Oval – “Oh” (2010)

Any time I see the phrase musique concrète used to describe an artist or album it gives me pause, both intriguing and filling me with unease at the same time. How experimental is it going to be? Will it even be recognizable as “music”? Am I interested in it because I’m legitimately interested or out of some kind of pretentious snobbery? These are the ridiculous thoughts that sometime go through my head when trying to decide whether or not to buy a record. But then I try to remind myself, “dude, you’re just buying a record, not projecting some taste-manifesto out into the world”, which usually results in my buying the record. My id and superego fight inside my head a lot, and sometimes my ego just needs to tell them both to shut the hell up.

Which brings us to Oval’s 2010 EP Oh, the first thing that Markus Popp (the sole member of Oval for most of its existence) put out under the Oval name in almost a decade. It was the precursor to the double album O released the same year. Oh was limited to 1,000 copies on white vinyl with an actual photograph attached to the front, and the entire run sold out during pre-order.

What sets Oh apart from previous Oval releases is its use of actual instruments – previously Oval recorded using various electronic methods including things like the sound of a CD skipping. I’ve seen their earlier work described as “field recordings from inside a computer”, which I have to admit feels both a bit appealing and a bit annoying at the same time.

I can’t speak to those earlier recordings, but what I can tell you is that Oh is definitely equal parts intriguing and enjoyable. It could loosely fall into the ambient category with it’s overall pace. The occasional bursts of instrumentation seeded in among all the electronic sounds are compelling, especially the jazz-like drumming on “oh!” that serves to introduce an element of entropy into the semi-structure imposed by the electronics, a sort of human element injected into the machine world. The same effect exists elsewhere on Oh, like the Spanish guitar on “kasko”, with the instrumentation, while often only quasi-musical in and of itself, adding an organic component to the overall sound.

Described as an EP there’s still a lot of music on Oh, with the record’s 15 tracks running roughly 25 minutes. The four A side songs are arguably the must fully developed and are the longest, while nothing on the B side lasts more than 1:45, and these generally feel more like experiments than they do compositions. While the record itself is no longer available, you can listen to and purchase a download of Oh on Bandcamp HERE.

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