re a video gamer – what sort of stuff do you play? And do you think any of it has found its way into your music?
“I’m not good at video games but I absolutely love checking them out and getting super lost in virtual worlds. The best game I played lately is a Sega CD cyberpunk adventure game called Snatcher.”
“A friend of mine told me he found your music sleep-inducing, not because it’s boring, but that some of the sounds – chopped-and-screwed pacing, synths that seem to ‘bend away’, Doppler-style – seem to do something to his brain. Any of that intentional?
“I definitely love super bendy, melismatic, gauzy psychedelic sounds. I take it as a compliment when my music induces any sort of activity. I love the utility of music and I love to hear about how people integrate my music into their lives. That means that I’m doing something valuable for people on an everyday level.”
Can you elaborate a little more on your new project with Joel, Games? It seems to make way more explicit your relationship with pop music, particularly, hip-hop and R&B (something I didn’t really spot at all in the OPN stuff). Also there’s a very clear emphasis on slow tempos – do you feel that there’s a link, for you, between slowness and the psychedelic experience?
“Games is a production team formed with my childhood friend Joel Ford – we’re still defining exactly how it works and what are goals are with the project. We’re looking to cook down stuff we like such as ‘70s fusion and hip -hop and IDM and techno and midi funk into something primordial and pop-oriented and fun and weird. We’re producers as heart and want to work with likeminded artists on interesting projects that generate a lot of variety and intensity. We like slowing down fast jams. It’s creepier and subliminal that way. If you just straight up slow everything down into oblivion it’s kinda hectic. The Games LP is a mystery but we do know that we’ll be recording it at Jan Hammer’s studio in upstate NY.”
Back to the Antony collaboration – you play piano on it; how are you as a pianist, and any plans to use piano in future records/performances?
“I’m solid enough. I could use more harmony knowledge. There will be lots of piano on the next record I hope.”
And finally – what do you have coming up in the next few months? Plug away…
“A ton of live dates in Europe in October which are on my MySpace site. Then a brief repose in November, and into the studio with Games and OPN all winter long.”
Photos courtesy of Andrew Bowman