Originally a group that, through attrition, developed into a solo outlet for founding member Markus Popp, Oval were perhaps known more for how they made their music than for the music itself. Their intriguing update of some elements of avant-garde composition, in combination with techniques of digital sound design, resulted in some of the most original, if somewhat challenging, electronic music of the 1990s. After Oval helped establish glitch as a distinct style -- as exemplified by Mille Plateaux's Clicks + Cuts compilation series -- Popp utilized his own compositional software; collaborated with Gastr de Sol, Björk, and several other musicians; and maintained a sporadic release schedule.
Formed in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1991, Oval released their earliest work through tapes that were distributed to friends. At the time, the group consisted of Popp, Holger Lindmüller, Frank Metzger, and Sebastian Oschatz. Lindmüller departed prior to the making of Oval's proper debut album, Wohnton, released on Ata Tak in 1993. After 1994's Systemisch and 1995's 94 Diskont, both of which were released on Mille Plateaux, Metzger and Oschatz left Oval to Popp, who continued to develop the group's approach. It could be described as "prepared compact disc": manually marred and scarified CDs played and sampled for the resultant somewhat randomly patterned rhythmic clicking. Layered together with subtle, sparse melodies and quirky electronics, the results were often as oddly musical as they were just plain odd. Popp's remixes of Chicago post-rock group Tortoise brought his work in contact with American audiences. Oval's 1994 and 1995 releases, as well as Popp's work as Microstoria (with Mouse on Mars' Jan St. Werner), were subsequently issued in the U.S. by Thrill Jockey. Popp's activities during the decade's latter half included 1998's Dok, which featured input from Christophe Charles, and a handful of short-form releases.
Popp's release schedule was sporadic during the 2000s and 2010s, though 2000 and 2001 were two of his busiest years, involving three Oval albums -- Ovalprocess, Pre/Commers, and Ovalcommers -- as well as a pair of Microstoria albums. As So, Popp collaborated with vocalist Eriko Toyada on a self-titled album released in 2003. Oval remained dormant for several years until O (2010), which was trailed by a split LP with Liturgy (2011). OvalDNA (2011), released on Shitkatapult, reconfigured elements from the Oval back catalog and added a DVD. Calidostópia! (2013) was Popp's most adventurous project yet, the result of taking recent finished and unfinished material to Brazil and having it transformed by the addition of vocalists. Companion album Voa followed later in the year. A limited cassette titled September appeared in 2014. In 2016, Oval went in an unexpectedly club-inspired direction with the colorful, maximalist album Popp, released by Popp's own Uovooo label. ~ Sean Cooper & Andy Kellman