Oval | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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If you overheard Markus Popp discussing Oval in the subway, you might not guess he was talking about a music group: in the bio accompanying Oval's recent CD, Dok (Thrill Jockey), the young Berliner explains, "I wanted to render Oval a versatile, open engine that can be plugged into (or rather put through) any type of processing or editing software environment without either losing its aesthetic appeal and simplicity or betraying its theoretical groundings." Understanding the process behind any work of art can enhance enjoyment of the end result considerably. But like a great painting, Oval's music is so compelling and beautiful in its own right that it isn't necessary to "get" what Popp (currently the sole member of Oval) is doing. So that you know, over the course of four full-length discs and numerous side projects, he's developed computer software that transforms "mistakes" in digital media--the skips and repeats of a defective or damaged CD--into alternately soothing and jarring ambient music. It's an increasingly distinctive style: when Popp does a remix, as he has for other singular-sounding groups like Tortoise and Pizzicato Five, it sounds like Oval. And Dok proves more than any of its predecessors that Popp's more than just a clever programmer. The CD is a collaboration with Tokyo-based sound artist Christophe Charles, who supplied Popp with sound files of bell tones from around the world--a relatively static, limited sound source. Popp didn't add much, just a few bass tones, and yet what he came up with is downright transcendent. He lets the long dominant tones ascend, float, and spiral before skipping to the next sound, and no understanding of binaries is necessary to appreciate their serene, otherworldly beauty. This collaboration with Jim O'Rourke is Oval's Chicago debut. Fair warning: unless you've got a fetish for computer equipment, there won't be much to look at here. Thursday, June 4, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Daniel Ball.

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