Words by Andrew Parks
Unlike the many electronic artists who take nothing but a MacBook on tour, Daniel Lopatin used to drag his dad’s Juno-60 and far too many effects pedals all over Europe. The setup replicated his hover state hooks and space-is-the-place Oneohtrix Point Never sound quite well, but the physical act of carrying it all grew tiresome and felt almost like a crutch. One show—Raum 18, Lopatin’s first appearance in Berlin—was particularly rough, enough that Lopatin’s former label boss, Carlos Giffoni, threw one overzealous French fan out (“he was in my face, trying to cut me down like I don’t deserve the respect I was getting”) and Miguel Depedro (Kid606) offered his unsolicited advice afterwards.
“I remember him leaning over,” explains Lopatin, “and screaming ‘good set but you gotta get rid of that Juno and looper act.’ I was so offended; I was like, ‘This is my SHIT. What is your shit? Breakcore?’ But maybe he was right. I was relying more on a bag of tricks then than I am now. I’m still not ‘playing’ an instrument, but I feel more like [a musician] now than when I played synth and looped [it].”
An understandable assertion considering how much he’s achieved in the interim, including a film score for Sofia Coppola (The Bling Ring), a special PopRally performance at the Museum of Modern Art, several side projects (Ford & Lopatin, an ambient sparring session with Tim Hecker) and two increasingly ambitious Onehtrix Point Never albums, the most recent of which (R Plus Seven) came out this week through Warp Records. It was also the main driving force in a recent set at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral, a live A/V affair that fit the pitch-dark setting perfectly and was about as far removed from a simple “Juno and looper act” as one can get.
To help make sense of the many things that have happened since Lopatin’s breakthrough album Returnal, we spent more than an hour and a half batting questions at him over GChat.
Discussed: the life lessons of Brazilian footballers, the thin line between sound effects and film scores, why Tangerine Dream albums can be tedious, college papers about Kool Keith, deep listening via Boards of Canada, and why his greatest hero is Quentin Tarantino…
What’s your earliest memory of hanging out at Hampshire College?
Earliest memory? I was moving from one dorm to another across the courtyard. Arthur (Ashin, a.k.a. Autre Ne Veut) and his friend Noah, without knowing me, offered to help.
What year of college was this?
2000. We were always attracted to the same girls. We crossed each other up a few times but we got over it…And I have this memory of talking about Village Green Preservation Society on an icy walkway. But that was later.
What are some of the most noticeable changes you have each gone through since then?
I think I gravitated more towards sounds and Arthur towards songs, and then a vector emerged where it flipped. So we always have each other to temper the other’s thoughts on what should be going on structurally. He would sing ANV style over my sets at DBA. In the audience to himself. He always heard R&B motifs over my shit. Which is kind of exactly what I want.
When you said R&B motifs are exactly what you want, what did you mean?
I want the pop structure insinuated. Felt and not hear distinctly. The way that music has this viral quality to it, something that infests the negative space of your mind’s ear. That’s my dream music.
So it should worm its way into your head, but not in a verse/chorus manner?
Yeah. I’ve tried a few times to be more straight ahead in service to other projects or my own and it always feels like something is too much.
I guess that Ford & Lopatin project was as straight ahead as you’ve gotten so far.
Yeah. There’s some great moments on that record. You try things, you know?
What’s one moment you’re especially proud of? That “Voices” song stands out to me immediately.
Yes! That’s the one. I loved it because it was simple and really pure, like a rock ballad. And Joel [Ford] shines on it.
I noticed he was doing some new Airbird material for Cascine. Are each of you producing your own music for other labels but still working on other people’s projects for Software? Or at least doing ‘A&R’ for it?
Joel’s moved on to greener pastures with his own label. Software is me and label manager Matt Werth, who of course does RVNG and FRKWYS.
Ah, I knew Matt was involved but didn’t know to what extent.
He’s the best.
Does that bum you out—not having Joel involved anymore?
[I’m] happy for Joel. He’s got to go all in on his ideas, and working with me can be tricky in that sense. I’m not an easy person to collaborate with. More practically, we had an idea of what the label was going to be about and it sort of naturally morphed. I’m bummed out for sure but at the same time, I really think it’ll be a positive thing for the both of us in the long run.
Do you mean how it morphed from a production house to more of a regular label?
What do you feel like you’ve learned from other things in the past year, such as mixing the Clinic record and working with Brian [Reitzell] on the Bling Ring score?
A ton about the studio. Even more about working ‘against’ an image, or movement, or a mix. A lot of my first ideas are actually not my best. A lot of them are fairly juvenile in terms of relationships of sound to image for instance. I learned to fight my sense of visual metaphor and do something compelling that ‘swung’ and wasn’t this 1:1 thing.
What’s one example of how your process could have been considered juvenile in the past?
Well I never really had the chance to fuck up because I was working with people much more experienced than I that taught me the ropes. Scoring is very difficult. It’s no cakewalk. Had to score a sex scene. Had no idea how to start that. You think you know, but bowchickawow is not gonna cut it. So you really have to engage with your sense of what each inch of ‘score’ is about and why it’s there.
So in those cases, did you defer to Brian? Did you find it difficult at first to speak up because you were the inexperienced one in the room?
Well I’d ask him to save me and he wouldn’t. Ha. It’s like Brazilian footballers. They play their whole life on the sand. When they get to the grass, they blow by dudes. Brian def made me play on the sand. It’s the only way if you really want to approach scores as an art form and not just be plugged in for promotional reasons.
I was watching Deep Space 9 recently and completely losing it because the underscore sounded like Ligeti, but played on a Wavestation. The guy that made that is no joke and he’ll never be considered part of the musical canon, especially not ‘serious music’. There’s interesting ideas across the board; if you want to find them, they’re everywhere. Things really started getting interesting over the past 10 years I think. The line between SFX and score is pretty murky. [With] video games especially. There’s a lot of interesting possibility there.
Well games have been recruiting musicians more. Do you find doing art/film-related music more rewarding these days than sitting down and making an album under the 0PN name? Or is it all one in the same?
Kind of two different beasts but I really do enjoy working in a multidisciplinary way. It’s healthy to work that way, and it’s a good ego check.
Two different beasts because 0PN is you reaching within yourself and these other projects tap another part of your brain?
Yeah. But nothing is as insanely difficult to answer as the question of what to make when no one else is mitigating.
Right. And a label like Warp, as big as they are in the indie realm, probably let you do your thing.
The record was already finished.
It must be exciting to be part of that legacy and bring something fresh to its emerging new school. The Warp of today—FlyLo, you, etc.—is very different than the Artificial Intelligence days.
Very different. More samplers, less Kyma capybaras. I’m just joshing around but yea…I mean the impetus was in many ways emerging from the UK acid scene. Now there’s no distinct link between, say, Jeremiah Jae and Darkstar. It’s wide open and I appreciate that. I don’t like cliques.
Which is why I’m sure you couldn’t wait for people to stop talking about the synth resurgence or ‘hynagogic pop’.
Couldn’t wait. I had been doing my thing in Western Mass during freak-folk with no attention given. I knew that when it came on, it came with a caveat of also being a death sentence.
You reissued all those early records last year. What were some influences on them that would surprise people?
I loved Danny Wolfers, [was] obsessed with Leogwelt, all the weird Smackos stuff. I cannot emphasize that enough. But I was also pretty into a ton of drone and Popol Vuh and new noise stuff like Double Leopards. If you split the difference between those things, you basically got Rifts.
I didn’t really listen to [Tangerine Dream] or Klaus [Schulze] or stuff like that. I heard it a few times and could guess the rest. They are so tedious. I was more into weird stuff that had pathos to it. John Carpenter, for instance. Vangelis.
Stuff like TD can be tedious?
Yeah. Some of it is cool. Like [Jean Michel] Jarre I don’t think I liked at all. It seemed maudlin to me until I heard Zoolook. I love TD’s scores. They are interesting. Like Firestarter.
If someone’s never heard Danny [Wolfers] before, what should they check out?
Beyond the Congo or the Kinski EP.
They’re incredibly lucid and like stories. They’re creepy too. IDK.
Are you trying to tell one cohesive story with your new album or several diverging ones?
Now you have to give me a good answer.
I am trying to tell a MORE cohesive story than I have before. But what I ended up with was something more interesting.
It’s a latticework of possible outcomes. Scenarios.
So this is your choose-your-own-adventure album?
Yeah, it is. Straight up.
So someone can arrive at different outcomes depending on how they listen to it?
It’s more like that old British show Knightmare. It’s not very discrete. It’s just suggestive of things.
Well it’s still very instrumental, so it’s suggestive more than literal.
Yeah. Definitely. I sort of liken it to how in surrealism, the setting is the control and the objects are the variables.
Did you take more art classes in college than music ones?
No, I never took any legit art or music classes.
What did you major in again?
IDK. We hardly had majors. It was a strange college. I studied some critical theory and combined it with ideas I had about music, and wrote about loops. Armchair continental philosophy.
Oh, it was a liberal arts school.
Do you remember one paper that you’re especially proud of in retrospect?
My papers were all shit. My best friend wrote a paper about Kool Keith but he was so blitzed. The paper was ‘in the style’ of [Dr.] Doooom. Not on purpose either.
Amazing. Just Kool Keith as an entity?
Kool Keith as a non-entity shapeshifter probably.
OMG. It was fun though.
So was your new album improvised mostly? Or more structured? As you still bringing that ‘noize without borders’?
Haha! I’m so full of shit.
You talked a lot about venturing down the YouTube wormhole for the last record. How was this one different?
Whatever I bring is more intrinsic now than dipped in rhetoric. I just do what I do; I feel less that I have to be an antagonist or prove anything.
What were you trying to prove before?
That there’s more to notice in bad music than we think mostly. And I still believe that. But it’s not my battle cry. I have other concerns. Haha…My hero growing up was [Quentin] Tarantino because he was so cool. I was obsessed with throwaway music the way he was with film. I wanted to make good music from bad musical ideas.
Oh, you mean how he sees the value in B-movies?
Yeah. A bricolage of secret obsessions. ‘Deep listening’ to un-deep things. I remember stepping outside of my Bushwick apartment in 2009 and the ‘mix’ was BOC…children far away at Maria Hernandez [Park]. Is that a throwaway moment? Probably, but deep listening yields very interesting experiences, especially because our music travels with us so much now. BOC are deep listeners. So it’s not just things in poor taste, but more an openness.
That must be one thing you love about living in New York.
Yeah! It’s fucking unreal. Overdose.
Were you geeking out about the new BOC as much as the rest of us?
Duh. Big time. They have mad chops.
They also have that hip-hop undercurrent to what they do in the same way you have a pop/R&B one. One that isn’t immediately obvious. Autechre has that to some degree in their old stuff too.
Oh yeah. Autechre is so hip-hop. Tri Rep, EP7; it’s all good. Haha. But yeah, Tarantino was my idol. My first Hotmail password was ‘Quentin’.
Was one of your first IM or E-mail names related to his movies as well?
Haha. No. I can’t remember my IM. Fuck. Oh—I saw Elysium. Bad score, reductive, copying [Hans] Zimmer in lame ways. The SFX were amazing, and there were a few moments where I thought about this sort of ‘Tesla coil’ type electric ‘finish’ that was layered with space station sounds. I wish it was variations on underscore the whole time. As I remember it, it was fucking dope.
What’s an underscore?
The music you aren’t meant to notice. It’s often meant to be emotionally ambivalent, at times just a little bit suggestive of mood. Mostly just tension—somewhere between design and score…That’s really my favorite shit ever. I have been working on a piece for a while now that is a cobbled together Frankenstein of underscore. I don’t know how to finish it though. I want it to go on like 40 hours.
Like the worst of the worst from Cinemax? The Skinemax megamix?
Haha. Yeah. Unfortunately, I’m culling from a limited palette.
Limited palette because of the equipment you use?
No, I just wish someone would let me into the Cinemax archives so I can fucking do it for real instead of [through] Pirate’s Bay.
You mentioned being difficult to work with before but the Tim Hecker collab from last year was pretty tight. What did you learn from him?
Dude, he’s amazing. He’s painterly. I learned quite a bit about mixing from him—10 fingers on faders…
So did the Instrumental Tourist record impact your live approach?
Yes. Big time. It’s all different now. There’s 0PN pre-IT and after.
What’s the best way of describing the difference to those of us who don’t understand tech speak?
Before Tim, I took pride in my ideas and my sense of melodies but I had very little respect for the physicality, the brute force of music. I liked it but I had a pretty primitive understanding of what I can do with it. It wasn’t a priority. I’m more excited to play live than ever before. It feels like starting over.
So performing didn’t feel as emotional before? It was more about creating melodies and moving the crowd than anything physical?
Yeah. To be honest, I don’t even know what it was about. I never had much experience with it and then suddenly I was expected to perform. I was lugging my Juno-60 synth all over Europe with a bunch of loopers and delays. I don’t even really know why I did it. I think it was because it was my comfort zone to just kinda loop Juno stuff over samples. It was like I was bringing my bedroom studio everywhere.
Have you had any show recently that felt emblematic of the post-IT live sound of 0PN?
Nah. I have just been woodshedding the show for the past year or so. It’s almost ready. My set is frequency-rich now. It runs the gamut from extreme lows to just before unpleasant highs or whatever.
Does that mean your set is going to be more upsetting at certain points?
Well, I think in a way it will be way more pleasureful, something ‘felt’ and not ‘heard’. Less melody, more pulsation.
More of an experience?
Hear the record, feel the show. My problem before [was] it was more thrill ride, less sampledelicworkout. I would make very ornate records with lots of strange detail…
And the detail would be lost?
Yeah. And I had no mentor or anyone to be, like, ‘Dude.’ Or the TIME. I had nothing. Just had to go and play, make some money. It was very pressure-y and weird. I wasn’t thinking straight. I wanted to please people but wasn’t ready to deal with basic logistics. I loved making records, but playing live I was not ready for. Looking at all those faces who are suddenly looking back at you.
Waiting for you to make them feel something?
Especially in this kind of music. Must be why Tim [Hecker] performs in the dark.
Ha. I remember the ATP stage at Primavera, playing, like, extended ambient jams at 7 p.m. Four thousand people. On my PC laptop.
And people were into it?
Those that were are truly sweet because they opened themselves up to what I was and where I was at. I’d tear up if I thought about it more. I’m an incredibly lucky guy considering all things, and I don’t take it for granted but at some pointy you can’t just live off people’s good will. I wanted to grow.
What do you mean by good will? You can’t just live off people saying you’re rad? You have to actually get out there and do it?
I would say so. I was a nervous kid with a Lenovo laptop and a 1/8-inch jack. I would bomb sets a lot. Not always. And people were pretty kind.
Just a couple more things…You always seem more influenced by films than music. What impacted this record? Not directly necessarily, but shit that was in the back of your mind?
A few converging things…This dude, particularly his short film Rapture of Frank N Stein. Also this Wikipedia entry. Not the book; the entry itself. It inspired me quite a bit.
The idea that the entire block is primarily presented frozen in time, on June 23, 1975, just before 8 p.m., moments after the death of Bartlebooth. Nonetheless, the constraints system creates hundreds of separate stories concerning the inhabitants of the block, past and present, and the other people in their lives. That this was even possible—that Perec was ‘stretching’ time using prose—was very intriguing. I haven’t read it though.
So this album is meant to be a snapshot like that?
I did some procedural poetry stuff and oulipo while making the record that I don’t want to expound on, but that idea was intriguing. You can see some of it in the packaging.
How long ago was this album finished?
I think we wrapped in January in Iceland.
Did Iceland itself impact how it came out?
I mean, Iceland in January, not exactly Aruba. We recorded the thing in my studio apartment in Greenpoint but when it was time to mix, all sense of objectivity was lost. [I] needed to get out of that room, so we went to Iceland in the dead of winter. How it influenced [it] I have no idea, but it did.
Replica was kinda the opposite of this album, wasn’t it? A little looser?
Yeah, it was so loose. It was like “….” no ideas for 1.5 years and then bam. Two weeks. Done. I did the source stuff in one weekend, then I started cobbling it together, the structure revealed itself, and I wrote music around it. Replica wouldn’t have happened any other way. This required a more attentive attitude.
You finished the new album in January. What have you done since then?
God, I can’t remember. Bling Ring I think? Jesus, I have like no idea. Shows…
Have you done any other remixes besides Nine Inch Nails? Or are you trying to not oversaturate yourself in that realm?
No, just that one.
Were you psyched to do that? Trent’s certainly a very sound designer-y dude.
OMG. So psyched. Remixes for me…two reasons: cash or challenge. No other good reason for it.
A lot of people would do NIN for the cash, but I’m guessing it was for the challenge of messing with such an established artist.
When it’s both, it’s great, right? Hahahaha…It was fucking awesome. Just opening his project was, like, an epic moment. Haha.
Did you feel nervous to even touch it, or did you dive right in?
No fear. His stems were cool. I had ideas instantly. I’ve always liked his voice. Couldn’t wait to renovate.
So you kept his voice in it; that’s good.
I kept the two most iconic elements of NIN: Trent’s voice and Trent’s piano. Everything else was deactivated.
People often miss that—how important the piano is to his process.
His piano is SO NIN. I wasn’t about to delete that. No way jose.
So the last eight months sound like a blur; how is the rest of the year looking? Just finalizing the live show and getting out there with that?
Yeah, get back in front of an audience—2001: A Space Odyssey fetus style. See where it takes me.
Hopefully people don’t want to abort that fetus.
Haha. Yeah, exactly. It’s all amorphous, but it’ll be tight.