It's been nine years since Commers, and seven years since the lone So album, Popp's collaboration with Japanese singer Eriko Toyoda. In 2010 he has made up for this silence by releasing not only O, available as a 70-track double-CD or 76-track double-LP-and-download, but the 15-track Oh 12-inch, and two free Ringtones download EPs. That's over 100 tracks of new Oval, which is a lot to wade through, even though a good portion of it barely scrapes past the one-minute mark. If Oval phase one was a critical response to the directive nature of software and digital technology, phase two feels, in part, like either a capitulation to or commentary on the MP3 era's encouragement of glut economics. Either way, at a certain point exhaustion sets in; there is simply too much Oval on offer.
Wading through O, my first impression is one of clarity—gone are the waves, floods and overflows of digital noise that characterised Diskont 94 or Commers. Instead, Popp has turned to a "readily made instrument"—a PC—composing tiny melody fragments or fragile chordal movements, and seemingly subjecting them to relatively understated processing. So while the language of glitch, which Popp helped create, is still in some small way present, his musical logic now feels exposed.
Popp was always a master of texture, and much of O sounds lovely, in an oddly plastic, pro-forma way. Springy, glassy threads of tone jolt and bustle between your ears, while stretched, strained and jumpy notes trickle along in the background. If it's generative, it's closer to the character of the wind chime—endless variations on several distinctive sounds—than the maze of complexity that characterised some of the records released by early Oval and its peers.
Sometimes, O falls flat: on the first disc of the double-CD set, half of the tracks are punctuated by programmed drums, which detract from the streamlined focus of the music, leading Oval into drearily post-rock territory. The second disc, made up of fifty miniatures, is slightly more compelling. Journal entries to the first disc's essays, they're oddly charming, feeding into the ringtone logic that's informing Popp's current practice.
O is a welcome return for Popp, one of electronic music's most quixotic characters. True to form, it's also an experiment, and experiment begets both failure and success. O's seeming "failure" lies more in its overwhelming scope than its content, though the latter can't help but suffer diminution resulting from the former. I quite like Popp's new pop, although I've had rather too much of it lately. If anything, the cover of the preceding Oh 12-inch, a photograph of Celeste Boursier-Mourgenot's From Here to Ear installation, where zebra finches perch uncertainly on an electric guitar, feels like the best comment on Popp's form—the gentle, insistent pecking away at the old order, using its own tools to bring his personal vision into the new age. Or maybe it's just the natural world confronting the musical instrument on a human/animal scale.