Whether the source material is a vintage keyboard or an old “Taster’s Choice” ad, Daniel Lopatin’s music often highlights the tension between the real world and the virtual world. Lopatin, who performs as Oneohtrix Point Never, captures not just the sinister narrative, but also the awkwardness created when digital sounds are used to phrase organic emotions. There’s an element of “Blade Runner,” but also a bit of “The Office.”
Although his work can be somber and moody, there’s also a subtle sense of humor at play, as on his 2011 full-length, “Replica,” which was largely constructed from sampled audio tracks snatched from bootlegged 1980s television commercials.
Lopatin began performing as Oneohtrix Point Never amid the noise music community in Massachusetts, and some of the subversive tendencies — if not the gritty sounds — of that world still inform the compositions. Lately, though, his music has become very harmonious and ornate, and his most recent record, “R Plus Seven,” is some of his finest work to date. It neatly synthesizes the friendliest elements of his sound — ethereal tones, lockstep arpeggios — but scales back some of his heady, conceptual tendencies. This is, partly, because Lopatin, 31, wrote the record the old-fashioned way.
“The pieces were developed from sitting at a keyboard and working out melodies and parts,” Lopatin says by phone from his New York home. “I tried to build a suite of music around really strong melodic ideas that I found to be, you know, addictive on one level.”
Instead of relying on samples or analog synthesizers for “R Plus Seven,” Lopatin used romplers — software instruments that replicate real-life sounds, such as orchestras or horn sections. You may not have heard of them, but you’ve definitely heard them — humming away in the background of shows such as “Law and Order.”
“They’re generally reserved for people making television scores,” he says. “They’re built around this idea that, pragmatically speaking, people need certain things. If you’re doing sci-fi or horror or whatever you’re doing, you’re going to need certain tropes.”
On “R Plus Seven,” the romplers simulate church organs and choirs — sounds that are loaded with sacred and spiritual associations but that sound slightly plastic and remote when replicated via hard disk. Lopatin often supplements them with more organic sounds — warm analog synths, piano chords, processed speech — to create a call and response between phony and real.
“It gets to be really interesting when you start combining abstract textural qualities of synthesis, analog or digital, with sounds that are so utilitarian,” he says. “I like to explore the friction between those things, have them operating in concert with one another. That’s what this record is all about.”
On the album, Lopatin makes frequent use of sudden scene shifts. Melodic motifs are established but quickly interrupted by a seemingly unrelated shift in mood or direction. For him, these gestures are meant to simulate a wandering attention span.
“I like interruptive things because life is interruptive,” he says. “When I listen to music, that’s how I perceive music to sound. Thoughts take over that are more important than whatever is happening [in the song] — other sounds, tiredness, people talking. It’s what music sounds like when you build in your own perceptive affect. It’s pretty dynamic.”
“R Plus Seven” is an intricate, cerebral record, and it took Lopatin a fair amount of labor to assemble, even more so than some of his previous efforts. “Replica,” for instance, was guided by a specific process — wringing music out of Reagan-era TV spots — so it was fairly easy to knock out. The new album took a few seasons to complete, mostly owing to a different kind of man-vs.-machine tension.
“I was just developing stuff from inside my brain, which is not conceptually fluid,” Lopatin says with a laugh. “Some days, [my brain’s] just gonna be, like, ‘Okay, I got nothing.’ Most days are like that. It took such a long time. I wasn’t relying on any generative processes — firm things that were keeping me productive in spite of myself. I had to wait around.”
Because Lopatin is just one man, he has given up on faithfully reproducing the intricate orchestrations of “R Plus Seven” in concert.
Instead, he takes the raw stuff of the songs — melodies, keyboard parts and noises — and basically remixes them on the fly, creating new compositions from familiar parts. And it helps to have them played back loudly through a nice sound system.
“A lot of it live, to me, is physical. It’s about making the sound animated, about you feeling it on your body,” Lopatin says. “The other aspect is the hypnotic aspect, to get lost in this rotation of ideas that are sensually affective, but also putting you in a trance state. That’s what I want to feel, what I try to deliver on.”
Leitko is a freelance writer.
Appearing Sunday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993. www.atlasarts.org. $18.
For a sampling of Oneohtrix Point Never’s music, check out:
“Zones Without People”
From “R Plus 7”: