New sounds are discovered in the strangest ways. High Places made an indie-pop career out of home field recordings, while UK sound artist (and purist) Lee Patterson has founded his life’s practice on recording the hidden sounds of the natural world, using self-crafted hydrophones and contact mikes. Amazingly, in a career spanning two decades, Oval’s latest release DNA shares a raft of similarities with the carbon pops of breathing pond-weed and processed reverb of tree bark in Patterson’s work. The difference being Oval founder Markus Popp uses only synthetic sounds.
Noted for developing the ‘Clicks & Cuts’ aesthetic of music and rhythm found in damaged audio –scratched CDs, hardware noise –in the early 90s, Oval defined the Mille Plateux era of freeing sound from the artist’s vision via the non-determinism of glitch. Where Christian Marclay attempted to liberate noise via his Recycled Records sound collages in the 70s, Oval’s sonic compositions avoid any remnants of the original recording of his chosen medium, rather, opting to locate the rhythm and heartbeat of the glitches, clicks and scratches of his beloved machines.
A lot of DNA sounds like nature.‘Australasia’ bounces within reverberating bubbles of oxygen, while ‘Kasino’ at once plummets from a clear sky of vocal birds to the anesthetized underwater sounds of bustling marine life. With no conscious direction, DNA travels along like a half-remembered dream, dozing off into the frenzied dial-up beats of ‘In+Love’ before being completely forgotten in the spatial distortion and skipping disc clicks of ‘Stealth’. Meanwhile, that ever-frustrated desire for pop music pay-off never eventuates, even as the final clamorous build-up of ‘Op’ fades into anything but a climax.
DNA is an extended retrospective. Here, 25 tracks run for over an hour and follow along a non-linear path, reflective of the rhisomatic structure of Oval’s music. Even the fact that DNA was meant to be released before the acoustic efforts of 2010’s O and the earlier Oh EP, as a compendium closer to Popp’s era of digital distortion, is appropriate. Because, not only has his oeuvre gathered meaning beyond artistic intent, but it also shows the disordered evolution of his work and his tracks. What was meant to welcome the more acoustic music of his most recent release comes only after the shift has been made. Meanwhile, by establishing a natural rhythm within the ostensibly unnatural realms of manmade electronics using auditory fragments, Popp eschews any semblance of ‘songs’ or ‘structure’ in these sonic snapshots. Instead, his music travels along a hazy plane of ambient sounds that, like nature, might seem random but are of a complex system lovingly assembled by its creator.