Saturday, January 7, 2012

Oneohtrix Point Never's "Replica," Places, and Worlds

Although I know that some people insist that a house is "just a place," I don’t fully buy it. We have a strong relationship to the places in which we live.  We shape our environments as we carve out our existence within them, and conversely, our environments shape us.  The house, the workplace, the college dorm room – all become imbued with the memories and sensations that we experience as we walk along our path within them: even more so when those places are shared with other people.  A couple of months ago, I posted about the nostalgia-fueled mourning process I was going through as my old dojo changed locations, and sure, empirically, the old dojo was "just a place," but, for a long time, it was also my world. 

I had the good fortune to attend the dojo's grand (re)-opening a few weeks ago.  The new place is beautiful and I am very happy for the amazing practitioners there.  It will always be a space I look forward to visiting, but I will probably never "live" there as I did in the old space. That relationship is disconnected from the present, and a new world has arisen in recent years with its own set of meaningful interrelations.

After classes, I got a chance to explore Denton on a rainy afternoon and checked out how things have changed since I left in 2009. I noticed a rarity on the Square: a new record store. I could not resist the temptation to go in and poke around.

There were just a couple of albums that had the potential to break my self-imposed year-end moratorium, one of which was Replica, by an electronic/ambient project called Oneohtrix Point Never. I had happened across some reviews and interviews surrounding the interesting process and concept that generated Replica. Daniel Lopatin, the creative force behind Oneohtrix Point Never, constructed the album’s rippling auras out of 80s commercials, very tightly cropped and looped so as to imply new rhythms and atmospheres. The articles are worth reading, but one idea in particular stuck out to me, so much so that it is worth quoting in full:
I had this really corny Ray Bradbury science-fiction scenario in my head: These samples I'm using are the last remnants of society in a post-apocalyptic world, and the survivors think they're putting together a replica of what society used to be like, but they're getting it totally wrong. Like someone getting artifacts wrong for a museum in the future.
I found this concept to be anything but corny. The sea of mediated sounds that we unconsciously swim in is profoundly influential in our everyday existence. What sort of musical potential might lie in this material if it were stripped of all context, reduced to snippets and reconstructed from a totally unfamiliar perspective? Lopatin’s concept seemed so compelling that, even though I was not sold on what I heard of the album, I had to try Replica out. I decided that it would be an immediate purchase in January, but I had not counted on finding a physical copy sitting on a shelf.

Oh, well....we'll call it the first entry for 2012, albeit a few weeks early.

I’m quite sure the quote above planted the seed of this dystopian vision in my head, but if it was Lopatin’s intention to create the post-apocalyptic soundscape of the future out of repurposed sounds of the past, he succeeded admirably.

Oneohtrix Point Never - Power Of Persuasion by Mexican Summer

Admittedly, Replica initially sounded like a CD skipping uncontrollably, or maybe even like the kind of jarring sounds that the Others might use to torture prisoners on Lost. Incredibly, though, once the preliminary shock wears off and the human organization becomes more perceptible, the musicality of Replica really shines through.  It was an amazing listen on the rainy drive back to Austin.

Despite its electronic, cut-and-paste construction, there is something almost primordial about Replica. It generates an aura of circumspection in its ambient moments while its more jagged qualities can be unsettling. In any case, the albums unifying concept is intellectually engaging enough that, despite several months of play, it has not left my player. Replica may sound like the future, but doesn't try to predict what that future will sound like by today's instrumental and aesthetic standards.  Instead, using the mediated environmental castoffs of the past in an alien set of interrelations, Lopatin proposes a disconnected future that quizzically looks back and wonders what we were doing.

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