Through the Never: Oneohtrix Point Never talks digital hoarding
Brooklyn prodigy Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, opens up on his new album for Warp, harsh childhood piano lessons, and 'object-oriented ontology'
Replica was characterised by complex tonal shifts; echoing drones, esoteric samplecraft, treated loops and cold synth washes. By contrast, Daniel Lopatin's new album as Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus 7, is full of joyful, almost tropical synths and exuberant, arpeggiated melodic patterns. "Its propensity towards being a joyful record comes from being surrounded by this overly-maudlin music," he says. The mood has been bleak of late, from the crepuscular, doomy atmospherics of Raime to the nighmarish grave-scapes of The Haxan Cloak.
"I would always end up on bills with these really grim acts," Lopatin continues. "You can overdose on it... it loses its purpose." There is a more structured melodic approach in evidence on R Plus 7: "With the older stuff, I would work compositionally around samples that would dictate what I needed to do musically," he explains. "For R Plus 7, I was sitting down at a keyboard, typically with a pipe organ-type sound, sketching ideas, recording it, and then manipulating it… it was a different way of working."
Lopatin was first taught to play as a child. "Those early piano lessons are not pleasant memories,” Lopatin laughs. "My mother was a very serious and disciplined teacher. A taskmaster who was always correcting my posture and fixing my back, my hands. She was very intimidating, and didn't treat me like a child. Thus, I think those memories are somewhat tainted! I really benefited from what she was able to teach me. But ultimately, I ran away. There is some regret there. When we get together, she's always saying, 'I wish you had stuck with it.' Maybe one of these summers, I'll just disappear, and we'll work on harmony together, refresh a bit."
“There's a lot of magic, trickery and voodoo involved...” – Daniel Lopatin
Nevertheless, that classical training did provide Lopatin with a starting point for R Plus 7. "I was a little bit more intrigued by that part of me, this time around, whereas I've been through a long phase of thinking of that as an ancillary aspect of what I'm doing," he says. “When it does come together, it's such a rush. To make it all connect, and to feel the way that it does, there's a lot of magic and trickery and voodoo involved. I'm really quite technically limited; I wouldn't call myself a musician, necessarily."
When asked how he feels about releasing his first full-length record on Warp, Lopatin is only half-joking when he says: "I think they're very lucky to have me." He laughs. "They're really focused and together individuals, in a way that I really need. Because I am not. I appreciate their calm. I feel like I've been kind of a journeyman... doing things to satisfy my own interests and inclinations. There's very little feeling of labels dictating what I do, now or ever – I've never had that kind of relationship with any label."
Although in no sense a nostalgic or self-consciously 'retro' album, R Plus 7 does contain some glitchy, complex beats that have a lot in common with the sonic realms of various figures from Warp's storied past. "I do have this mimetic part of my personality," Lopatin reflects. "When Carlos Giffoni started putting out my records on No Fun, I started taking a deeper interest in their back catalogue, because he was sharing with me this rich history that he was tapped into. With Warp, it's quite different – what they've been, and what they are, is kind of ingrained in people's DNA. If you love electronic music, you've almost got this hardened layer you can't irrigate, that layer of hardened rock formation that is Warp. I don't really know how to judge it. I think it's always been a part of me.” He namechecks Autechre, Broadcast, and Boards of Canada as key inspirations.
In the past, Lopatin has argued that there exists in his work a layer of humour that critics ignore or overlook, describing himself as "something of a musical satirist." Does R Plus 7 contain satirical elements? Lopatin laughs. "Lots, but I'm not gonna give it away." Attempting to draw him out, The Skinny mentions the corporate video aesthetics of the 'vaporwave' microgenre, 90s video game soundtracks, and early rave synths. Are we getting warm? "I don't know, maybe," he replies enigmatically. He is equally tight-lipped about any potential narrative interpretations of the album: "There is a narrative, just by the virtue of the process of making it," he offers, "but not one that's specific enough to share."
One thing Lopatin is happy to discuss is the process behind gathering the material and information used in the creation of his music. Many internet-addicted readers will recognise the description he offers of himself as someone with "the archiving bug." Sorting through the various sources and reference points that lead to an album's creation can be difficult, which, he says, is "a lesson I learned... I realised that making things hard for yourself is not necessarily a point of pride. I have this kind of... digital hoarding aspect of my personality. I'll make audacious demands of myself, and others working with me, to create these piles or indexes of things to use. The task is less musical, and more like, 'Go through this gigantic fucking pile, and find all the sweet spots.'"
This tallies with his thoughts about the generation to which he belongs, who he has collectively described as "a generation of linkmasters," infinitely curious, always scouring the internet and both mainstream and disparate underground cultures for new sounds, new data. "It's becoming us,” he says. He's glad to see the back of the “boring, Orwellian conversation” that dominated the internet's first two decades.
“I have some dystopian tendencies, as well as this ability to just accept whatever morphological things are happening in our culture – I'm ready to be swept away in it,” he continues. “If I'm a typical example of a person living in a society with those kind of technocratic dictates, I feel very free right now – more free, perhaps, than earlier generations would have felt when global communications began to affect people on a daily basis. I'm perpetually curious about the artistic quotient in all of that. I feel like it's endless."
The growing intersectionality between diverse levels and types of culture fascinates him. "There's stratification going on, and then the breakage," he explains, perhaps referring to traditionally observed cultural and artistic divides and subcultural 'tribes.' For Lopatin, exploring and discovering new cultural objects and trends is the fun part. "There's a lot to enjoy in the actual process of that happening, as opposed to the analysis of the factions, which is where we were. I think now, people are more, 'So what does it feel like?'"
This leads him to one of the major themes of his recent work, namely exploring what he calls "object-oriented ontology," a concept he also sees in the work of sound and visual artist Mark Fell. "That's one of the questions I'm always interested in as an artist, even when I'm not directly addressing technology. In my general curiosity about the world, I'm always asking, 'What does it feel like to be this? What does it feel like to be that?' It could be something animate or inanimate – it's that liquification of poles that I'm into."
This object-oriented, ontological approach is also explored in the work of Takeshi Murata, who filmed the video for Problem Areas. "I was inspired by his still life work,” which features in the video, Lopatin explains. “That particular series he did is super inspiring to me. Specifically, this idea of musical objects – instead of focusing on music, thinking of sounds as these acute choices that are grouped together, that create a sense of place, a cultural sense of contrast."
What does he hope to achieve by creating these 'musical objects' and acute choices? It is "a way of giving inanimate objects a kind of secret life. By virtue of them interacting with each other in plain sight, with very little in the way of bells and whistles around it, you get a really deep experience of the sound, instead of the music. That's really interesting to me." As with Fell's work, "it's a weird hybrid of ideas about object-oriented ontology and music itself."
Lopatin, originally from Massachusetts, confesses he is less inspired by the musical culture of Brooklyn than he used to be. "Before, I would immerse myself more casually in what was going on musically around here, but it's like I'm very gradually becoming a hermit. Not a misanthropic one, but a hermit." If the fruits of these periods of splendid isolation are as intriguing as R Plus 7, perhaps the hermetic life has value. Lopatin's new offering displays a palpable unity of thought, inspiration and process. Or as Hermes Trismegistus might say: 'As above, so below.'