Oval’s Markus Popp is a true pioneer in the realm of electronic music, one whose influence can still be heard today. O finally sees a return to vinyl after being sold out for over six years.
Popp, who lives and works in Berlin, took some time between his last release under the moniker SO and the "Oh" EP because he wanted the new material to be a radical departure from his old concepts and methods on all levels, to essentially be a second "debut" album. For "O" Popp's creative process shares nothing with his creative process for prior Oval albums. Previously, Popp focused on the creation of the programs that would process sound and effectively create the music. As a musician, Popp's process was more theoretical in nature. Creating the platform and knowing what that platform could and should do to the sound sources. He selected the sound sources and then turned it over to the platform. For ”O”, Popp uses an instrument that is very common, a stock PC outfitted with stock sounds and plugins. He no longer uses or creates a custom platform, but instead utilizes a readily available instrument. What he has done with this instrument highlights Popp's, perhaps for the first time, musicianship. Popp spent years woodshedding with his instrument and worked diligently to push the instrument beyond its normal sonic boundaries.
What is striking to note is that while the sound sources, and the process versus musician aspect of the music could not be more different, the resulting music shares qualities with the music that came before. It can be heard in the tempo and in the timbre. While the musician in Oval was formerly secondary to the process, now it is the primary creative element and his evolution as a musician can be clearly followed. Popp is often credited with creating the clicks and cuts genre of electronic music. Now this genre defining artist is putting forth the musician that was hiding behind the technician.
The result is a celebration in delicacy and detail: handcrafted polyrhythmic phrases, riffs and structures, bristling with tiny resonances. Popp is celebrating rhythms, scales and harmonies on a small and large scale, instead of reveling in theory and meta-discourse. The performances on this record represent a high level of skill on his instrument, while the resulting music is striking, compelling, and ultimately rewarding. "O", named for a new beginning, (ground zero if you will) is just that, fresh and new. (The EP title was a playful word game based around the album title.) The album, made after years of practice, is for Popp about the music. It is not about the impetus to start playing or some theoretical exercise in “programmed vs. played” or “new Oval vs. old Oval”. These comparisons, for him, are meaningless.
On Disc 1, the ten longer pieces range from delicate, sophisticated pop to brutally torn, electro-acoustic riffing full of angular, colliding guitar sounds. All of the songs are peppered with expressive and open drumming. Interestingly the tracks were not built around a rhythm. The drum playing was an organic part of the song evolutions, being written at various points during each individual song's recordings.
Disc 2 features no less than 50 concise, highly detailed pieces that are a conscious nod to the culture of instant gratification. Attentions spans are noticeably changed and the culture of organic discovery is gone from the mainstream and replaced by a hunger for the new. Consumption and criticism at warp speed. Portability dominates the art form to an extent never before seen. These tracks represent Popp’s personal challenge to create pieces within a constrained framework that addresses this aspect of music culture. Popp has even referred to these pieces as ringtones. These one-minute tracks have a melodic finesse and associative power that are unexpected under such constraints and are ripe for future sampling projects.
“O” is Markus Popp’s long-overdue and deeply personal love letter to music. It’s for the listener a new chapter in a fascinating, ongoing critical dialog with music by one of the true innovators of contemporary audio.