Klaus Schulze isn’t dead but his spirit flits through many a bed-side synthesizer, though some artists have proved better at harnessing the essence of that utopian spirit music than others. On Zones Without People, Oneohtrix Point Never composes with restraint and simplicity where a forebearer like Schulze prayed to density and opacity.
But Schulze isn’t the only (living) ghost in the room. In order to understand why New Age wasn’t always such a dirty word, you have to go past its co-optation by the arena massive through commercial titans like Peter Gabriel/Genesis to its birth in Popul Vol, where it was a much more innocent genesis of outre-seeking consciousness and pure experimentation.
What differentiates Oneohtrix Point Never from the past is his concentrated interest in sequenced synth – where those Germans journeyed outwards towards the unknowable and meter-less heavens, OPN mixes orbiting synthscapes with the grounded, electronic order of pre-ordered arpeggios. “Format + Journey North” channels both sides of the coin, entering freely, Popul-ian nature recordings billowing beneath before slowly opening into 5/4, like light bursting inexplicably from a mine shaft, out towards a chorus of howling saw tooth melodies.
When you stop looking for traces of the past in Spaces Without People, it’s about the melody. The opening bars of “Learning to Control Myself” seems to be teaching itself a lesson, with its initial ascendent line meeting another careful counter arpeggio, before a rude, disturbed delay pedal grumble towards a single, clean tone, into “Disconnecting Entirely”, the beginning of the biggest headtrip on the album, where warbling low end rumbles before giving rise to sequenced atonality.
The most ambient track is named after a pessimistic mid-20th century philosopher Emil Cioran, a choice that both betrays a conceptual (or at least devotional) underpinning to Daniel Lopatin’s work, and an interesting ode to a man famously quoted as saying that “Bach’s music is the only argument proving the creation of the Universe can not be regarded a complete failure.” (Check the wiki, dude.)
With that in mind, the most ebullient and arpeggiated track on the album, “Hyperdawn”, might also have been an apt offering to Mr. Cioran. It’s also the track that’s most likely to draw comparisons to videogame scores like Zelda, a tendency that increasingly compares the work of cerebral projects to an entirely separate 8-bit scene. But the comparisons aren’t entirely unfair, and in fact open up the interesting concept of finding a sort of musical headspace inside the otherwise flat turns of someone like K