Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, is equal parts philosopher and tech wiz, intellectual and sample merchant, his innovative electronic sounds mining deep strains of historic material and modern culture with 21st-century production tools. Lopatin’s music has been described as “high-definition living scenes,” “dreamily fragmented electronic music,” “hazy hypnogogia,” and a “psychedelic cosmic synth project.” At his core, this prolific musician is as inspired by contemporary visual artists, philosophers, and Allan Holdsworth as by Japanese culture, horror films, Quentin Tarantino, the Dust Brothers, Matt Wallace, Stevie Wonder, Bob Rock, Geddy Lee, and Daft Punk.
“My last album (and Warp debut), R Plus Seven, was made at home while my wife and I were hanging out all the time; it’s a very domestic record,” Lopatin recalls. “I made the new record in this fucking crazy underground room, The Dungeon. I’ve got this weird skull on a chain above me and not much else.”
A frenetic album that sounds light-years beyond such previously soothing and cosmic consciousness- expanding OPN releases as Betrayed in the Octagon (2007, Deception Island), Zones Without People (2009, Arbor), and Russian Mind (2009, No Fun Productions), Lopatin’s latest, Garden of Delete explores so many twisted samples and nerve-permeating themes from such a fractured cultural milieu that by the time one piece sinks in and you’ve nailed its sources, it races forward, leaving you suspended and wanting more.
“No Good” blends strange string vibrations and unintelligible Vocodered R&B vocals with hornetlike synths and what sounds like an ocean exploding. “Child of Rage” recalls the spook sounds of Boards of Canada upended by electronic thumb piano, chamber lute/psychedelic synthesizers, and thunder. “ECCOJAMC1” is uncomfortable and looming; “Sticky Drama” recalls JS Bach merged with Meshuggah; the frozen synths and metal guitar riffs of “Lift” intimate physical torture at the polar ice caps. This Garden is dark, menacing, troublesome. Oneohtrix Point Never: A dangerous mind at work, indeed.
Your music often combines samples that create a melancholy or nostalgic quality. It’s all very human sounding, even when it’s not.
The past is inarticulate because it’s hard to remember. That’s a weird function of humanity; we have some capacity from the past, but it’s foggy. I am leery toward nostalgia. I am leery of heightening history so that it would seem better than the present. But an object or an idea, it’s all pliable and all things that I can enmesh in this latticework of materials that generate new work.
The Dungeon, Lopatin's Brooklyn studio But you acknowledge the nostalgia in your music, like the way a guitar is effected or a drum sound. Your music is very cinematic sounding.
What you’re hearing are very specific, musically historic materials that I find seductive. I was always fascinated with [Miles Davis’ producer] Teo Macero and his weird editing and splicing. And what Teo would do versus what Glenn Gould was trying to achieve with his cuts. And the materiality of tape, because once you acknowledge that the tape is another instrument you’ve added this layer of complexity to the whole project. And so I might take an idea from that, but also something very straightforward, like I’m obsessed with Tony Levin’s Chapman Stick playing, which is all over Garden of Delete. When I heard the virtual Chapman Stick that is part of Spectrasonics Trilian, I realized I could use it; it’s like a historic music room. What other objects can I put in that room that will make the Chapman Stick feel like an alien object?
I hear the Chapman Stick on Garden of Delete, surrounded by other memorable sounds.
On “I Bite Through It,” you’re hearing a collage of contrasting elements. There’s a metal section, and following that it goes right into this Chapman Stick progression. You’re hearing a monosyth lead and a Chapman together just dancing. They’re duplicate MIDI tracks that I’ve edited to do interesting things together.
The way you combine these disparate sounds—I hear metal guitars, Joe Satriani-like guitars, garbled voices, snippets of a Korean soft rock band, laughing, dialog, monster growls, hammering rubber band rhythms. Is there a go-to piece you use to effect all these crazy sounds?
The most important draw for me in a software synth is if I can randomize all the parameters. Even if it’s not a synth that I’m drawn to, if I can randomize it I can search and index while looking for the perfect, weird expressive moment. Like when you’re hearing a monster voice or some weird rubbery thing. That’s from hours of hitting the random button until I, the curator, the arranger, find the right expressive technique to use. I use a lot of distortion on this record, which is new for me. I used a bunch of software synths on this record that I could randomize. (His Mac desktop reveals soft synths and effects including Arturia, Audio Damage, Rob Papen, Prosoniq, Destroy FX, Eventide, FXpansion, Spectrasonics, SoundToys, Sound Guru, Humanoid Sound Systems.) When I hit the Randomize button on the Enzyme synth, for instance, it creates variety very quickly. It’s a gimmick, but I can spend hours to find that one insane thing. I used to love Inear Display’s Bucephal plug-in; it has all kind of modulations but I never get that far; I am just looking for random.
The Roland Juno 6 and Alesis Andromeda feature heavily on Garden of Delete. What else do you use?
The UAD 2 Satellite (Universal Audio UAD 2 Satellite Thunderbolt QUAD Core DSP Interface) is driving all these virtual plug-ins. I use Ableton as my DAW for everything. Because I’m so obsessed with the materiality of sound, synthesis is not really my vehicle. The actual manipulating of the audio in audio form, instead of synthesis form, is where I do all my work. I use plug-ins, but Ableton is such a strong tool in terms of sampling, time-stretching—even Ableton’s audio-to-MIDI capability allows you to throw anything in there, MP3 or otherwise, and it does a harmonic analysis of the file and gives you MIDI notes. That’s a huge tool. So I’m drawn to Ableton because of its plasticity of sound in that setting. I do everything in Ableton.
How else are you working in Ableton?
I will throw a fully realized demo into Audio to MIDI, then after Ableton’s strange job of analyzing that file, I will have all this new color in the form of MIDI notes that Ableton thinks it is trying to create a MIDI picture of. I like to sample in Ableton then get it into audio and see how I can mangle it, how I can push it into new forms. And I cherish Ableton’s ability to resample the whole thing. Say I have the Chapman Stick and Enzyme going; I can tell Ableton to resample and it will record all these tracks into this one track. It will resample the tune until my fingers are bleeding. I generate all this variety and bounce it down to a single track; this will eventually be just one color in this landscape of potential things that gets folded back into the whole arrangement. When you find that Eureka moment, you better use it. ‘cause that’s what’s going to make the track, not the tools.
How did you effect the voices in “Intro,” “No Good,” and “ECCOJAMC1”?
“Intro” was time-stretching in Ableton, specifying an external character in a Vocoder effect put through heavily distorted options. The vocoder is actually listening to another input that is extremely distorted and cross-pollinating with these kids laughing. The “ECCOJAMC1” vocal is a sample of a fairly well-known British folk artist slowed down, looped, and with an echo on it. In “No Good,” I used Vocaloid which comes from Japanese culture. (He shares a “Spinal Fluid Explosion Girl” YouTube video.) I also used Plogue Chipspeech speech synthesizer: I’ll write lyrics and put them in Chipspeech and it gives me this bluesy/country twang; that’s all over the record. I wanted to see where the alien-ness of the software becomes human.
You’ve spoken about searching the Internet for “metaphoric stuff”?
Have you heard of programmatic music? It’s a classical music term—like Rimsky-Korsakov, who believed that music isn’t fully abstract, that it’s always on some level part of the culture. Using a preset, like the Chapman Stick, what does that sound mean in history? How has that made us feel for 30 years? So I’m fishing for that moment, that thing. Comedians sometimes make you laugh by reminding you of something you forgot that was true. I feel that I’ve done that with sound.
I’ve read you also used the Zebra soft synth, Alesis Andromeda A6, Roland Juno 6, and Korg Kronos Wavestation on Garden of Delete?
Yes, the Kronos has everything, its own sounds, the Karma engine, which is a way of creating MIDI patterns that change and influence your playing. You can export those patterns; hold one chord and see all these crazy patterns the Korg associates with that one patch. It’s a beast. I saw a picture of Angelo Badalamenti scoring a film with just a keyboard and the computer screen in front of him. It seemed so logical. The Kronos is a bounty of sounds.
How do you create rhythm tracks?
I will usually take stuff from audio, sample it and use it as a drum. I just cognitively associate something with a snare or kick and play it. Then I will edit the MIDI. The best example of my drumming technique on Garden of Delete is on “Child of Rage.” There’s a sidechain compressor on this arpeggio that’s pulsing along, and the sidechain is pulling from another track that’s got a simple drum pattern. When pumped into the arpeggio track, it creates this beautiful pulse. That pulse adds a layer of complexity to the arpeggiator. It makes that kalimba sound using a compressor to actually influence a pulsation pattern on top that. My tracks might start like a super-chaotic Charlie Mingus jam and then get filtered into its final form.
Your entire process sounds like an experiment, but were there specific experiments on the record?
My process is to get a bunch of stuff in the sandbox and see what happens. Consider Florian Hecker or Mark Fell; these composers are truly experimental. They are testing an idea or some kind of philosophy or material question or posing a challenge with a process, then showing you the results. I am writing songs. Anyone can hit Randomize, but it’s the myriad decisions to combine these ideas to make a piece of music that’s emotional, that moves you, that says something about the world, that grips you—that’s the ultimate result of all these experiments.
You’ve noted influences on previous albums, such as social constructivist Bruno Latour, Mexican- American writer Manuel Delanda, Bulgarian- French philosopher Julia Kristeva, and Romanian philosopher and essayist Emil Cioran. How so?
Julia Kristeva is a French feminist philosopher who wrote an essay in the ’80s called “Powers of Horror.” What I got from it is, we’re fascinated by our guts and organs for the same reasons we’re fascinated by sexual taboos or violence on film or NWA, because we’re told that stuff has to be contained within. That’s a powerful way to think about the materiality of our bodies. That we split the inner and outer could be a problem.
Are there similar influences on Garden of Delete?
This album is primarily influenced by the period in my life when I first started buying music in Boston. I realized I could buy Rush instead of REM. I bought Rush’s Counterparts. I loved that record. It was the first time that I felt I had control over my decisions and that I wasn’t being pressured into buying a Pearl Jam album or something. So I thought about that time period and the music being made then and the sounds that were on those records. I wanted to take certain elements of that and think of it as plastic and combine it and find these new and interesting relationships.
Lopatin offers advice for musicians seeking to develop their own unique sound
If the studio is your mode of making music, don’t stop at the point where you’ve processed and effected a track; go as far down the rabbit hole as you can. Even if you destroy the track, you’re better off pushing your sound iteratively, over and over. Get it away from the source as much as you can, “phenomena-logically”–meaning, if you want to make music no one has ever heard before, make sure that you don’t take a sound verbatim and effect it once. That’s what everybody does. Be a monk! The stakes are high. Build a ship in a bottle! These things take time. And they take a certain compulsion. Invest yourself and go deep with it. Otherwise, be cool that you’re not into that, and don’t fake the funk. Like rap producers, they’re like, “This preset is great, and that’s what it is, and we’re making the track.”
But if you have to experiment, you better do it. Know who you are. Destroy the stuff to give it birth and don’t rely on these tools; you have to commit and put in the time. Think of yourself as more important than your tools. Don’t pray at the altar of technology. Use your ears and brain and make sure your music is something you would share with yourself; that it has purpose and you are making meaningful work. Because all this gear is great, but if you don’t have a sense of purpose and a story to tell, nobody else is going to care.