I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

While My Computer Gently Weeps: Oneohtrix Point Never’s Memory Vague

by Anthony Galli
April 23, 2016

Memory Vague is the sound of the future lamenting its past.

Possibilities thwarted, opportunities squandered, potential wasted, connections missed.

Or…Memory Vague is the sound of the past mourning its future. A last look at all those things that never are meant to be.

Memory Vague bypasses the present altogether, constructing its identity with ghosts and fragments from glimpses of another age. It hints that it may launch into an unexpected celebration at any time, but reconsiders its position and, instead, mulls over its former glories and failures.

There was a time when the future seemed so promising, but Memory Vague reminds itself that there is a conspiracy of planned obsolescence programmed into its very networks. Why hadn’t it realized this from the beginning?

Memory Vague is specifically nostalgic for the 1980’s, a time of unbridled prosperity and unchecked optimism. It was morning in America. It was Reagan Country. We were the city on the hill. We built this city on rock and roll.

The 1980’s were the 1950’s on steroids. Don’t let the misshapen clothing and geometric haircuts fool you. The 1980’s gave us innovations that the 1970’s seemed too disillusioned to consider or follow through on, much like the postwar boom of the 1950’s regaled us with all things bright and shiny to make our lives more complete.

Where would our postwar 1950’s lives have been without the television set, the TV dinner, the space race, or the hydrogen bomb? Innovations, people!

The 1980’s gave us the VCR, hand-held video equipment, analog synthesizers that reproduced the sounds of real instruments, and the personal home computer, among many other cultural necessities. Cocaine, greed, yacht rock…

Musical polymath Dan Lopatin is the operating system behind Oneohtrix Point Never’s mainframe, and with Memory Vague he brings us private Burroughsian journal entries from the failing circuits of a melancholy machine. Memory Vague, originally released in 2009, is as much a musical document as it is a visual odyssey, juxtaposing repetitive synthesizer patterns with repetitive video assemblages. Lopatin utilizes found international corporate marketing advertisements from the 1980’s that reflect the abundance of free market optimism at the time.

There is the golf ball, surely a sign of corporate success. There is the adjustable portable chandelier, an object of opulence and luxury that will turn every home into a castle. There is the multi-user Walkman-style music delivery device that allows one to share intimate musical moments with loved ones, while still offering the splendid isolation of personal headphones. There is the compact disc, savior of the musical universe. There are state of the art 1980’s computer graphics to signal a product’s rightful place at the cutting edge of technological mastery.

There are sunsets and beaches and rotating solar orbs, just as God intended things to be.

There are also strange glimmers throughout Memory Vague, such as a shot of suited, bearded men, resembling a KGB edition of Kraftwerk, standing, waiting patiently. For what, we do not know, but they are there. Perhaps our time is running out and they are here to collect on our debt? And, there is the repeated image of a woman meticulously washing her hands over and over again, as if there is really something wrong. When one considers the intimate relationship that the hand shares with the computer keyboard, it would be reasonable to imagine the loss and betrayal a computer might feel when its owner moves on to something new, and has to wash her hands of the whole situation as if it had never existed.

A sample of a Christine McVie song, from the 1982 Fleetwood Mac album Mirage, is cut-up and manipulated until its wistful melody and vocals resemble 1980’s über icon Michael McDonald grieving for an unrequited love. That the album Mirage is referenced is interesting, in that Memory Vague dwells in the haunted, spectral zone of being and nothingness, wondering what is actual and what is an illusion until it is discovered the oasis is unreal.

Chris DeBurgh closes out Memory Vague’s sentimental journey with a truncated sample of his 1986 mega-smash “The Lady in Red,” here crystallized to its overwhelmingly forlorn phrase “Nobody Here.” Memory Vague concludes by reflecting on the emptiness of the 1980’s, a contradictory decade where everything was possible, but hubris seemed to prevent any permanent positive transformations from happening.

In 1986, Paul Simon released his album Graceland, and in his song “The Boy in the Bubble,” he wrote, “These are the days of miracle and wonder/This is the long-distance call/The way the camera follows us in slo-mo/The way we look to us all/The way we look to a distant constellation/That’s dying in a corner of the sky…”

Memory Vague attempts to re-imagine the way we looked before the power is cut and everything fades to black.

Anthony Galli currently lives in Athens, Georgia. He shares a birthday with his black cat, Magic, and they both claim Wings of Desire as their favorite film. Anthony has published two books of poetry, Amnesia for Insomniacs and Invisible Idiot.