For its first show of the semester, EMPAC managed to net one of the biggest names in electronic music right now: Oneohtrix Point Never. The Brooklyn native has risen to fame in short time since his debut album, Returnal, on Editions Mego in 2010. He’s since been on the cover of Wire magazine, been featured in a Nine Inch Nails remix album, and contributed to the score of Sofia Coppola’s new film The Bling Ring, among other accolades. The performance at EMPAC on September 12 was a beautiful way to begin EMPAC’s semester programming.
For those that attended, your expectation of electronic music concerts would certainly be shattered when you realized it was a sitting event—typical the show was not—but enthralling in Point Never’s own way it was. Two people performed the entirety of the performance: Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never, who stood to the right of the stage behind a table full of controllers and a suitcase that hid his computer, and Nate Boyce, a video collaborator of Point Never’s, standing to the left of the stage. Once they assumed their positions behind their instruments, the only notable movement other than scurrying fingers was a head bob here and there by Lopatin and an occasional sip of tea by Boyce. Thankfully, the visual void was more than filled by EMPAC’s so-large-that-it-messes-with-your-perception Concert Hall projection screen, adding to the strange sense of depth created by Boyce’s ethereal visuals displayed on the screen. We can talk about the constituent parts of the performance and what we thought of them, but we wouldn’t come closer to defining the whole of the performance.
My personal paradigm for interpreting EMPAC events comes from within the event, when I find that many people try to apply outside paradigms and expectations within it. EMPAC’s anti-tradition of cultivating the unique shone here. I amongst all other patrons of the event, versed in his imminent album R Plus Seven or not, asked myself, in one way or another, “What the hell am I watching?”, when that question should quickly be refined into, “Why haven’t I seen this reality before?” Even those that were versed in his new release would be surprised at how this performance was pleasantly different than the album itself. Everything about this concert was one level of abstraction away from reality; the 80’s motif he recalls—that snare sound came from a synth, not a real snare—is rooted from being the “next big thing” from our, now classic, Led Zeppelin and The Who of the 70’s. The compositions weren’t emotionally cohesive—the massive walls of noise flirt with polyrhythmic synth stabs—when you thought there should be an emotional updraft the space was filled with something else. Boyce’s visuals were similarly beyond expectation—the spaces and geometries displayed felt like they couldn’t inherently exist just as you’re looking at evidence that they could, like watching a David Lynch film populated by things that could exist, not in and of themselves, but only as parts. The visual aesthetic itself was removed from reality in the same way the rendering style was bizarre, like a mid-90’s corporate PR pamphlet. After reaching this, the question of “What the hell am I watching?” is destroyed, without answer, and you’re given alternatives to interpret. Like coming across a street performer playing an African instrument, you’ve never seen before or listening to foreign radio programs on high herein lies the EMPAC paradox, don’t expect something you’ve seen, or expect something that you can expect more, look at your expectations from within the performance. You’ll see that your expectations can be accurate, they can be wrong, they can be misplaced, they can be exceeded, or changed. The beat of the heart, the emotion that music plays and how one piece can emotionally segue into another does not apply to OPN; his beauty lies deeper—the waves and girth of the electronics combined with the use of removal from familiarity. If the performance hit you the right way, you could now take “traditional” music with expectation from the ground up. Oneohtrix Point Never at EMPAC was a great exercise in EMPAC serving its purpose and a wonderful primer for our beloved freshmen; welcome to the new weird, we’ll see you again soon.