Boston-native Daniel Lopatin produces a unique and gripping, but nebulous brand of ambient-noise. His proclivities span the spectrum from hazy, drone-like tones and noise orchestras to heavily sequenced and layered synthesizer pieces reminiscent of nature documentaries and Boards of Canada. The integration of these two approaches gives Betrayed in the Octagon an uneasy feel, like a science fiction nightmare come to life.
“Woe Is the Transgression I” reminds me of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Lopatin’s textured drones howl and moan in an eerie fashion, sounding half organic and half synthetic. I can picture Ripley sneaking down long, unlit corridors with a murderous stalker close at hand; its shape, its movements, and its utterances also a hybrid of the natural and the technological. Lopatin’s opening song for Betrayed in the Octagon could’ve been used as the score for the scenes in that movie where we’re first introduced to the planet’s surface. Or perhaps it would’ve better fit the scene where we see an enormous, alien “gunner” dead in a room to which he is seemingly fused. The trembling synthesizers on this album emulate such desolate locations and conjure up images of static, almost too-still environments wrecked by the passage of time. Lopatin’s preference for severe austerity and decaying textures is perhaps not totally unique, but he handles them well and utilizes them to affect feelings of fear and uncertainty.
Contrasting this pseudo-industrial, desolate sound is Point Never’s more melodious side. Songs like “Behind the Bank” and “Betrayed in the Octagon” are nothing more than pleasing, synthetic sonatas. I mean that quite literally. They’re not composed of multiple movements, but they are solo pieces for the synthesizer or for synthesizer and sequencer. These more lively pieces tend to be calming; they do not lack intensity, but are generally less anxious. I find it difficult not to mention Vangelis and the Blade Runner soundtrack at this point. Lopatin’s work isn’t as ornate as Vangelis’ nor is it as slinky/sexy, but there is a shared aesthetic present. The sci-fi connotations in Lopatin’s abstract pieces bleed into these more conventional songs, bringing to mind data banks or overly-complex hovercraft controls alive with blinking lights and useless displays. If they weren’t situated next to more menacing songs, it would be tempting to think of them as future-pastoral pieces meant to accompany or detail the racket of every day life. In any case, they’re alluring songs that serve to alleviate the brooding quality of the rest of the record. They also increase the sinister atmosphere of the noisier songs by providing an extreme contrast.
If all the references to soundtracks or films seems extraneous, I bring them up for a reason: Lopatin’s music is highly cinematic. Though no narrative is provided by Lopatin, his music suggests the presence of one. The constant shifting between highly structured music and abstract noise provides a sense of character, environment, and struggle. It’s impossible not to imagine sinister atmospheres or alien creatures when listening to the chirps and wails of Lopatin’s machines and loops. Betrayed in the Octagon escapes being incidental music, however. In this case, the music is the occasion for the film. It is so full of life and so evocative that it demands some flight of fancy. This music aims straight for the imagination and manipulates it as deftly as the best filmmaker or novelist.
Betrayed in the Octagon might be a difficult record to find. It was produced in severely limited quantity and, so far as I can tell, flew off the shelves. In addition to that, it was only available on cassette. Yet, Lopatin has developed quite a name for himself and it’s not difficult to see why: his music tends to be of the highest quality. Lopatin also records with Infinity Window and Astronaut and has a number of releases under some variation of the Magic Oneohtrix Point Never name. Google might be the best way to search him out, but the last time I checked there were more than a few releases available through various well-known distributors.