Sonar Chicago: Oval, Nosaj Thing, Lesley Flanigan, Bradien, Faraon Critic's Choice Free Recommended Soundboard

When: Fri., Sept. 10, 3 p.m. 2010

For his first releases in nine years as Oval, the new double album O (Thrill Jockey) and its complementary EP, Oh, Germany's Markus Popp has abandoned the music-making software he created in the early 90s—software that transformed digital errors into gently sputtering ambient music, allowing anybody who knew how to use it to sound like Oval. He's switched to off-the-shelf programs and started shaping his tracks more actively himself, and though the new material shares the amorphous, gently drifting melodies of the old, it's otherwise very different—it relies much less heavily on loops and repetition, instead building multipartite vignettes that sometimes continue to mutate and develop for their entire length, as though they're through-composed. His palette has changed as well, and now includes sparingly used samples of recognizable instruments like drums and guitar, synthesized tones that often sound like strummed or hammered piano strings, and choppy, prickly, off-kilter rhythms. "Ah!" is one of the most songlike tracks on O, layering ambient drones, sampled drumming, rhythmic synth patterns, and morphing melody lines; the majority are much more austere, though, using fewer elements and never employing familiar structures or tidy resolutions. The 50 tracks on O's second disc are all short studies that say their bit and get out of the way, and Popp packs plenty of sonic business into each one, whether it's jarring or serene. This concert is part of Sonar Chicago. —Peter Margasak

Price: Free

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