20 August 2015
As a ten-year-old, in the pre-internet days, Daniel Lopatin was hooked on sci-fi cartoons. He’d seen the MTV series Aeon Flux, a dark and dystopic animation, starring an icy heroine in leather fetish gear, coupled with avant-garde sound design, and asked around to see if his friends could recommend anything similar. ‘Cartoons with serious themes,’ as he puts it. It was his boyhood gateway drug into Japanese anime.
‘Since animation is not tethered to reality, like practical sets and the budgets they require, it makes it possible to materialise all kinds of incredible forms,’ he says. ‘Animation on the whole is a better platform for speculating on the fantastical.’
So last year, when the experimental composer was commissioned to soundtrack a film for the BFI’s Sci Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder series, he turned once more to Japanese cartoons for inspiration. His research led him to Memories – a trilogy of short animations from 1995, based on the manga stories of Katsuhiro Otomo, who also wrote Akira. ‘Magnetic Rose’ is the first story, an opulent and trippy tale set onboard a destroyed space station, where holograms reflect memories and dreams. ‘Its pretty chaotic. There’s a lot of rubble and devastation.’
The film already had a soundtrack of its own, by Yoko Kanno, which Lopatin describes as, ‘dreamy, sparse, beautiful choral stuff’, but he set about rescoring it with his own celestial, futuristic soundscapes. The result is a beautifully eerie, ethereal swirl of choir song, Japanese language, warped electronics and Eastern strings. It floats between the calm refuges of an ambient otherworld, into what sounds like the dark echoes of a chilling abyss.
‘I wanted to preserve aspects of the original’s environmental sound,’ he explains. ‘Once I found a way to more or less successfully separate the dialogue from the environmental and score sounds, I started working with them as raw materials. So it is less a matter of improvising over a film that’s been muted, and more about thinking of the whole of the film as a material entity and pushing that towards some new musical and environmental forms.’
Lopatin’s been making intoxicating electronic music since the mid 2000s, mostly under the alias, Oneohtrix Point Never – a play on words of the Boston radio station, Magic 106.7 – but also as Chuck Person, KGB Man, Infinity Window, Ford & Lopatin, Games and SunsetCorp. The latter was the pseudonym he used for 2009’s ‘Nobody Here’, his sublimely simple loop of three words from Chris De Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red’. Like a lot of his music, the track slotted neatly into the genre of hypnagogic pop, a term coined by David Keenan in The Wire magazine the same year. Keenan and Heather Leigh Murray, who set up Glasgow’s excellent Volcanic Tongue record shop – a weirdo treasure trove of avant-garde drones, Japanese psych, local acid-folk and everything in between (it’s online-only now after the Finnieston shop closed earlier this year) – stocked a lot of Lopatin’s rarities, and became friends.
‘Please give David and Heather a shout-out from me!,’ he chirps. Having played Scottish gigs booked by Cry Parrot, (Fielding Hope), and briefly toured the States with Glasgow’s Nackt Insekten (Ruaraidh Sanachan), and Edinburgh’s Usurper, (Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson), Lopatin is full of praise for the people making up the varied Scottish music scene.
‘They are sweet, intensely honest and just lovely people who care about music.’
For his upcoming Scottish date in The Hub, he says mysteriously, ‘I’m moving sounds around a room and giving them shape and texture and dynamics.’ He’ll also perform Bullet Hell Abstraction IV, a new composition commissioned by Red Bull Music Academy and inspired by video games (not for the first time either, his 2010 tape Ecco Jams blurred Sega theme tunes and Toto’s ‘Africa’).
‘They asked me to perform an original piece of music based on work by a Japanese video game composer of my choosing, so I chose Manabu Namiki, a musical hero of mine, and I created four pieces. He’s most famously a composer of great soundtracks to Bullet Hell or Manic Shooter games, which have a certain hypnotic feel.’
Hypnotic, hypnagogic, holographic; the music of Lopatin, sci-fi geek, synth manipulator and Japanese cartoon nut, somehow sounds like all of the above.
Magnetic Rose by Oneohtrix Point Never is part of The Hub Sessions at Edinburgh International Festival on Saturday.