94 Diskont






Depending on who you ask, Oval are one of the prime examples about what went right or, alternatively, wrong with the movement of electronic musicians in the middle of the 90‘s. The band consisted of Frank Metzger, Sebastian Oschatz and Markus Popp back then, of which only Popp remains in the latest incarnation of Oval, current since 1998. Oval were always keen on intermingling various kinds of cacophonous sound effects and static noises with incredibly warm and thick synth layers, resulting in a compelling cocktail of circuitry and thermal conductions; in a way, Oval mediated between the upcoming Glitch genre and the established Ambient realms. For whatever reason, the middle of that decade saw the focus on the Glitch genre, largely initiated with the metamorphosis of the British duo Autechre, whose melodiously analogue pieces mutated into harsh, cold and eerie soundscapes that were intensified with each subsequent release, thus establishing the ill-called IDM genre – to great success, I might add. Warm synth layers were still audible, but the focus shifted away to sophisticated rhythmic patterns and hissing percussion. The same steelification took place everywhere in Europe, and even though it was by no means a controlled or calculated movement, there was literally something in the air that caused the change of times. Oval are no exception to this alteration, and their 1995 album 94 Diskont is on the brink of all this, embracing both weird noises, pulses and gorgeous synth washes in vitro and combines them under the overarching theme of commerce-related technical terms. Not only do I consider it the very best album by the band, but one of the best Ambient albums of that decade‘s short timeframe when both trends merged peacefully, without dominating or obsoleting one another.


Do While is the 24-minute centerpiece and Oval‘s longest track. This is one of the songs that would have been shortened by devotees of business economics, as the changes are flowing marginally. Thankfully, this piece transports one of the true meanings of Ambient, namely its use as background music. Since changes are slim, this song really tucks you in and creates an astonishingly efficacious dreamscape: ubiquitously glittering swabs of repeated chime bells and swirling layers of slightly modulated deep drone-like washes tranquilize the listener immediately. In the middle of Do While, there is an intermission that could have been made by Tetsu Inoue: a sustained vibraphone-esque shape delivers even more plasticity, and much later, quiet fragments of cowbells are added to the mix. This is Oval‘s most accessible song. No static noise, no unnecessary effect that could distract the listener from the beauty of the loop-based song. Oh, and luckily for the people who prefer a shorter version of Do While, there is an appropriately named version of Do While ⌘X that contains Oval‘s approach in its title already: cutting the length and condensing the vast runtime into a 4 minute and 50 seconds edit and delivering it as the last track of 94 Diskont. The following Store Check is my absolute favorite: quick pulses and similarly pulsing synth pads are united with oscillating drones and electronic data interchange sounds. Tightly integrated crackles and fuzzy pops are added to form a perfect unison, there is no harshness at all. The whole piece is soothing and yet bustling with pulses, inducing an almost life-like, biological spirit with the sole help of electronic devices – Store Check has to be heard to be believed.


Line Extension is equally warm, with gentle crackles and pulses. There are lots of spaces in this song that are suddenly filled with synth bursts, short extracts of analogue synth melodies and quick Ambient loops. The song ends with a repeatedly pulsating loop and Geiger counter noises. Cross Selling pushes the convocation of pulses and pops to the forefront and adopts the melody introduced in Line Extension which is accompanied by at least two additional layers of melodious quality. Crystalline high-pitched sounds and slightly cacophonous Jazz sounds round off the soothing but demanding character of this song. Up to this point, the album is incredibly warm and highly accessible in my book. The two following tracks, Commerce Server and Shop In Store are mellow and warm as well, but they rely intensely on chopped off hundredth-of-a-second snippets of similar fashion that have been already heard in the previous tracks. However, on Commerce Server, these bits are put into the limelight; since there are no backing synth washes, it is simply an audio vignette of all these sounds in pristine quality. There must be people out there who deny this vignette the term music. It is definitely more challenging for the listener and less soothing, but displays beyond doubt the same warm sound fragments that were heard before. Shop In Store takes this idea one step further away from the fuzzy dreamscapes by featuring high-pitched snippets that don‘t sound cozy at all. A hard glitch track to swallow for me, but luckily the only exception on this genuinely beautiful release.


94 Diskont is an essential Ambient album that displays the waning spirit of the mid-90‘s when the typical ingredients of Glitch were flawlessly integrated with lushly warm synth strings of all kinds. Not just coincidentally is this album similar to Init Ding by Microstoria, of which Markus Popp is a member. This is Oval‘s high-point as a band, for it was the last album before the departure of Frank Metzger and Sebastian Oschatz. I also dig Popp‘s later solo works, but 94 Diskont remains the glitzy rainbow-colored paradise of euphonious, multilayered ambientscapes that I can recommend to fans of this style. The first 4 tracks are wholeheartedly recommended without exception. The latter two are a bit harder on the ears because these songs isolate the noisy background fragments that are now in the spotlight sans the synth washes, resembling the change in style that took place in the 90‘s and which was refined on Oval‘s later releases. Anyway, this is a classic and readily available on CD and download stores.




Ambient Review 026: Oval – 94 Diskont (1995). Originally published on Jan. 25, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.