Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker @ Walker Art CenterNov 19, 2013
On November 16 at the Walker Art Center, Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker told a new story with their music.
In ages past, women and men gathered around a campfire to hear a storyteller. The chaotic plasma of the fire lit the storyteller while she or he delivered a love sonnet or epic poem. A listener may have peered into the blaze and attached meaning to the random bursts of hot material being ejected into the air from the wood. Other listeners may have closed their eyes and allowed themselves to be swept away by the sound of the storyteller’s voice and the narrative itself. On November 16 at the Walker Art Center, Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker told a new story with their music.
The stage was littered with tables and mounds of equipment: laptops, processing decks, even a guitar amp. The two performers of the Oneohtrix Point Never set, Daniel Lopatin (music) and Nate Boyce (visual), stood at opposite ends of the darkened stage. A projection screen was dimly lit by the standby light of a projector. Listeners were seated ad hoc around the barrier-free proscenium - some eager, others with trepidation. With a jolt the music and images started and a story unfolded.
ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER
It was hard to make meaning of much of the performance other than that of beauty itself. The music displayed remarkable temporal autocorrelation as did the images (i.e. looping GIFs of sound and vision). However, the repetitions were enveloped in some overarching changes to affect some powerful feelings. Urgency, sorrow, anxiety and the feeling of overstimulation were all communicated in a beautiful way. Often, it was better to just close ones eyes and free associate. The repeating ambiguous appliances, faux simulations and CAD chaos visual descriptors were imprinted in the mind. It was like Brakhage’s soul had been digitally scanned and was composing new visions from a GPU. My favorite moment of the visuals was watching a space-station-like object transmit sine waves to a silver blob. After a few seconds the transmission reversed and the blob began sending the wave back!
It seemed as though the algorithms governing the visual display were given a dangerous amount of randomness. Also, the music became painfully loud and high in pitch at times. The performers, as well as the audience, seemed to be on edge, cautiously guiding their work. Ultimately they were unable to maintain safety in a stochastic sea when Nate’s computer apparently crashed, dropping out of the video loops to the “galaxy” Mac desktop background with a drive management window open.
As the OPN set progressed, it seemed to turn nostalgic for itself. Previous themes were repeated more slowly and with more reverberation. The images turned their attention to nature, specifically stone prisms. Computer-graphic gems, rocks and monoliths filled the screen. The music began to decrease in dynamic range and slow in tempo. As suddenly as it started, the music and visuals stopped with Daniel’s polite “thank you”.
Unfortunately, many audience members left after the first set. Perhaps even in Homer’s day, listeners of the Iliad elected not to stay and hear the Odyssey. I imagine the latter was told in the latest part of the night, when the fire was down to embers. The crowd milled about and a certain nervous energy filled the air. The OPN performance had charged the audience: some were happy, others were annoyed. After a few minutes, the energy in the crowd died. Personally, I started to feel that many of the messages I received would be impossible to decode– a feeling of futility came over me.
The lights dimmed again and mist enveloped the stage. The lurking biomass of Tim Hecker appeared at the center of the stage and the sound began. Where the previous performance was frenetic and energetic, this was slowed and defeated. While repetitive, the repetition length was much longer and involved more variation in between repetitions. The overarching themes were replicated and ultimately drowned in a crescendo of heartbreakingly gorgeous noise. It easy to drift into thought while being conscious of physical discomfort from sitting so long. Without direct visuals, everyone’s eyes drifted– mine to the ceiling as I watched the fog slowly envelop the point lights on the ceiling until they were diffuse.
The brooding darkness and fog that replaced OPN’s visuals created quite the contrast. Before arriving at the theater, I assumed Tim Hecker would be performing first as his name was first in the program. However, I realized, as his set continued, that their two performances were in the correct order. I felt the tension developed during OPN’s set ease, while my mind began to slow and turn inward. It felt like riding the last bus home at 2 AM after a fight with a friend.
There is not much more to say about Tim Hecker’s work - or if there is, I am not the one to say it. I found it at times beautiful and at times horrifying - sometimes at the same time. After some time he also ended his set with a polite “thank you”. And so ended a night of storytelling, sound, and what can only be described as a singular experience.