Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete
In Photo-Fiction, a Non-Standard Aesthetics, Francois Laruelle clarified a compressed view of his aesthetic theory, one evolving from his ideas on non-philosophy and non-Marxism. Simply put, Laruelle wants to revoke the attitude of approaching art through an assumed philosophy, presumably an assumed process of “decision making” that splits a subject from interfacing non-philosophically — perhaps naturally — within an immanent world. Laruelle’s inquiries into the non are essential, not only as attempts to deemphasize the interlocking webs of symbols and predilections that plague art-making and consumptive processes, but also because they resonate with the simple pursuit of denial — to sabotage the glistening structures of canon, discourse, and assumption that dominate the movement of artists: those shining towers that demand delete.
It’s odd considering this in light of the compositional career of Daniel Lopatin, a career that has arguably developed non-philosophically, elegantly, albeit autocratically across the continuum of experimental culture. Of course, plenty of philosophical content has been supplemented and tacked on to Oneohtrix Point Never’s oeuvre as a means to create extra-curricular depth that allies with the interiority of his music, allowing it to function as a charged conversation piece. His masterwork R Plus Seven pushed the artist’s “spectacular gift at building tension and heightening emotion through waves of detached sound” into the world of Oulipian constraint, fielding magnificent MIDI sounds alongside cinematic affect. Similarly, the plunder-pursuit of Replica happened inline with the variable sample-culture of 2011, embellishing it to create resonance against the shabby aesthetics of similar vaporous movements. Both records reinstitute a sense of classical beauty in weird historical environments; both happen to be really, really good-sounding records.
Like a true auteur, OPN has allowed the readability of his work to exist verbatim, evident within the flow of gorgeous sounds and through the sentimentality of his “moment-based” composition: where you can watch the axiomatic progression of certain sonic decisions render themselves across the expected and unexpected planes of editable culture. The joy of OPN has offered a vision of avant music away from the concept that one must transgress a symbolic hierarchy, or even legislate new ones. Rather, he has explored dealing with the immanent processes of creation and culture keenly. Far from bold, OPN hasn’t pretended to heal old forms. He traces the wounds that exist within the decaying structures of authentic experimentation corroding along the continuum of contemporary music. And here, with Garden of Delete, he sets out to implode his art in a brilliant display of cultural denial, a reflexive operation that claims a “total loss” of cultural net-worth by damaging itself with the same semiotic structures that it indicts: the pomp of a cryptic press strategy, the “rock record” rider that proclaims it as a new installment in his analects, the moment when the signature of culture meets, cancels out, or enhances the signature of the artist.
Garden of Delete is OPN’s negative opus and is a testament to the hopeless nature of criticality, specifically rendered in the form of Ezra, an invented alien friend who Lopatin conversed and consulted with throughout the making of G.O.D. In a PDF subtitled “to the fans,” he expands on his relationship with the alien, describing him as having “an abject cluster of slime stuck behind his tonsils […] as […] certain phonemes would morph into rippling fields of noise.” Despite all the excessive mystery that surrounds Ezra’s conceptualization, the invented muse seems to speak to the degraded aspects of the culture apparatus dictating music discourse, an apparatus reflexively altering the characteristics of the artist. Lopatin’s move to construct an alien straw-man as a self-portrait and a portrait of culture demonstrates his responsiveness to the threat of living under “the gaze” of discourse, one that G.O.D. effectively attempts to both satisfy, develop a rapport with, and delete. “The gaze,” as is discussed by Lacan, or as is felt by any subject inevitably interpellating social pressure, can be violent. It’s become so pertinent that it demands that the artist “arrest the gaze before the gaze can arrest the viewer,” as critic Hal Foster put it. Lopatin demonstrates that not dealing with the pressure of the gaze would lack sensitivity to Oneohtrix Point Never’s “moment” in 2015. As such, by weakening the invested meaning or scope of his work by arbitrarily complicating its relationship to the shell of an anticipated “public,” Lopatin is reflecting the grotesque bits of culture into a grotesque rendering of self. This is a work of sublime negation on the most participatory level; it triumphantly reaches out to a ghostly audience that will misunderstand the artist’s desire for ecstasy through the aesthetic breakdown of image. So, the album plays with culture’s demand for “the most heart-wrenching, futuristic kords ever” — a demand Loptain can very well provide. After an intro of Ezra’s wailing, diseased moan, we’re given those “kords” fragmented and diced brilliantly in the cascading track that is the alien’s namesake.
“Ezra” encapsulates the general aesthetic operation happening throughout G.O.D., an unruly masterpiece of pure synthesis occurring in a post-PC Music world, where MIDI isn’t the clean-cut, stock code that allows sound material to become more procedurally generative or manipulatable, but a language with more subversive potential. MIDI becomes the virus unit that proliferates the afflicted otherness of self-sabotage, showing that you can still “shock” an audience by changing or destroying aspects of creative identity, that there is an identity to represent in the first place, that there is a tidy self-portrait to erase, warp, and taint. These MIDI virus units were distributed as the pathogenic cultural buzz of G.O.D.’s coming spread — the files were dished out as a part of the pre-performance of press, shadowing the album’s motifs and delivering them clinically into the rabid, jittery hands of critics and “fans” alike. This is the album’s primary triumph — a magnificent commentary on the progressive interpellation happening in experimental music in 2015 to chilling extents: as bodies, minds, and souls disease themselves in the sticky dances of media culture. This is seen in the album’s first masterpiece “Sticky Drama,” a glorious exploration that blooms distorted swells among (presumably) Ezra’s croon. The alien’s mutated voice is located between the vocal modulation of Daft Punk’s and Justin Vernon’s features on Kanye West albums: about as abject as you can get. The piece results in a triumphant double bass pedal breakdown that has OPN LARPing in real-time as a full-on cosmic nu-metal outfit, living out adolescent fantasy and critical-adult nausea alike.
G.O.D.’s more flamboyant moments are supplemented by pieces that arrange negative space, “breaths” that are essential to highlight the album’s more dramatic movements. Pieces like “SDFK” or even the opening of “Mutant Standard” present oozing textures and rhythms that help organize the album’s tepid sense of malaise. Even the inclusion of a lone “ECCOJAM” demonstrates the debilitated portraiture happening radically across the record, as Lopatin’s previous Chuck Person persona is remarked as an infected horcrux that held the root of G.O.D’s negation. Still, “Mutant Standard” eventually explodes into arpeggiations that wobble along to the choking swill that is Ezra — always moving in tandem with rabid synthesis. My personal favorite, “Child of Rage,” develops the breadth of Lopatin’s entire career into a gorgeous rendering of spatial ambience and melody, as tones ascend upward in a prog-style jam that has synths running laps around each other.
Lopatin’s employment of the very tactics he critiques is questionable, spectacular, weird, unnecessary, but it’s somehow ultimately essential for the type of complex sabotage the artist seeks. For one, this is not OPN’s rock record — despite all the hubbub around his semi-fictional Kaoss Edge group, a website, or his camaraderie with Soundgarden or Trent Reznor. Yes, there may be some distorted synths here and there; yes, there are interviews that feature the term cyberdrone. But, more so, these are storytelling mechanisms that are a part of the ploy — the “bait,” so to speak — that many will use to orient the record into an aesthetic framework, the same one that the album sabotages all together. If anything, Garden of Delete showcases how fragile the genre, the signifier, the “culture” is in 2015. As such, “I Bite Through It” is a remarkable standalone track that showcases the fragility of the “language” that Lopatin is employing to orient his culture-bashing. The synths are undeniably OPN, yet they’re tuned with teeth bared. We’re given traditional “start-then-stop” tactics, where reverb is flecked on the grid to cushion the assault of the track’s primary motif. It’s a stunning work, a far cry from the simpleton “Trent Reznor hunched over Lopatin,” “ambient-glitchcore,” or “flat and corny” critiques the track suffered from. Rather, this is OPN in true form, a statement that demonstrates there’s really no difference between a cataclysmic synth, a MIDI saxophone, or a sample culled from a VHS tape. Lopatin wants you to know this.
Still, the tracks of Garden of Delete feel like they’ve been abused during transit, like a painting bumped and battered in the metal shell of an art-handler’s truck. Somehow, in a classic twist that art critics and connoisseurs always seem to love, the damaged painting gained more value than the original work. The damaging of the work allowed for the subtext of temporality and degradation to emerge, as the painting’s moment was inside the truck unseen, unknown, battered. Similarly, the damaged moments within Garden of Delete speak to the interiority of the artist’s sabotage, as there are frequent, audible moments when OPN is driving “off the rails,” making questionable decisions that pay off due to their sheer audacity. The extended crescendo of “Animals” toes the line between authentic, emotional beauty and pastiche smirk; yet the smirk is treated nobly, allowing it to function as delicate, as normal. The burnt harpsichord theme is pushed as far as it can travel, the scuzzed alien voice screaming and cooing the track into sentimental oblivion. A similar, albeit more subtle, version of this approach is implemented on album closer “No Good,” which feels unabashedly like Vernon doing his best Hornsby impression. The effect is brilliant.
Garden of Delete is the exceptional post-performance of the readability conjured in the wake of OPN’s work, and as a result, it critiques experimental culture’s desire to fetishize. In microcosm, the album functions as a great case study of the working artist’s role in 2015 — the decisions they must make, avoid, or are muddied by among the trash provided by contemporary discourse. Lopatin imploded these decisions by striving for, as Laruelle says, a “discursive mimesis of the photographic apparatus and the flash of the Real entailed in its process of image making.” Lopatin screenshots the landscape of desire, a sketch of philo-fiction found between self-erasure and self-aggrandizement, built as a theoretical installation of denial. The installation moves within and without vectorial movements of synthesis and imaginary hallucinations of self as alien, as disease, as embodied culture and melting skin. The “hegemony of delete” that perhaps once burdened the artist now becomes fertile, the source of some of the greater art known to us, gesturing toward the development of a music-fiction even still, a fiction of multiple concepts firing at once — deleting philosophy, deleting aesthetics — beyond the regime of self and the regime of culture, all of it gloriously assembled.