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Oval began in the early 90’s and rapidly gained acclaim for its innovations in electronic music. Composer Markus Popp championed software intuition over his own role in music making for many years, anticipating the AI trend in composition by nearly 30 years. Early albums found a critique of the entire system of recorded music built into every gesture. Popp toured with a desktop computer and projected his screen, constructing remarkably evocative and emotional performances from file manipulation. Each new Oval release saw Popp radically redefine his practice, introducing new elements and embracing new creative challenges, integrating cutting-edge technology and processes into his practice to ensure that each record sounded as contemporary and exhilarating as the last. New album Scis and its companion EP Eksploio see the producer focus on composition, working with a fresh palette of sounds to create his most emotive work to date. Popp injects a newfound playfulness into his complex loop architectures, with both album and EP exploring and subverting elements of club music. The intricate, organic drum sounds Popp introduced on the Oh! EP and O album have here been replaced with driving electronic rhythms, albeit still approached by Popp as an instrumentalist rather than a beat-maker.
Oval’s creative process begins with setting the parameters for the project, creating a limited space to work within, and then exploring with all the possible creative avenues within that framework. Where early compositions saw Popp meticulously tinkering with software and systems to reduce his own visible hand in the music, Scis instead sees Popp focus the human element in his creation, augmenting delicate and intensely crafted loops with an array of acoustic instruments. Sounds sourced from prepared pianos, woodwinds and strings were manipulated and sculpted with simulated sounds into intricate and substantial sonic layers. Popp would then record a live playthrough of the pre-constructed loops while adding in instruments from his vast collection of sound samples to shape each song. The resulting pieces have a distinctive freeform, improvised feel to them, never hiding behind “electronic abstraction” but rather engaging in a musical dialog with the listener.
Scis and Eksploio have a distinctive melodic sensibility. Popp approached pieces more as an art director or composer than a producer. Despite running through at a steady 120pm, his impressive command of space and intricate rhythms gives the album a distinctive ebb and flow. “Twirror” acts as an immediate statement of intent with its choice of instrumentation: glistening sitar and staccato piano loop collapsing into an overdriven synth hooks and driving rhythms. “Robussy” and “Fluoresso” quickly open up the field of sound, Popp building and stripping back layers to create a distinct sense of drama even in the album’s more delicate moments. “Pushhh” revisits prior experiments with vocal sampling, this time chaining them to pounding kick drums, anchoring otherwise freeform loops. “Mikk” experiments with more abrasive textures, using urgent, grimey drums and detuned pianos.
Throughout, each sound and instrument was deliberately and painstakingly assembled. Popp explains, “it’s making musical sense of a multitude of software modules sending data to each other. There’s always this balancing act of setting up a process, listening, intervention into the various processes and the traditional playing of (software) instruments. I built these songs clip by clip, sometimes over the course of months.” Meticulous attention to detail and a wide-eyed sense of discovery has enabled Popp to continually innovate with each release. In stepping out from behind his software on Scis and Eksploio, Popp presents his most immediate and affecting work as Oval to date, unveiling a new hypermelodic flavor of electronic music.