The Armory Goes Pop…Sort Of

by Ben Diamond Photographed by Drew Gurian / Red Bull Content Pool
Friday, May 25, 2018

It’s always fascinating and thrilling when one of New York’s austere old institutions decides to host something hip and young. The Armory is undoubtedly one such place—it’s one of the city’s most prominent staging grounds for upturned nose, capital “h” High Culture, able to bestow the imprimatur of respectability and seriousness on any underground artist or musician by dint of its reputation alone. And to its credit, it hosts the outré and the avant-garde all the time, staging everything from interpretive dance and experimental theater to—as it did this week—electronic concerts.

This past Tuesday and Thursday, twice per night, the Armory presented MYRIAD, a new theatrical production by the musician Daniel Lopatin. Lopatin, who performs under the name Oneohtrix Point Never (the name a reference to, and pronounced like, the Boston radio station 106.7), is probably best known for the propulsive, Cannes Soundtrack Award-winning score he composed for last year’s Good Time. He has fast become one of the most interesting musicians working today, mixing elements of ambient, rock and, more recently, early and Baroque music.

And judging from the line of twenty- and thirty-somethings that stretched from the Armory’s entrance on 67th and Park down to 66th, East toward Lexington, then back up the street—a good number of people agreed. It felt like, if not a throwback to the days when young people would flock to Cage or Glass-sound-tracked happenings, then something quite close.

The music that Lopatin and his ensemble played—challenging, heady stuff that mixed percussive, Xenakis-like atonality with rococo harpsichord flourishes—certainly seemed of a piece with those earlier experimenters. Taken mostly from Lopatin’s not-yet-released album Age Of, it was unfamiliar to most of the audience. It showed, with attendees sitting in silent appreciation for most of the performance, with a lot of hesitant, is it actually over? clapping at the end of each song. That novelty only enhanced the dissonance of Lopatin’s compositions, stripping even the more tuneful songs of context and turning them into something more diffuse—something almost like pure sound. 

But what did it all mean? There may well have been a statement about our era of disunion, as jags of noise threatened to overpower the cantata-like prettiness of the harpsichord, or as strange combinations, an instrumental number that sounded a lot like “My Heart Will Go On” if it were played on a sidewalk corner pan-pipe band and fed through a crappy, feedback-heavy amplifier. These are, after all, conflicted times.

Or perhaps it meant nothing. Though the program (excuse me, “quasilibretto”) presented the evening as a kind of play—“The Extraordinary And Fantastical Deathsong Of The Worst Timeline Immemoriam, In Which We Bear Witness To The Tribulations Of Puppet, A Wretch & His Dumb Friends; A Rat, A Garbage Bag, & The Rest Of It”—complete with dramatis personae and a plot, they felt largely extraneous, like the liner notes to a Jethro Tull album. Apart from the presence of dancers during a few pieces, and a recurring, between-song motif of garbled dialogue that seemed to emerge from figurines suspended from the ceiling, this felt more like an ordinary concert.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.


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