Oval: “I always considered what I do to be pop.” Interview by David Sullivan


Markus Popp is an electronic musician and innovator who is perhaps most well known for his work with Oval, the music group who played a large part in pioneering glitch music in the 1990s.
For the albums Systemisch and 94diskont, Popp experimented with physically damaging CDs – writing on them or 
scratching them and then creating mutant glitch rhythms with the sounds procured from this method.

He continues to release solo music under the Oval moniker. On his latest album, Popp, being released via his own label, UOVOOO, Markus has updated these methods and delved into club music, or at least his own interpretation of what club music could be in a universe conjured up and explored through the very singular sounds of Oval.

David Sullivan: I was reading about your label, “ooh-oh-voo”, (UOVOOO) is that right?

Markus Popp: (Laughs) Oh, OK, here we go…well, basically, it’s “ou-o-vo”, it’s the Italian word for egg. In my book, the pronunciation is identical to the Italian word, it’s just visually stretched out.

David Sullivan: Oval is Latin for egg, do you have a thing for eggs?

Markus Popp: Do I have a thing for eggs? Not really. Very quickly, looking for a name, any name, reveals so many different angles you can approach this quest from. There are so many aspects: aesthetics, trends, tradition, genre, graphic design, the ironic element, semantics etc. The whole process of finding a ‘good’ name for anything (that is not already taken, mind you) is quickly turning into its own thing and taking on its own dynamic.

This is one of the first opportunity ever, I have heard the name spoken back to me by someone, like, now, in this situation, because usually, I communicate with people in text, over the web.

David Sullivan: How does it sound hearing it back?

Markus Popp: Well, as expected, people from other parts of the world will pronounce it differently. But then again, I probably added the two extra “O”s at the end to throw everybody off, so that there’s ultimately no way, from any angle, that “UOVOOO” can be pronounced correctly, because this word doesn’t exist. I guess, in the end I went with the “visual” approach: I really like the album logo with its colour gradation, three “O”s at the end that “fade out”.

David Sullivan: David Sullivan: I heard Mei, another word I can’t pronounce, from the label, where is she from?

Markus Popp: Mei (the Japanese female name, it is pronounced “May”) is from Dijon, France, she is a newcomer artist. Partura is her first album which she has been working on for years, it’s a total labour of love. Partura mixes contemporary, “urban” glitchy tracks with old, lo-fi movie scores, adding up to some sort of alluring glitch “Chanson” (an old French term for “song”) style with a contemporary Kate Bush-esque vibe.

David Sullivan: Any other plans for the label or artists?

Markus Popp: I’m getting quite a number of demos, even though I haven’t even officially asked for any yet. Well, these days, anyone is effectively “public” and accessible 24/7 on social media, so I got approached for years on Facebook a la: ‘“Hey man, check out my music!”. And now, there is even more messages like that. Musically, these submissions are very diverse but always interesting. So, yes, keep these demos coming!

David Sullivan: With all the demos coming in, and nowadays with the abundance of music and it being so readily available, do you find it different listening to music now? Say listening to someone’s demo, can you still absorb that?

Markus Popp: Hmmm… For me, listening to music has always been a personal thing and that hasn’t changed at all. Obviously, the availability, virality and visibility and all that of music has dramatically changed over the last 10-20 years. But the act of listening to me has taken on a higher importance, now that I have this label.

But of course there is also the “professional” aspect. Me being involved in music and having explored several different technical approaches to music for many years, made my insight into “how music works” pretty deep. I probably won’t ever be able to listen to a piece of music and be totally awestruck in the way that I was listening to music when I was, say, 12.

Regarding demos, UOVOOO runs on pretty clear criteria, for example, to be a non-experimental record label. I tend to filter out submissions by people who seem to subscribe to this idea that I’m only this experimental music icon, whereas in fact, I have never considered my own music to be very experimental. Instead, and I hope this won’t sound preposterous, I always considered my music some sort of “pop” – it was just that the rest of the music defined “pop” differently.

Maybe to the outside world – or from the perspective of a listener, who was kind enough to follow my career over all these years – my development might look like as if with Popp, I have now moved from an experimental approach to an accessible approach. But to me, my music was always my version of “pop”, at every stage of my career.

David Sullivan: Do you feel like you’ve progressed? Let’s use albums as a checkpoint.

Markus Popp: Like, on a conceptual level?

David Sullivan: Well, you seem to be on the analytical side and break music down scientifically, so do you personally feel a progression in your art?

Markus Popp: Yes, this record was a mix of musical or technical research, almost like my vision of how “club music” could have evolved on an alternate timeline. But actually, the Popp album project started as a reverse-engineering of my 1990s sound aesthetic (Systemisch and 94diskont.), revisiting that classic Oval glitch aesthetic, but using the convenient, powerful (and at times downright lazy) tools of today.

The glitch effects I invented / explored in the 1990s – allow me to use a film analogy here – worked like “stop-motion”-type animation film: my 1990s “sound-over-time” was manually animated, frame by frame, whereas today, there are tons of specialized glitch FX that do the work for you. To cut a long story short, that aforementioned reworking of my classic glitch sound using modern tools had been accomplished two afternoons later. OK, it still needed some fine tuning, but I had pretty much nailed the original aesthetic.

And now what?! Do I just wrap this up, like a “Systemisch 2.0”? And then the beatmaker tracks on my private playlist caught my attention. So I thought: “Why not try this? I have never tried beats for real.” And that ended up taking little longer, 1.5 years to be precise.

David Sullivan: Do you find it just as satisfying to get those effects in the digital realm as opposed to physically writing on or damaging CDs, is it still as enjoyable?

Markus Popp: It is still a lot of fun, even more so than back then! Today, I can change the entire album dramatically, as it is happening: On Popp, everything evolves “live”. This was the main homework I did with Popp, to put together a very flexible live set. But in the end, you, as the producer, always end up with the same amount of work, whether you use super emergent, digital tools or if you were “animating” your music by hand in 1994. Back then, making tracks “animate” at all, took up the most time whereas today, it is configuring a technical environment. Both approaches have their unique charm.

In the 90s, my album tracks were all arranged linearly in a classic sequencer, not dissimilar to traditional songs – only, that these songs were based on different building blocks. But they were arranged in a totally linear fashion, left to right, in a conventional sequencer. In comparison, Popp was improvised, put together on the fly. The version of Popp I pressed on disc contains “live” versions of these tracks – and every track would be different if I would record it a second time.

David Sullivan: What kind of beatmakers are inspiring you?

Markus Popp: Mike Gao, for example, To my knowledge, he is a Chinese-American producer based in California. His tracks have immaculate balance and “economics”, as he infuses just the right amount of abstract, “academic”, even slightly dissonant elements in his otherwise killer tracks. I love the way some of his tracks are so masterfully arranged, concise and to-the-point. His album tracks can convey such a huge range of moods – some of which are only hinted at very briefly – in, say, 2’ 45’’.

David Sullivan: REZ infinite, the video game which you did some music for, is about to be put into VR?

Markus Popp: Yes, to contribute tracks / samples to REZ Infinite makes me very proud. It came out a day before Popp and I think it’ll be one of the early highlights of VR experiences on a mass market level, together with a game called “Thumper”. I am a huge video game fan and collector and would LOVE to work more for video games! I could totally see myself recording a super intense soundtrack for an indie game with a compelling art style.

David Sullivan: Who did the cover art?

Markus Popp: The cover art was kindly provided by Berlin-based conceptual artist Antonia Hirsch. I have an interview lined up post-release on my label website in which she’s going to explain her practice, the story behind the picture and how everything came about. Oh, and there’s a large fold-out poster of her cover image as an extra in the Popp LP version, very cool.

David Sullivan: Do you know of The Haxan Cloak by any chance?

Markus Popp: I have heard that name for sure.

David Sullivan: Your cover for some reason reminds me of a much more positive version of his cover.

Markus Popp: Yes, well, “positive” is in fact a good keyword here. Because “optimistic” would be one of the attributes I would put at the top of the list of my list of characteristics of Popp – the sound and atmosphere of this album was meant to be exhilarating and optimistic all the way.

David Sullivan: What else is coming up in the future?

Markus Popp: The next UOVOOO release will be another Oval album, it’s a record I have been working on for years. It’s been this really huge project, with a completely different aesthetic and it’s something that is personally very close to me. Not to say this current record, Popp, is not, I put a lot of work into that, too. I always do, I guess. Plus, I have recorded quite some material in the last few years and UOVOOO seems to nicely coincide with that. It probably sounds a bit cliché, but the best Oval stuff might actually be still to come.

Popp is available now on UOVOOO. More details here.


About Author