Since 2007, Daniel Lopatin has been recording and performing some of the most adventurous electronic music out there — which also happens to be some of the most listenable experimental music out there — under the name Oneohtrix Point Never. Sounded out, this moniker conjures up some sort of corrupt version of a radio call number; appropriately enough, Lopatin’s music can sound like the bounced-back transmissions of pop culture’s recent past, distorted and worn down over light years of travel. Disconnected rhythms file past chopped-up sound samples snatched from old Folger’s commercials or withering VHS tapes: Lopatin’s music toes the line between the mundane and the sublime.
Over the course of five albums, and through the launch of his own boutique label, Software, Lopatin’s aesthetic has refined itself into something of a signature — which is his cue to take things in a different direction. On Friday night at the ICA, Lopatin joins with visual artist Nate Boyce for a multimedia performance of “Reliquary House,” a joint work they first performed last year at the Museum of Modern Art, as well as some other excursions into his catalog, both old and new. A Sudbury native, Lopatin now operates out of Brooklyn, N.Y., but he still holds fondly onto his 508 phone number from his days in Massachusetts. This kind of emotional connection to raw data is at the heart of Lopatin’s practice, and if the theory behind it sounds heavy, his music — effervescent, unpredictable, and suffused with an eerie commercial resonance — spares you the burden of having to think too much while enjoying it.
Q. How did your collaboration with Nate Boyce come about?
A. I was introduced to Nate through a mutual friend named Robert Beatty who is a terrific artist who had done some album covers for me. He said, “You should check out Nate’s work, I think you guys would click,” and I was totally taken aback by it. We’ve been collaborators ever since.
Q. What about his work appealed to you?
A. I consider him to be a sculptor, first and foremost, even though he works in the video realm a lot, but he approaches it sculpturally. I also think of him as an abstractionist. And those are things that appeal to me. There’s a similarity in the way we use materials that already exist in the world and repurpose them.
Q. On first view, Boyce’s work reminds me of being a kid and watching those very early examples of computer animation —
A. Yes! For me it was the WGBH logo, and the bit of synth sound design that was the theme. I think that had more impact on me than any kind of music.
Q. I’ve seen the word “nostalgia” used a lot in attempts to describe your music. To me, nostalgic seems like too restrictive a lens to view what you do.
A. I agree with that. I think nostalgia used purely for the sake of emotional reminiscing is extremely boring. For me, it’s about dealing with that as an idea — the boringness of that, the limitations of that —
Q. Originally, I was going to ask if the appeal of the sounds you use is at all autobiographical, but then I wasn’t sure if that question made sense. But what you’re saying sounds like that. Would you ever frame your music as personal?
A. Yeah, I think when we look back, we generally tend to inflate the past with some lie — things were so much better, or so much worse. That’s not bad or good, but it’s an interesting feature of the way we deal with things that generally just don’t want to stick, things that are fleeting. So I’m trying to paint a picture of them fleeting, of them being lies. I’m not just trying to simply paint them; I’m trying to paint them as moments that we’re not capturing correctly. When I work, I’m trying to show that and not the nostalgia itself.
Q. From a production standpoint, what is the smallest amount of sound that you can have that contains some of this emotional information? On [your 2011 album] “Replica,” for example, I’ll hear the tiniest bit of someone giving a refreshed “ahh” after a sip of a drink, and even though it’s so small, it’s transportive — like the fabric of the sound is something I haven’t felt for a while.
A. Well good, that’s sort of the purpose. So, these things that are available that we can find as audio or video, that exist and have their own context and purpose, they were basically used in a commercial sense. The purpose of that “ahh” was to connect to the collective “ahh” — the collective response that “this is refreshing and I want to buy this thing.” But if you can turn that “ahh” into a type of material object, when it’s just another texture, like the color mauve, when you put “ahh” and mauve on the same level — suddenly you have something interesting. You’re using things that don’t want to be treated like objects as objects. You’re no longer letting them do what they want to do. I find that gives me an interesting jumping-off point to figure out how I want to use them. To me everything is a material, and everything is subject to change. When I work with found sounds, I’m trying to figure out how do I make this come from me?
Q. Is music enough for you, or do you feel like you have things you need to express visually? When I look at the releases Software has issued, there’s an aesthetic in place that, erroneously or not, I trace back to you.
A. I don’t know, it’s a good question. It’s prohibitive for me to basically just continue to encroach on anything I want to. Because a.) There’s a lot of people that do it better; and b.) What am I trying to say? If I can’t really answer that, I try not to do it. Either way you cut it, there’s a visual aspect that I can’t escape, because I think my roots in terms of creating things and making things was primarily based on my love of film. Growing up, I wanted to write films and make films. Even as I took this detour and stayed in the music world, I still think in terms of ‘What is in this room? What is the shot? Who are the characters? What is the conversation here?’ My sense of pacing is very filmlike, it’s not musical. If you close your eyes and listen to a film, that’s the way I want it to sound. It’s not about a soundtrack, but the intrinsic pacing of film teaches me a lot about what music can do. It’s important, but I’m pretty much a horrible visual artist.
Q. Are there any mission statements, precautions, or ideas that you’re stabling yourself with going forward?
A. Yeah, I guess generally I don’t want things ever to be easy. While there’s some danger of doing something that loses your personal stamp on things, I’d rather take the chance of doing that and do something slightly uncomfortable or hard for myself. Because otherwise, it really just becomes the Harlem Globetrotters of whatever you’re doing. You just become really good at it, and it’s a show, and there’s no fight. That, to me, is a boring form of entertainment. I don’t really want to do that. This new stuff is weird. I don’t really know what it is yet. I think I have to hear it first to know what it is.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.