“Time begins to emit a scent when it gains duration; when it is given a narrative or deep tension; when it gains depth and breadth, even space.”
– Byung-Chul Han
“One has to become a cybernetician to remain a humanist.”
– Peter Sloterdijk
That thirst, that desire. To present us multiple worlds that work indirectly, circuitously. To create sounds as sensing machines — shredding machines. To wander in a liminal or in-between space both fleeting and graspable, like the tangible heaviness of air on a humid day that fades after rain. Or fog lingering on the mirror after a hot shower. Or the dizzy feeling when blood rushes to your head after getting up too quickly. Age Of overflows with moments like that. Of caught between the between. Of experiencing two emotions at once. Of those that are twin-headed, two-hearted, bivalved. Connected, disconnected; utopian, dystopian.
Even after multiple listens, the songs on Age Of have a strange not-yet quality built into how you access them; they still possess an airy, weightless, featherlike, and withdrawn quality, unable to reveal themselves completely, working through a hiddenness more than an exposure. They act sloppy, in an excessively casual manner, pockmarked and oozing with inconsistencies and anomalies, like the human body, and, more broadly, like humanness. They want to eat your brains, like “We’ll Take It” or throw you down the elevator shaft, like on “Warning.” But sometimes they wrap you in a warmth that only fairy tales can vivify, like on “Toys 2” or “RayCats.” In other words, for the first time, we’ve got a Oneohtrix Point Never record that’s a bit all over the place conceptually. It’s erratic. It doesn’t come with a grand concept. It eats its cake and vomits it up, too.
There’s nothing wrong with the erratic quality; because of it, timelines and simulacra crisscross all about the record. A cyborg-sublime beckons for you to experience it. So do vast, elaborate, unnameable infrastructures ordinarily invisible to ourselves. (But for what purpose do these infrastructures come to fruition? And how do we experience them?) A historicity — straight from the timbre’s mouth — pours forth. Like the harpsichords on the opening track: how they conjure visions of knights throwing serfs into the jaws of moat-crocs for fun; cherubim circulating around the heads of choir singers; sculptures at rest in well-manicured, royal gardens. Woe be on us if we forget about all that Gruyere eaten in awesome grottos all about the Swiss Alps.
Then, with one wave of a magic wand, the historicalness of the music vanishes and 2018 looms in. We’ve been here before. If Garden of Delete was at odds with the male body’s transformation during its adolescence, Age Of is at odds with the permanency of genre and the permanency of composition, hence why it sounds more like a compilation than an album. Case in point: OPN’s performances operate iteratively, treating his songs as fluidly mobile parts able to be assembled and disassembled as he sees fit, thusly confounding the frozenness of his records. Performing live, he allows sound to wiggle and jiggle; to fatten or soften or inflate or deflate; to become violently infected — via gut bacteria or nuclear sludge or botched field recordings — thereby changing the route and direction they take, and especially their behavior; to lead to other sounds that weren’t, and oftentimes couldn’t, be there, but now are, and by the constitution of their being, highlight another possibility, another window onto another landscape, another selfie from another angle, another spell cast in the Magic: The Gathering duel, another tweet written from the cryo-chamber. At its best, Age Of tiptoes around the idea of being completely one with timeliness. At its worst, it can’t get the motor up and running; the dopamine never transfers. It’s why, in a recent interview with The New York Times, he can admit that “things have to become other things, or else I feel unsatisfied and/or like a con man.” It’s also why, in that same interview, he says he “like[s] to take chaos and structure it so it has a kind of comprehensible pulsation.”
Iteration keeps OPN’s dream of a comprehensible pulsation alive and healthy. The chaos and impermanency spawn cyborg-cowboys, alien-cowboys, grunge-guys sitting in dive bars wondering when’s liftoff. (Cue in the deadbeat bass riff of “The Station” for those dudes.) It’s why he favors anti-automation over quantifiability and, by doing so, forms an extreme resistance toward social media’s quantification of our desires and capitalism’s need to accelerate. The whole world can fuck with that resistance. Mark Fisher was right about capitalism when he wrote that it’s “an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker, [and] the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.” Fuck being a zombie! Age Of suggests.
Anti-automation also favors privacy over publicity, recuperation over speed. Because to be a musician — and I can add here, to be alive — is to view invisibility as a superpower. Music doesn’t have to participate in the language game of life. We are alive on Age Of’s aesthetic battlefield, in the trench of the unshackled referent, between the limits of timbre and the limits of how malleable that timbre is; between OPN’s ability to use the tools in his toolbox and his ability to hear something that isn’t audible yet has a toward-being-audible quality. It’s like a music that you can describe but not play, that nobody could play because of its impossibility, that can only be conceived through the temptation of just how out of reach it is. Again, we’re in that in-between. Because the album can’t be one complete thing, Age Of is its own archenemy; its own princess stranded in a high castle; its own climb up the Holy Mountain. A radical incompleteness haunts it. Moreover, a radical incompleteness completes it. Like when a relationship is a thing but not really a thing. Or when nothing goes as planned. Or our browser history: the mark of ourselves that we leave behind on devices. Or overheard conversations, at once ours and not ours.
Or the space between another’s pain and your acknowledgment of it. Peeling the plastic cling wrap off an electronic screen. Wrapping a piece of blue cheese. Cracks in old leather. Dolly, the cloned sheep. Veggie burgers. Faux fur. Open secrets. Spanglish. Skin peeling after a sunburn. Traces of pheromone altering a bee’s flight trajectory.
Because of its incompleteness, this album will stick with some but detract others. To just have the MIDI be a kind of scent-trail, to have the songs dawdle and lollygag: that’s OPN’s Achilles’ heel. All of their tracings and slivers and dregs and anti-memory and timbre-clouds of speculation and multi-scentedness and overloadedness and trauma and paranoia and violence and primal rush for communication and nuclear DNA and ugly feelings and sonic apophenia and extreme closeups and obsession with performance and intimacy and sloppiness and perfectionism and bizarre techno-sexual energy. All of that malfunctionality: where sound combusts, destabilizes, falls off, become unaware of itself and engages with unncanniness, paranoia, and ambiguity. It’s too much of too much sometimes. But sometimes it’s fucking amazing.
Where does this lead, it coyly suggests. To another world than this, from a cut to coagulation. A fatty, sticky musicianship that forms a resistance against the techno-semiotic chains of automation that autocorrect our texts and organize our thoughts into the digital spaces we’ve come to accept. Then, as it always does with OPN, it goes back to the bodily: an auto-tuned voice embodying the dismembered and the fractal. A voice envious of the desire to be another voice — yet still being. A voice that functions as a sneak peek into its own existence. A voice like a Snapchat filter over your face, making it more attractive. Life’s muck; the memories of an Alzheimer’s patient; a relaxed hyperattention. And then back to the internet begging you to surf it, calling out to you, whispering.
But where does this lead? The problem with Age Of is that it doesn’t make it immediately clear what it wants. That’s also its strength. Once again, we’re in that in-between. The songs have presence yet also reek of the absence of their own selves, of what they could have been. (This could have been a pop song, this could have been a theme song, this could have been the song played at our wedding, this could have been the song we bumped while driving in a spaceship through the galaxy.) Some of them resist the temptation of becoming an earworm, while others, like “Babylon” and “Black Snow,” have the desire to be one.
Because if it doesn’t play in your head time and time again while you try to sleep, did you really listen to it? We need no prophets, we know what is coming, but can we live with that? The parking lots are infernos of yellow light. A green dragonfly glints with the blue of a cloudless sky, blending in with the lake’s edge, like an intro scene to the movie you’ve always wanted to star in. An invisible seed sprouted in the void attaches itself to your DNA while you keep on dreaming your surreal, magnificent dreams. That song you shouldn’t have listened to right before bedtime, just stuck. That internet search that never really ended. Your eyes, even when closed, bathed in computerized light.