Dan Lopatin speaks to RA ahead of the MYRIAD ensemble's performance at London venue The Roundhouse on March 8th.
The MYRIAD show features OPN (Dan Lopatin) on electronics, fronting an ensemble that includes Kelly Moran on keys, Aaron David Ross on keys, vocal synth and Foley triggers, and Eli Keszler on drumset, sensory triggers and other percussion. Lopatin works with longtime visual collaborator Nate Boyce, amongst others, on sculpture, video and other visuals.
MYRIAD premiered at Brooklyn's Park Avenue Armory last May, and OPN has since brought the production to venues like Shibuya O-East in Tokyo, Berlin's Funkhaus, London's Barbican and LA's Walt Disney Concert Hall, to name a few. The Roundhouse appearance will feature new material for the ensemble and will be opened by LA-based cellist and singer Kelsey Lu. They'll also play at Pitchfork's midwinter event at the Art Institute of Chicago on February 17th leading up to The Roundhouse show.
We spoke with Lopatin ahead of his return to London.
The Roundhouse is the first time since MYRIAD's premiere that you, Nate Boyce and the rest of the team can go for the full "concertscape" experience, correct?
The idea of a concertscape came from Nate and I spitballing installation ideas. At the time we were really interested in making a multimedia piece that would utilize objects and ideas culled from our time on the road together. We originally wanted to use trusses, lighting, smoke and other functional aspects of a live show and turn them on their head, sometimes literally.
When you play one show after another, the ubiquity and universality of these concert props can become really pronounced, and we thought it would be fun to do something sculptural with them. Some of this was addressed in our Affect Index piece at MoMA PS1 [in New York], in which we constructed a mound of trusses on the ground and laid a flat screen on top of them—the idea of a support structure that's collapsed was just good fun for us.
So when it came time to define what MYRIAD was, we resurrected the nomenclature, not only because we would finally be able to expand on our project of playing around with concert tropes, but because it was the spirit of the thing. It's one step removed from an actual concert, more like a dream of a concert.
Can you walk us through some tactile, olfactory or other specific elements you're bringing in for this show? How will it differ from the Barbican performance?
The major difference is that we're adding a few numbers to the repertoire. We'll determine what else might change once we're in the soup. A lot of what we're doing is simply getting better at performing as a unit, and this includes video and lighting. Fusing the elements we already have more effectively—so whether its playing off of the energy of Nate's videos and sculptures or simply going deeper into the songs, allowing them to breathe and giving each other the right accompaniment necessary to improvise with one another—these are all aspects of the show that we acquired by just going through it many times.
I'm most excited to return to London and just do it again for an audience at The Roundhouse. The Barbican was such a special night for us, not just as a group but as a gathering. (Kelsey Lu will be performing her own live set to start the night, and then joining me on some songs during MYRIAD.) Round two is going to be something special, I think.
Sometimes when a solo artist expands their sound into an ensemble format, they do so in a remarkably literal way, like "OK, you're the 'bass player,' you'll cover all these frequencies." With the MYRIAD ensemble, it almost feels like the opposite. Can you walk through each member's various strengths and eccentricities?
I know what you mean, although in honesty we always start with these generic assignments because its practical and no one actually gives a shit about being eccentric do they? But you quickly find out how futile it is based on the fact that everyone in this particular group is indeed wildly idiosyncratic.
ADR and I rotate quite a bit and our roles have a lot of overlap. I think of us as being fused somehow. He's great at vocal synthesis, so between the two of us we come up with really nice harmonies and artificial vocal stacks. Both of us are also playing lots of bass parts, pads and other more slowly evolving textures, although he will often trigger and loop more chaotic and sharp Foley samples as well. He's very painterly with an ear for dynamics, and he's great at getting at the core of what we need tonally at any given time.
Kelly is a skilled pianist who is able to really parse out whatever internal chaos or logic there is in my keyboard parts and give them precise form and trajectory; we call it "bioarpeggiation." On top of which she incorporates her prepared piano sounds so you end up with this great overtone blend, which maims its sense of beauty in a necessary way.
Eli is wickedly good at percussion, with Max Roach-like spirit of openness and gratitude for the raw elements. His playing is like is an engine for experiencing non-linear musical time, but the fact that he's "genre agnostic" (to quote Moses Sumney) and can easily move between states of musical order and entropy is what makes his playing so powerful.
You've obviously been inspired by film lately, both in your scoring work and general cinephile avidity. Does the MYRIAD concertscape blur the lines between concert and film? Where is the visual aspect of the OPN project going?
Film was my first love if I'm honest. But I always felt a little bit in between film and music, unable to totally commit without feeling like I was compromising some part of me, so I just do what I can with whatever medias are at my disposal. But that's not to say that I want to blur mediums as you said.
I just want to paint as compelling or true to life a picture of the thing that's in my mind at any one time. Songs wouldn't feel right on their own because I often hear them as part of a tableau. But music is so wildly alien that when it is not there I always feel like things are a little too real. No one leaves MYRIAD feeling like they've just been to the opera, it's irrelevant. Aaron Stewart-Ahn put MYRIAD in his list of 2018's best video games, unironically. I was really moved by this.
Eli Keszler said you're able to translate your ideas into space, and MYRIAD feels like a milestone if not the logical endpoint in this exercise. When did you become interested in working within cavernous spaces and how is it creatively liberating or limiting?
I think someone like Francisco Lopez, who I admire so much, is more masterful at exploiting large cavernous spaces, but it's something I often have to consider, because from around Replica onwards, the music I've been writing is quicker, shorter, pivots hard and can be pretty dense.
In a space that's acoustically hollow or deep, it can be very difficult, if not irritating for the brain to have to parse all this information. It's not even hitting you fast enough so you can absorb it entirely. So with a space like the Armory, we had to employ a lot of tricks to try to tame it. MYRIAD without the sculptures works really well in traditional venues with a proscenium kind of perspective. In that sense, it's very theatrical, oriented around songs. The times when the space is utilized in a perspectival way is when our sculptures "speak." So for instance for MYRIAD at the Armory, speakers were mounted directly below the sculptures, and our FOH [front-of-house soundperson] was responsible for actually sucking the sound out of the mains and up into the atmosphere, as if it's being ingested by this narration, which is being amplified from discreet positions above the audience. It was so disorienting... It felt like the soundsystem was under alien siege, and slowly everyone's eyes follow their ears as they look up at these grotesque, reflective blobs that rotate on a chain like giant skewers uttering obfuscated poetry.
A concert has pre-established culturally accepted traditions about lots of things that we probably take for granted; elemental things like the stereo image and directionality and decibel strength... So when you do something like shift all the attention to some part of the space that's not meant for human consumption, that really gets at Nate and I's original definition of a concertscape: a deviation from the norm that shifts the priority away from the entertainment and onto your body in a space. Some of the most interesting things you can do with sound have nothing to do with power and everything to do with breaking old habits. Russians call it ostranenie.
Check out our review of Oneohtrix Point Never presents MYRIAD in New York.
Tickets to Oneohtrix Point Never's performance at The Roundhouse are available on RA.
Photo credit: Kathryn Haden (lead), Drew Gurain (body)