Electronic music is pushing buttons. Push a button, get a sound, do it again and get another sound, do it enough times and you have got a song, do that enough times and you have got an album. A few bands though push enough buttons to make a career out of it, and when you have enough buttons and enough material and you have had enough fans you put out a compilation album. Such is the case with Oval. In case you haven’t heard (and I don’t blame you) Oval was a German based experimental electronic band from back in the nineties. In a time when jungle music and rave were the primary sound on the electronic scene Oval was over in Germany crafting elegant electronic pieces that strip electronic music right down to its roots, the pushing of buttons. There is very little music that sounds so electronic is Oval, you listen to them and think of humming motors, whirring pistons, steam and sweat. Over their careers they released several albums, but never have they been more accessible than now, their compilation OvalDNA proves to be a great starting point for someone interested in the band. Each song on the compilation is only about two or three minutes long, but with twenty five tracks the whole compilation goes on for over an hour.
The tracks are ambient at times and abrasive at others, lulling the listener into a comfortable haze and then breaking them out, a little like what grunge did back around the same time. Hearing such beautiful sounds made by machines that can also snarl and churn is a bit off-putting, and having it switch between the two is even more unnerving, but that’s how its supposed to be, and OvalDNA never makes you think that it happened by mistake. Everything here sounds mechanical, everything here sounds fake, but the listener has to remember that a person put together these sounds. As a result the composer becomes the proverbial ghost in the machine more so than he is a musician, the line between person and machine is blurred far beyond recognition. And so too is the line between listener and music blurred as the album progresses. The sounds become everything. This I would attribute to the lack of voices, there is not a single human sound to be found. Not to say that they should have added a singer, but that there are absolutely no human sounds present for the full hour and ten. Even the most hardcore electronic musicians will usually use a sample or two, a little voice to add texture, but I think Oval never really needed this, it makes them sound a bit haunting especially on the later songs of the compilation.
Anyway whatever Oval was going for over their career it can certainly be heard on OvalDNA. The tracks are certainly consistent in their construction, some drone, some groan, and others lilt, but all of them are pretty good, especially as a whole. They come together like a box of interchangeable parts, creating an album that is greater than the sum of its parts, and not unlike the machines that made it. The music is different and certainly worth giving a look at.