Essential New Music: Oval’s “Scis”

Oval maneuvers in elliptical fashion between experimental and pop music. At one extreme, there’s methodology: Markus Popp (since 1995, the project’s sole participant) selects parameters and sees what they yield. At the other, there’s frame of reference: No matter how alien his sounds get, they make the most sense in relationship to pop music. Sometimes the constraints have involved hardware (source your sounds from vandalized CDs, or put away your Mac and work with an off-the-shelf PC) or software (write your own and let people play with it in an installation, or put exclusively store-bought stuff in that PC). But the material derives from Popp’s current perspective on a few decades of popular music.

When Oval started in 1991, nostalgia for prior phases of electronic music had not yet soaked into the mainstream. But now, a full-grown listener can program a playlist around the beats or synth sounds of their youth. Or their parents’ courtship. Or … So with Scis, Popp has riffled through his own back pages, drawing from his dalliances with glitchy and freeze-dried organic sounds, as well as fleeting memory prompts from the past few decades of dance-oriented electronic music. His compositional approach combines months of painstaking construction and real-time action in which he added samples during live playthroughs of the tracks. The results probably won’t get you on the dance floor, since Popp’s way too willing to interrupt the groove with a beat-free interlude. But they might set you to wriggling in your chair while you give it a good spin. Temporally unfixed and sonically unmoored, Scis is actually pretty psychedelic stuff. 

—Bill Meyer