By Nick Cowan
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the CD’s scratched when you first listen to Oneohtrix Point Never and Rene Hell’s split LP, Music for Reliquary House/In 1980 I Was A Blue Square, but it turns out it’s meant to sound like that. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement but once your ears get accustomed, you realise that this is a rare and intriguing work.
Producer Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, is well known for being at the forefront of experimental electronic music and his 2011 album Replica manipulated voice samples and clips from ’80s ads to unusual and unexpected ends. Music for Reliquary House takes this process a step further, reworking Lopatin’s recent collaborative audio/visual performance with Nathan Boyce. From the first track ‘Stone of Spiritual Understanding’, you can tell that it’s not going to be an easy ride, as a looped voice perpetually attempts to blurt out a single syllable. Dissected and repeating voice samples run throughout and morph into awkward drones that provide structure between bouts of melody. The voices, taken from talks on modernist sculpture, are distorted in purpose from critiques of a subject to subjects in themselves, as on ‘Stone for Spiritual Understanding’ where they labour to discuss the eponymous artwork by Isamu Noguchi.
While this process can often feel like you have voluntarily inserted a bee into your ear, Oneohtrix Point Never is skilful at relieving the tension just before you can’t take it anymore. The dense electronic sounds recede and leave a melodic, ambience to sooth your eardrums before returning to the relentless mechanic vocal samples. Needless to say, Music for Reliquary House isn’t the ambient Eno-esque experience that you pop on just before bed, but rather an event in itself, inviting further investigation and a desire to be understood.
In Rene Hell’s second half, In 1980 I Was A Blue Square, the distortion is more reserved. Mixing electronic noise with classical piano, Rene Hell offers a listening experience that is both harsh and gentle, bestowing each track with a readymade sci-fi soundtrack feel. Just listen to it on the bus and suddenly you’re at light speed on the Millennium Falcon or being brutally murdered by Hal on a spacewalk. On ‘The Bridge’ the synthesis of piano and computer is at its most united, resulting in something close to early M83. The more instant accessibility of In 1980 I Was A Blue Square is a relief given the challenge of Music for Reliquary House and it is a brutally beautiful ending to the LP.
Together the two works show two unique approaches to digital music. Both artists harness traditional sources and rework them for their own purposes. It’s fitting to place Oneohtrix Point Never’s enjoyable but abrasive half before the dulcet juxtaposition of Rene Hell and, while this isn’t an everyday album, it is certainly worth investigating.