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I Hear Sparks: Oval – O

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So this is Oval’s first release in nearly a decade and it’s a compelling, difficult record to discuss. This is because there are 70 tracks spread out over two discs to complete about two hours of music. This is also because Oval, the legendary Markus Popp, remains a sort of engima of sound and sequencing and all that.

We can say all we want about Popp’s output, how it sounds at times like the disc is skipping or like the little snippets of sound are mere dialtones. But the fact of the matter is that there’s something much more to O and consequently there’s something much more to Oval than just a series of blips, bleeps, clicks, and other seemingly random noises.

Some might suggest that Oval is concerned with the relationship between creativity and technology. How can the unstoppable squall of computers and computer-induced noise propel us to a higher understanding of the artistic process? Is it even possible? Or are computers confined to making empty, bland, tedious, repetitive noises?

I guess the answer is that the artistic value of those empty, bland, tedious, repetitive noises is in the ear of the listener. Is there artistic value in a manipulated telephone ring, for instance? Or can the sound of a nail falling on concrete present a musical opportunity? Given the choice between the nail or Justin Bieber…

O elects to test those questions more than it attempts to answer them, I think, and that’s where the magic of this recording lies. Popp isn’t out to satisfy any musical sense; he’s not out to create songs that you can hum to on your way to work. He’s not making toe-tappers, but he is making beautiful noise.

I’ve heard this described as “glitch music” and I think that’s an apt label, should one be needed. A lot of times, O can sound like a guitar is spazzing out or a percussionist has gotten stuck on a highway somewhere. Through it all, though, Oval has a sense of purpose in the construction and organization of seemingly random, seemingly opposed bits of sound.

And he’s making beautiful noise in extremely tight spaces. Out of the monstrous amount of tracks on O, only a slight handful even dare to crack the two-minute mark. Fully realized compositions are not the order of the day, as you can probably tell, so the snippets and sparks of sound act as leading questions. Where do they lead to?

In the end, it’s hard to say where Oval is going. Does Popp know or is that part of the magic? Direction is all well and good in some cases, but sometimes the raw splendour of simply cramming in a large amount of sound, noise, volume, emotion, passion, and excitement into a small space is enough.

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About Jordan Richardson