Oval: Do While
have not sat down and listened to Oval’s “Do While” in years, but there is no need to. The song has a few moments deeply etched into my memory that usually replay—like a visage after seeing a bright light—for several seconds whenever it is quiet and I glance upon a tree. Strange enough, the music mainly retriggers whenever I watch the silhouette of a eucalyptus tree under the light of either dawn or dusk. This is music that rests your mind on a mother’s shoulder, giving a rotating view of life around it and drifting further asleep with each note from her lullaby.
“Do While” is the 24-minute opener of 94 Diskont, arguably one of the most radical electronic albums of the 1990s. Oval equally drew praise and controversy for their assault on techno’s restrictions by literally deconstructing music and digital audio by using X-acto knives, paint, and tape to damage the surfaces of CDs, only to stitch it back together in loops of melody punctuated by the CD’s physical skips. The group—then composed of conceptual mastermind Markus Popp and comrades Sebastian Oschatz and Frank Metzger—were one of the earliest proponents of the now-quaint subgenre “glitch.”
They were the first “post-techno” group I heard—taking the music’s synthesized elements and transcending it beyond the dancefloor. I bought 94 Diskont because I read that they did to CDs what avant-turntablist Christian Marclay did to vinyl: tear it to pieces and then reconfigure it into a monster to demolish all preconceptions of recorded music. While Oval’s touch was nowhere near as challenging, abrasive, and noise-obsessed as Marclay, it’s been years since I have listened to a “straight” techno track since. Their fractured nature hooked me on their sound—just as the memory can recall only pieces of a song, usually with the best, worst, or unexplainably intriguing—Oval’s music is usually based on taking curious microscopic noises and transforming them into the heart and soul of a song.
Oval are certainly better known for how they made their music than their actual sound, which is pitiful since their opus, “Do While” took on rhythms and logic I never heard before. Hypnosis prevails. If anything, the song doesn’t quite qualify as “glitch,” except for the rough snap at the end of the melody. The music is mixed so smoothly that it flows like amniotic fluid. The song’s basic elements are simple: a rough, looped snippet of a bell melody, light cricket-like digital clicks that skitter among the stereo channels, and resonating organ timbres that marinate everything. The bells take the center as their tones are mixed to float between the speakers; their interlocked melodies are most akin to gamelan orchestration. Better yet, the soft melodies are contrasted with the scattered clicks that all build an uncanny tension. Both elements move in diagonal rhythms—resembling the tangle of a cat’s cradle.
Several minutes into the music, the organ timbres build and the rhythms nearly double, as time quickly saunters by, the “eucalyptus” moment arises. The bell loop is christened by a watered overtone that blows the rest of the music and its rhythm into a stronger sway. A eucalyptus branch has sliver-shaped leaves that emit a hundred crackles in any breeze. The tree also smothers the nose with a thick, slightly sour musk that typically brings my mind into a haze. The comforting sight and scent of the tree all resemble that particular moment of “Do While,” where the mind becomes dazed by the hypnosis, and the pristine harmony of ironically chaotic forces as found in Nature which travels no straight line.
In the following years since “Do While,” Oval seemingly reached the peak of where it could go with CD skips, warm drones, and explicit minimalism. Popp, who became the core member left, then delved further into chaos and dissonance, while keeping small traces of the soulfulness of Oval’s past. However, few if none of those albums ever possessed the unforgettable beauty that haunts my imagination years after completely hearing the song like “Do While.” A classic I hope that more people will hear and enjoy long after my time here on earth.
Christmas Day 2005
By: Cameron Macdonald
Published on: 2006-01-04