Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Clicks and Popps

"A laser moving across a disc has a few things that set it apart from its analogs on vinyl LPs and tape. Foremost among these is its relationship to time. When you take a record and spin it forward, you still get all the music contained in those grooves, but it all happens in a much smaller temporal window, which raises its pitch. The same goes for tape. But conventional CD players never worked this way. They moved the laser across the surface of the disc at fixed points, more like a record needle would if it jumped ahead a few grooves at a time while the speed remained constant. This jumping is what gives the CD skip its fragmented quality and also its peculiar rhythm. So while Oval may not have been the first sound artists to zero in on this tiny unit of sound, they were the first to make it the whole point. For Oval, the CD skip marks time. Popp almost always used the device as a rhythm element, a combination high-pitch timbale and cymbal tap. It’s not quite the heartbeat of the machine, more like the softer throb of the circulatory system...
In 1995, only 14% of U.S. adults used the Internet, and, for the first time, I became one of them. But it didn’t change my life appreciably. It was something that happened on a desktop computer in a single room. Yes, there was a certain amount of information at your fingertips, along with online chat and email, but the immobility of it all seriously limited the way the Internet affected one’s day-to-day existence. Every time you stepped away from the computer, you stepped back in time. It was an era of vast potential but very little realization, and everyone knew it. Large and ominous shifts were ahead, but we weren’t quite sure when or how they would occur; culture was oriented to the future, whereas in 2015 we’re always trying to catch up to the present...

Part of the fun of Popp’s interviews was his struggle with terminology. Oval understood that they were being marketed and received in the same way as any other music, but Popp in particular did not want to see his work in that paradigm. That was partly because one of the goals of the project, ironically, was de-mystification. As computers were becoming more powerful, those who mastered them were beginning to be seen as wizards. To take two prominent examples from the time, Richard D. James’ work as the Aphex Twin and Sean Booth and Rob Brown’s work as Autechre were both presented as surpassingly difficult. The listener was never supposed to be able to make sense of was happening behind the curtain, or to be able to apprehend what sort of algorithms were bringing these bizarre sounds into being.
"Popp’s approach, even if he wasn’t necessarily great at explaining it, was different. He once said that what Oval did was not “art” or “capital-M music” but rather could best described as “file management”—a term so functional that it can’t help but shatter the persistent myth of creativity. What we are doing, Popp seemed to say, is sitting in front of computers, opening folders, creating files, and arranging them. The work was, at base level, no different from an administrative functionary in a large office tracking inventory with Microsoft Access: You figure out what needs to be done and engage the software and hardware tools at hand in completion of the task. “It’s just a matter of honesty to say I’m not a composer,” he told Sound on Sound in 2002. “I’m just beta-testing software like everybody else is.” 
-Mark Richardson, A Glitch in Time, How Oval's 1995 Ambient Masterpiece Predicted Our Digital Present, Pitchfork

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