Published Oct 25, 2011After 2010's critically lauded Returnal, Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin) was, alongside Emeralds, credited with spearheading the recent re-interest in kosmische- and kraut-inspired, synthesizer-based music. Anyone expecting a refinement or continuation of that will certainly be thrown for a loop, though long-time listeners of OPN probably won't notice a sizeable shift in sound when first putting on Replica. Opening track "Andro" is a warm intro laced with cloud surfing synths and water-y tones that glide easily underneath ― not too different from anything on Returnal or Rifts. After easing the listener in, Replica takes an abrupt and decidedly glitchy turn, which then rarely relents for the next 40 minutes. "Power of Persuasion" is a series of beautiful, short piano loops that intersect with majestic synths, while "Sleep Dealer" utilizes a sample of someone repeatedly enjoying a sip of soda that rides upon rising choral washes. The short samples that provide his newfound use of rhythm are all clipped from TV commercials, so it's this re-using of disposable culture, placed inventively alongside his signature synth moves and melancholy piano, which makes this record so unique and, unlike previous outings, difficult to define. While it's certainly not an easy voyage, Replica is a truly innovative sound world that rewards the listener upon repeated plays.
Replica marks an obvious turning point from Returnal, sounding thoroughly modern compared to the kraut- and kosmische-influenced records of your past. Recent artists that utilize short samples from specific sources such as Matthew Herbert, Matmos or Akufen can be heard. Are those touchstones for you or just a coincidence?
Yeah, I got really into all those guys back in early college, and I guess they were stored in the back of my head. What I really wanted to do for Replica was create a more thought-out, arranged and prog-y version of echo jams [Lopatin's alter ego, where he remixes pop songs to the point of oblivion], but combine it with what I was already doing with OPN.
I read in an interview you did in 2009 that you didn't know how to make "pro" music. After recording this record in a proper studio for the first time, do you still feel this way?
In some ways, yeah, definitely. Prior to this record, I had never even worked in a proper studio. Having that experience and access, as well as working closely with Al Carlson [Games, St. Vincent], our go-to engineer and mixing guy, totally changed my life. I still went about the OPN record in a way that limited my choices as to what kind of studio mischief I wanted to get into. I really didn't want to get bogged down in technical details, plus I really wanted it to feel like a flowing, organic thing. The thing that was missing on previous records was that I wasn't really utilizing frequency range that well. All of my stuff was really mid-band-heavy. That suited the music and it worked for those records, but I really needed to take the leap for this because I wanted the sounds on this record to be dynamic. All of this stuff I didn't really know how to do by myself. That being said, I guess I still don't know how to make a pro record by myself, but now I know what goes into one, as well as what options can improve things.
Can you go back to recording at home now that you've made the leap into professional recording?
I thought about that too. Yeah, I think I could because there are certain sorts of OPN compositions that lend themselves really well to being recorded at home. I'm definitely not snobby about it now that I've experienced that. I was extremely grateful and lucky to be able to record the record the way that I did. I made sure going into it, especially with a contract involved for a new record, that the studio was part of it. If it never happens again, it's not going to discourage me from making records, and I think I can make way better records at home after having learned a few things.
What instruments have you added to your arsenal since Returnal?
I was trying to figure out a compact synth situation for my live show and I approached Robert Lowe of Lichens about it. He said I have to check out the Yamaha CS-01 keyboard. It's a tiny analogue monosynth from the early '80s that's super-light and small. I bought it for the purpose of having something transportable, but I loved it so much that I started using it quite a bit on the record. There is also a lot of Wurlitzer electric piano on the record, which is totally new to me. There was also a lot of stuff lying around the studio that got used here and there.
I thought I heard trumpets on the record.
Yeah, that was actually that Yamaha synth. It totally makes sounds like a trumpet or even a brass section. There is also acoustic piano on the album; we utilized this software called Omnisphere made by Spectrasonic. All of those 10cc "Not in Love"-type synthetic choir sounds on Replica are all from the Omnisphere. We used a lot of that. Anything that sounds like vocals is made using that.
Was that a purposeful move? Getting away from the sound you had been crafting the last several years?
I'm not begrudgingly making a different sounding record to not be pigeonholed. I guess being pigeonholed is inevitable, because it just provides some basic framework for people to get into it. For me, I was doing the Klaus Schulze noise-kid thing before it was interesting to people. Then it got interesting to people and I'm still kind of with it and like it, but it's been so many years now. There were so many years of refining that I got to a point where I was like, "okay, Returnal sounds like I had refined the previous record and there wasn't any more refining to be done."
Can you elaborate on the concept behind the record regarding the strict use of TV commercial samples? Is this a way of repurposing the disposable culture we grew up with?
I'm not trying to do some kind of adbusters record about how I hate society, commercials or whatever. It's not so much that, but more like the Native American using every piece of buffalo. That's how I approached the record. You have this disposable, ephemeral stuff that's basically garbage, a big time waste; it doesn't really last and it doesn't have a place after its intent is deployed into the world for a short amount of time. It's sort of sad, I guess, that it didn't do anything but waste people's time. I knew that it if I used found sounds they're going to be so much richer than if I actually tried to piece them together and attempted to build a ship inside a bottle. The sounds are so complex and rich ― if you listen to anything, if you just listen to the world of stuff that's happening in between phrases or what happens peripherally when people are talking, it's so rhythmic and rich. I was like, "okay, there's the drummer." Listening to the voices and the cadences and the strange kind of turns and rhythms that come out incidentally in conversation are very musical. Everything I needed was already in the world and I could just kind of arrange it and add more instrumentation, basically make it what I want it to be.
Where exactly were these samples taken from?
There is a website called Videomercials run by some hoarder dude that sells these compilations of DVDs to people that are probably nostalgic for these things. He has them organized by time of day they appeared and year. I bought a whole bunch of DVDs from him and ripped the audio from them and used that for the record. The DVDs are from 1985 to 1993, but I bought ones that were not geared towards children, mostly because they use a lot of the same annoying sounds. I really wanted harmonically rich samples. I'm a bit OCD and I studied library science, so I like to organize and categorize things, which made combing through ten DVDs of commercials super-satisfying. There is such a vast graveyard of them that I knew it was going to be kind of fun to pick through.
The record seems ripe for the remix treatment. Any plans on having certain tracks remixed?
I really like the idea of vocal edits, kind of like what Kevin Martin did with the King Midas Sound record where he had all those new vocal edits compiled on a hyper-dub release. I like working with vocalists a lot. I'm really into the human voice; it being the only instrument that's more intense and more awesome than the synthesizer. But I'm just wary of remixes. I would much rather this be a record out there in the world and people sample it or use it for their music rather than arbitrarily do a remix campaign.
I know you've wanted to score films. Has that door opened yet?
I'm working with two friends on a short film that's shot in second life. It's a great diving-in thing to do, though I've found it's a whole different world. Even technologically, knowing how to do that, working off time coded material in a studio for that, is crazy stuff. I feel I'm far away from that still.
What's coming up for Oneohtrix Point Never? Any tours or further releases?
Yeah, I'm going with my collaborator Nate Boyd, who does really amazing video stuff, as well as art. We're going to Europe together and he's going to do live video in November. I'll be opening up for Oval in NYC in a few weeks. (Software)