Daniel Lopatin is a musician without borders.
He’s neither bound by the conventional rules of genre nor is he the type of artist who sticks with merely one project at a time. The Brooklyn-based producer has worked with a long and diverse list of musical and visual collaborators and has built an impressive body of work with his primary musical outlet, Oneohtrix Point Never. And no two of his releases, solo or otherwise, sound entirely alike.
It’s tempting to say that Lopatin is a bit of a Renaissance man of electronic music, having touched the far reaches of pop, ambient and R&B while grazing the surface of everything in between.
He’s recorded catchy new-wave tunes as half of the duo Ford & Lopatin, produced dreamy R&B songs with former roommate Arthur Ashin in Autre Ne Veut, contributed keyboards to Ducktails’ most recent album and even helped score Sofia Coppola’s film The Bling Ring, not to mention founding Software Records in 2011. Dude’s busy.
But Oneohtrix Point Never (pronounced “one-oh-trix”)— who’ll play at The Irenic on Feb. 8—is a different story entirely. A project Lopatin says he “won’t let other people meddle with,” it’s constantly evolving and complex, often as concerned with the technical aspects of his process as the end result. And listening to albums like 2011’s Replica—composed largely of samples taken from commercials—or 2013’s R Plus Seven, which was inspired by text-based software and Oulipo writings, it’s hard to see how another collaborator would even fit into the picture.
Indeed, Oneohtrix Point Never is solely the product of Lopatin’s own mad-scientist experiments, which often result in concept-based works like Replica and R Plus Seven or 2009’s Russian Mind, which was based on a story about a cosmonaut.
As he explains to CityBeat before the launch of his winter tour, Lopatin generally begins with loose ideas before forming them into more concrete concepts.
“It’s usually just kind of a collision of things I’m interested in while I’m in the recording process,” Lopatin says. “So it’s incidental until I consider it more, then I build it in. But it’s always just kind of relevant to things I’m interested in at the time of making the record.”
That collision is apparent on R Plus Seven, which is easily his most chaotic and diverse Oneohtrix album yet—as well his most explicitly fun. His first for long-running electronic imprint Warp, R Plus Seven is a weird and exotic trip into virtual worlds, where synthetic voices and electronic imitations of acoustic instruments collide in what often sounds like a bacchanalia hosted in a Windows screen saver. It’s littered with detours and sharp left turns, opening with the droning and sedate “Boring Angel” before erupting into an almost danceable rhythm on “Zebra” and later employing a quasiindustrial wheeze on “Still Life,” the Jon Rafman-directed video of which was banned from YouTube for its slideshow of images from online fetish communities.
The varied and sometimes unruly nature of R Plus Seven ensures that it’s never a boring listen, even if it’s at first a disorienting one. For Lopatin, the process of making the pieces of the record fit was a puzzle in itself, and one that didn’t always require a correct answer for it to have an interesting result.
“Putting this record together was kind of labyrinthine because I had all of these little themes that were almost vignette-like in nature,” he says. “They didn’t open up and describe a whole story from beginning, middle and end. That was mostly fabricated by weaving together things that may or may not have, like… their own internal logical connections. They’re just things I’m forcing together for one reason or another.”
While working on R Plus Seven, Lopatin took inspiration from a variety of non-musical sources, which informed some of his approach to the composition of the pieces on the record. Before writing the album, he took an interest in Georges Perec, a French author largely famous for his self-imposed limitations, such as writing an entire novel, 1969’s La Disparition, without using the letter “e.” Another influence on the record was text-based interactive-fiction adventure games like Adventureland and Zork. In fact, Lopatin took manuscripts from some of these games, fed them through text-to-speech software and sampled them in cut-and-spliced form.
The idea of constrained writing plays a fairly important role on this record, as hinted at in its title. R Plus Seven is a reference to a tactic called “N+7,” in which a writer will replace a noun with the next noun that appears seven places down from it in the dictionary. Lopatin actually used this tactic when sampling the text-based game manuscripts, to create a kind of surrealist poetry. But he also imposes some other constructive means of limiting himself in the interest of enhancing his creative process.
“I don’t let myself continue to freely record improvised ideas for more than five minutes at a time,” Lopatin says. “So, if I’m just screwing around, and I’m record-enabled, there’s a timer sitting on my desk so I have to stop and deal with what I’ve done. Because, otherwise, it’s a mess, and I accumulate way too much stuff.
“There’s all kinds of little constraints.”
As complex and cerebral as Lopatin’s methods can seem—and as intricate as his Oneohtrix Point Never compositions can be—he’s not out to confuse or disorient the listener. His ultimate aim, whether working solo or with others, is essentially what every musician wants: to create music that people enjoy.
“If I make something and I genuinely love it, it’s divorced from me” Lopatin says. “I can be a fan of it. If it’s really good, I can listen to it over and over. Whatever I do, whatever kind of content I’m putting out into the world, I can sleep at night if I, myself, am a fan of it.
“I really do just want to make highly intoxicating music.”