Review Summary: The spirit of the viritual
In an interview with Blouin Artinfo, Tim Hecker (ambient connoisseur and fellow collaborator with Daniel Lopatin [aka Oneohtrix Point Never]) told the online art publisher that “I like the idea of fake church music as opposed to real church music” and in many ways Oneohtrix Point Never’s latest EP is the indoctrination of this idea. Commissions I
collects three pieces for performance, artwork, and film over the past few years and is set to be an exclusive Record Store Day release. However this is far more than a gimmicky one-off exclusive that many artists choose to release in the spirit of Record Store Day, as Commissions I
assembles some of most spirited and achingly resonant music Lopatin has yet created. This is music for digital sanctuaries, shrines, and cathedrals; a virtual synchronization of various forms of musical hybridity in constant, sweeping elevation toward tangible real-world spirituality.
Booting up this whimsical module is a piece that was composed for Polish Icons at Sacrum Profanum, a performance staple for Warp records that has hosted the likes of Clark and Aphex Twin. During this performance Lopatin interpreted composer Witold Lutoslawski's Preludes with ‘Music for Steamed Rocks’, which has since become an essential key to Lopatin’s live set. It’s interesting to hear Lutoslawksi’s original interpreted through such a modern gaze; whereas the original evokes imagery of an elegant ballet, Lopatin’s evokes something far more grandiose and monumental in aural stature. Featuring his trademark choral synths that adorned much of R Plus Seven
alongside sweeping drones and cathedral-esque breadth, its trance-inducing and achingly melancholic breakdown midway leaves a shiver in the spine of its quiet and introspective audience; masterfully balancing his electronic modulations and soaring arpeggiated resonance. ‘Music for Steamed Rocks’ is Oneohtrix Point Never at his most cinematic, taking the majesty and vastness of a full orchestra and stripping it down to a series of contemporary pads and textures without losing an ounce of its skyward momentum.
Following this momentum is ‘Meet Your Creator’, which originally appeared in the Saatch & Saatchi Quadrotor performance for their New Directors Showcase in 2012. ‘Meet Your Creator’ (implied in the title) essentially acts as the aural overlord of its mechanized performance piece, which was built around a troupe of 16 quadrotors (aka flying robots) that danced to sound created by Lopatin while simultaneously manipulating an extravagant light show. The performance was dazzling to say the least, with the mini War of the Worlds tripod-esque robots lighting up and beaming lights in every direction around a triangular nexus; seamlessly blended futurist technology with Lopatin’s overarching score. This piece in particular resembles the archaic progressive electronic Lopatin was tapping into on his first few records, however, where those early recordings relied on simple and repetitive themes, ‘Meet Your Creator’ takes that sound and expands it into its incidental score of the irrational and synthetic nature of its robotic stage show.
The final piece of Commissions I
, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, was featured as a part of Doug Aitken’s “Happening” at the Hirschorn Museum in Washington, D.C. The piece was used alongside a number of other artists who contributed renditions of the classic pop song of the same name (originally composed by Harry Warren and Al Dubin in 1934 and made famous by The Flamingos in 1959) where it was projected alongside video on the outside of the Hirschorn Museum. Naturally Oneohtrix’s version is a far cry from the original, featuring mammoth choral drones and stuttering pitch-shifted vocals, yet despite the transformation it manages to evoke a similar kind of airy and dream-like quality The Flamingos doo-wop version does. Within the temple of Commissions I
's spiritual resonance, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ closes things out rightfully with boundless layers of synthetic choral textures that emulate the gravity of a colossal cathedral. It also demonstrates a good example of how Oneohtrix toys with the plasticity of genre by taking eschewed vocals from pre-existing songs alongside his own combination of ambient, drone, progressive electronic, and new age textures to create a unrecognizable hybrid of sound that remains strangely familiar and accessible. Whether Commissions I
is meant to be music of faith, gospel, or spirituality is uncertain. However, it is program music that ascends its contextual narrative and has the power and depth to stimulate at powerful emotional levels; be it through nostalgia and a memory of the past, an introspective gaze of the present, or a soaring and optimistic view of the future.