Oval's double CD O is deliberately enigmatic yet immediately entertaining, nothing short of a small masterpiece.  Oval mastermind Markus Popp already has a formidable reputation for past efforts in computer-driven performance and composition. In earlier work he created programs to do the composing, assembled raw materials to feed those programs and then hit "enter."

On O Popp employs markedly different stratagems. He's built libraries of pre-set sounds, effects, and samples that were then written out as sheet music and performed via conventional keyboards.  This may appear a bit academic and overly cerebral on paper, but Popp's execution is actually playful, full-blooded and thoroughly engaging.

The bulk of the sonic vocabulary here stems from single guitar strings being picked, plucked, having slides run up and down, just resonating, etc. Popp then weaves these notes, timbres, different styles of attack and so on—all done via keyboards, not actual guitars—into intricately orchestrated pieces that recall the best early post-prog avant guitar playing, comparable, for instance to Fred Frith's first solo projects after leaving Henry Cow. In fact, Popp has innovated upon that milieu by brilliant use of aural-processing; grabbing strategic notes to wrap them in stuttering repeats, brief backwards echoes and the like. For variety's sake, he occasionally adds unobtrusive keyboard lines or washes of massed strings that sound like strummed autoharp, sometimes drum samples. Again, all "played" via keyboards.

The selections on O are quick-witted, light-hearted; exploratory yet lyrical. Folks that have been waiting for Aphex Twin to follow up Drukqs should cotton to O in a big way. [Thrill Jockey]

-Howard Wuelfing



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