The music of Markus Popp is endlessly curious. Since the early 90s his pioneering albums as Oval have continually excavated new spaces in electronic music, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape. Popp’s playful and singular approach to sound has continually left critics and peers alike confounded by his ability to conjure such lithe, evocative sonics from software. Celebrated collaborations with Jan St. Werner as Microstoria remain foundational texts in underground music, while a rare split record with Liturgy exemplifies Popp’s reach and influence outside electronic spheres. With each release Oval continues to blossom into new digital spaces, combining a wide-eyed sense of wonder with astute technical prowess in his exploration of cutting-edge technologies. His new album Romantiq turns the producer’s inquisitive ear to an omnipresent and yet oft ill-defined, even maligned area of music and art – the romantic. The album foregrounds the emotional drive that has always been present in Oval records, providing a genuine and unabashed interrogation of its subject matter delivered with delectable sophistication.
Romantiq evolved from an audio-visual collaboration with digital artist Robert Seidel for the grand opening of the German Romantic Museum in Frankfurt - a huge outdoor projection covering the museum building. From the project’s inception both Seidel and Popp sought a more expansive definition of “romantic”, extending outward from the museum’s comprehensive survey of the 19th-century epoch in art. Popp crafted dozens of short vignettes that each sought to evoke a specific mood or emotion in dialogue with Seidel’s dense, intricate digital imagery and animations. From those initial foundations Popp continued to develop his initial sketches into something even more ambitious and diverse in its outlook. Romantiq surveys a staggering amount of source material, looking as much to literature, architecture and artistic traditions as it does music. Processed period instruments trace luxuriant spaces that shift from low-lit chambers to glistening palatial grandeur, glitching through past, present and future. Swelling atmospheres emerge like perfume, rich scents flooding the senses before evaporating on the breeze. Disparate traditional elements and romantic tropes are juxtaposed and recast into a future-seeking survey of ephemeral emotion.
Throughout Romantiq, Popp masterfully blurs the line between the organic and digital, obscuring or revealing instruments in service of atmosphere. Original source material of an opera singer provided by Seidel for the installation takes on new life in album opener “Zauberwort”, atomized into smoke trails that glide beneath spidery guitar and trombone architectures. Stately piano figures on “Rytmy” balance analog nostalgia with digital processing, while the ethereal flute melody anchoring “Elektrin” is concrete and tangible one moment, fleeting and incorporeal the next. Cliches are either skilfully sidestepped or harnessed to powerful and unexpected effect – “Wildwasser”’s deliberate 80s exotica kitsch or the near-devotional extremes of feeling on display in “Touha”. Each arrangement is deceptively detailed without clouding the work’s narrative arc, shifting from quiet contemplation to euphoric bliss.
Through exploring the shifting notion of “romance” across time and space, Popp sculpts spaces that feel both familiar and uncanny, nostalgic and futuristic. Much like the transient emotions it surveys, Romantiq’s evocative sonics conjure flickering images that glitch, evolve and collapse in on one another – opulent neo-chamber music lit by the paradoxically heartwarming screen glow of social media flirtations. Romantiq’s omnivorous approach to its core theme and source material provides a wry and expansive definition of romance, capturing in surprising detail the essence of this intangible, yet universal human emotion.