Though not billed as such, a kind of battle royal occurred Friday night in Echo Park. Pitting man versus machine, human hands versus electric circuits, eardrum-massaging bass tones versus mesmerizing, interlocked beats, the duel played out before a standing-room-only crowd in the basement club the Echoplex.
No blood was spilled. But as New York-based musicians Oneohtrix Point Never and Dawn of Midi presented competing yet complementary arguments, a mist of what seemed to be steam, silicon dust and algebraic equations floated through the air. (A less lyrical explanation involves a fog machine and secondhand marijuana smoke.)
FOR THE RECORD:
Concert photo: In a photo with the Feb. 10 Calendar section concert review of Daniel Lopatin, who performs as Oneohtrix Point Never, the caption identified the performer as Oneohtrix Point Never. The person in the photo is Nate Boyce, Oneohtrix Point Never’s visual artist. —
The headliner, Daniel Lopatin, performs as Oneohtrix Point Never. As video clips projected onto a billboard-sized screen behind him, he stood to the side working a gearbox with cords jutting out of it, generating tones that sounded like songs of the endangered synthesizers.
Best known to Hollywood types for his work on the score of Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and to readers of online music tastemaker Pitchfork for his acclaimed experimental electronic album “R Plus Seven,” the composer delivered chaotic but oft-blissful electronic frequencies through a host of algorithm-executing devices. The result was an ethereal, man-machine sounding amalgam, the kind that Lopatin once described as “music that implied certain aspects of New Age but was pretty sinister."
With focus and what sounded like a big chunk of the Los Angeles power grid, Lopatin in performance looked like a nuclear technician trying to defuse a suitcase bomb, the glow of LEDs barely lighting his face.
At its best, as on “Chrome Country,” he channeled sounds from synth history’s recycle bin, music from deep within the processor. Huge, beefy analog clusters filled the room, rumbling the innards. They gave way to melodic dots and a computer-manipulated human choir. On opener “Still Life,” voices merged perfectly with eerie binary fuzz, organic and synthetic matter intertwined in an intimate make-out session.
Lopatin is mining rich territory. Over the past half-century, humans working with machines have generated millions of inorganic wave forms, many of which had their shock-of-new moments but were then discarded like so many corporate BlackBerries.
Whether the blork of Nintendo-style eight-bit computer music, bolts of rave-style synths, Aphex Twin-styled shattered beats, operating system audio logos or early warm hums from ARP, Moog and Buchla synthesizers, audio files and ideas buried in circuit boards and dusty hard drives endure long after power sources have shorted. They await resurrection and re-examination by future data miners like Lopatin.
He reveled in this binary mess, crafting digital structures not through symmetrical pop templates but in amorphous five-minute bursts. “Boring Angel” is one of the stranger and more majestic electronic creations in recent years, a mysterious path through a plasticine land that draws on the minimalism of Steve Reich, Japanese glitch producer Nobukazu Takemura, the abrasion of noise expert John Wiese and even the “heavy organ” sound of Virgil Fox -- but reimagined in a uniquely Lopatinian way.
A different sort of algorithm primed the club earlier when a trio of human drivers, Dawn of Midi, examined the mathematics of sound with acoustic instruments. As though programmed to synchronize via advanced software, the group performed audio equations with time signatures that, broken down, would likely fill entire lecture hall chalkboards.
Performing in its entirety the stellar 2013 album “Dysnomia,” Dawn of Midi took ideas of rhythmic phasing made famous by Reich, in which beats and sounds run in and out of sync over extended periods of time.
Through focus and well-oiled precision, they locked into oblong grooves and rode them with assured fluidity. To those of us raised on four-beats-to-the-bar simplicity, Midi’s rhythmic acrobatics were something to behold, with shoes-in-the-dryer thumps that spun in and out of time.
On “Moon,” Aakaash Israni opened with a hypnotic bass phrase, drummer Qasim Naqvi entered on what sounded like an illogical measure, adding a drunken beat soon resolved when Amino Belyamani weaved in melodic binding. “Atlas” loped along like a three-legged dog, ending in tight-paced gallop.
That three men could construct such seamlessly engineered pieces and execute them with the beauty of a Turing machine was indeed impressive. Combined with Oneohtrix Point Never harnessing logic boards to create such mysteriously illogical equations only further fueled an argument: distinctions between human and machine are immaterial when examined through the mathematics of sound.