Oneohtrix Point Never

The Brooklyn sonic sculptor and composer breaks down his abstract dream language

Music Q+A
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Brooklyn-based producer Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never has grown from an electronic underground stalwart into a truly postmodern composer. His Software label has reinvigorated the New York scene by showcasing artists such as Autre Ne Veut and Slava along with his own collaborative work with fellow sonic provocateur Tim Hecker, while he has concurrently been taking on such ambitious interdisciplinary projects as soundtracking a futuristic robot light-show (for the Meet Your Creator directors’ showcase at Cannes) and co-scoring Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. And that’s not to mention the acclaim afforded to his consistently groundbreaking albums as OPN. For Replica (2011), he sampled everything from YouTube idents to 80s video nasties, abstracting noises into private dead zones imbued with a lingering sense of dread. As with all his OPN work, it challenged perceptions of sound and the processes that create it. So it would have been understandable if for his new album, R Plus Seven  (his first for Warp Records), he found yet more dark doorways to step through, more voids to leap into. But that’s not the case; with his most melodic record to date, Lopatin has surprised us all with a more open, brighter vision of the future.

Dazed Digital: Your music is often described as ‘trippy’. Do you like that term? 

Daniel Lopatin: For me it’s not well suited.The easiest way for me to tell someone what I do is to say that I’m a non-musician who practises and produces music. I don’t have a theoretical language for music. I have this abstract dream language. I’m really inspired by sculpture, so I like to play this trick on myself and say,
‘You’re not making music, you’re creating a space. You’re building a room, putting some objects in it, and seeing what happens to the objects over time.’ From then on, I’m totally free.

DD: Is that how you approached the Bling Ring score?

Daniel Lopatin: When there’s a visual component it’s more of a challenge. When I was working on The Bling Ring, I’d only ever scored small projects before, so there were moments like, ‘How the fuck do I score a teenage sex scene?’ What I learned from screwing up at points was that just because I like having ideas of how to characterise sound as physical things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea to do it all the time, y’know?

DD: Do you use abstract dream language because we don't have a language adept enough to convey what you mean? 

Daniel Lopatin: I often wonder this. If I sit down to work with another artist, how would we discuss structurally what needs to be done? Perhaps we need a multi-disciplinary approach that can help us understand new music, because music is becoming more and more wonderfully abstract. I love seeing Tim Hecker perform because the experience truly shakes me. A lot of the time I don’t know how to discuss what I’ve heard. I do think there needs to be a way to characterise music beyond the language we have right now.

DD: Maybe that language is so removed from its original drug-related countercultural usage that it’s no longer relevant.

Daniel Lopatin: I remember this one time in college I had taken mushrooms and I was watching this huge bus turn at the end of a road. I remember being completely amazed by the insane radial swerve it took to turn back on itself and around the block. That’s always really stuck with me.

I find Nicki Minaj weird to the point where it makes me think about my own position. How can something be weird if everything is apparently weird?

DD: Why?

Daniel Lopatin: Well, although drugs are no longer a regular feature of my life and work, I now see my music as a personal space in which I can be entertained by what are apparently the most simple and obvious things. You just have to explore what’s already there. The problem with depicting what’s weird and what isn’t is that it’s got to this point of near total oversaturation. There’s definitely a threshold at which that language and experience becomes tedious. How can something be weird if everything is apparently weird?

DD: Is being ‘Weird’ just another motif used to sell music?

Daniel Lopatin: I really, truly believe that. Even on my own completely small level I can feel the constant replication of a given stance on my work being based on the idea that I’m not normal. What do you mean this isn’t normal music? Nowadays, it’s as if everything has to be weird or else it’s not critically relevant or interesting.

A lot of the time I don’t know how to discuss what I’ve heard. I do think there needs to be a way to characterise music beyond the language we have right now

DD: What's ‘weird’ can often be what's popular too. I think recent R&B has some of the weirdest production I've heard in years.

Daniel Lopatin: Exactly! Take Nicki Minaj. Because she’s on the radio people say, ‘Oh yeah, this is music, duh!’, but for me she’s incredible – even beyond music. I find her weird to the point where it makes me think about my own position. What exactly am I part of as a ‘weird musician’? This middling, insecure, avant-garde sect of the music industry that’s scared of everything else and is super quick to judge? The way we characterise weirdness is flawed. 

DD: How do you work that in your music?

Daniel Lopatin: Before now, I always needed my records to test out a theory. Now I just want to create something fantastical. I don’t need to understand why, I just need to understand what. Every single thing only needs to be whatever it is in the moment, and that suddenly became much more important to me than what it is structurally on the whole.

DD: How did you achieve that?

Daniel Lopatin: I wanted these epic, Wagnerian dissonant chords combined with really pretty things. I wanted this general midi quality to saxophones, sounds that are generic to the point of lacking expressive qualities because they’re technologically limited. And I wanted them juxtaposed against current music software that’s almost too expressive, too Hollywood. This record makes no sense on the whole.

What exactly am I part of as a ‘weird musician’? This middling, insecure, avant-garde sect of the music industry that’s scared of everything else and is super quick to judge? The way we characterise weirdness is flawed

DD: When you’re so focused on the process of making a record, how do you feel about the album as a final product? 

Daniel Lopatin: Although I’m obviously not comparing myself to him, I think of Brian Wilson. His sense of scale was beyond what he understood about what he was doing, beyond what his music could describe. I find something really beautiful in this ‘reaching’. I feel as if I never really did that until now. I never stepped away to create something that was beautiful to me. I was too busy filling my head with all these conceptual imperatives I felt I needed to validate what I was doing. 

DD: What strikes me most about R Plus Seven is that it’s full of negative space. 

Daniel Lopatin: I wanted to get away from making music that was constantly ‘filled up’. Some say, ‘Oh, with minimalism, repetition creates an opportunity for the listener to experience change or variation on their own terms,’ but I now find the density of repetition often takes away from that. I’ve been listening to Kanye West’s Yeezus a lot and I think ‘Bound 2’ is the best track, because the things that are in there are so acute, so precise, that the space around them isn’t lost. It’s enlarged as an imaginative space. The gaps make everything. Everything is everything. 

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