分析: Additional Thoughts Concerning the Vapour and the MiniDisc

So a good while back, I had some things to say about a certain scene and a certain format. It did not take long for things to develop to where we are now.

As I write this, the first International MiniDisc Day is wrapping up nicely. Twenty-eight labels participated, issuing fifty-four releases and lowering the bank balances and available credit of a hundred or so people. In less than two years, 150 releases have been issued on MD at one time or another (and yes, my album was one of them). And I’m sure some Japanese merchants are both amused and bemused of random orders made on new MD stock to make these releases. Not bad at all for a format considered a “failure”.

I’ll admit I am pleased to be on the ground floor as both a witness and a participant of this endeavour. But at the same time, there is also something to be said about seeing a second life emerging. In fact, that was what I hoping for with the resurgence of the MD and it seems to be happening, little by little. Granted, there is a long way to go before you have some record shoppe having a dedicated MD section. And I wouldn’t hold my breath for Sony convincing the other Big Music avenues to issue suddenly the latest chart dweller onto that format. But if I haven’t said this before, I say it first here now: I like it when success is achieved on one’s own terms. So by that standard, it has already succeeded and then some.

I have not changed much in my initial thoughts concerning the format. As a format in of itself, it really does combine the best of both the physical and the digital. And in relation to vapour, it really does encapsulate the spirit of the scene with its combination of looking back at the past and looking elsewhere at other futures and possibilities. But I will say that it does do something else that has become apparent now but what I had hoped would occur. That is it demonstrates how one can actually achieve something instead of just longing for it or dreaming about it. This whole resurgence occurred because enough people wanted to see this happen and made it happen. No permission was asked (and it probably wouldn’t have been granted anyway). This is how art happens.

蒸気の前に: Blade Runner

(You probably knew this was a long-time coming, either from me or from someone else)

2019. For thirty-seven years, that year would be associated with one film based on one book that had quite the tumultuous production history, a poor box office performance, a mixed response from critics and audiences at the time, a fruitful after-life thanks to dedicated fans and the fiercely creative and would even spawn a golden sequel that may be end up being a clever artistic recurrence if there ever was one.

The great thing about talking about this film is I don’t have spend time giving the background on it as 1) there’s plenty of information out there, 2) I kind of did anyway in the first paragraph and 3) chances are very high you know most of it anyway. But what I do want to divulge is how this film is a part of the foundation, if not a cornerstone, for this particular art movement/music scene. Of course, I will touch on the obvious ones, but I will also make an effort to go deeper.

Obvious connections are obvious. You have a film based on a daring and evocative work of speculative fiction that was strongly informed by a particular visual aesthetic that was around for a decade or so prior and it was all expertly realised by a visionary director working with an imaginative yet thoughtful futurist, a hard working and perceptive cinematographer, an inventive production design team and visual effects team, a well-chosen cast, assembled by a poetic editor and – what I think is the icing on the cake – scored lovingly by a key figure of electronic music. (And yes, I know there are many more I have not explicitly implied here.) If you are of a creative bent, there is plenty to glean from the film alone and it’s no surprise there have been plenty of works – music and otherwise – that have been compared to Blade Runner to where the very title – as observed by another creative influenced by this film – immediately creates a whole world.

Then there’s what the film actually depicts, which was a future from the standpoint of 1982. While the heart of Los Angeles is not the Tyrell Building and the washed masses (remember, there’s plenty of rain) do not speak a weird amalgamation of German, Japanese, Spanish and Hungarian (look at what Gaff calls Deckard), our real 2019 does not seem entirely incompatible with Blade Runner‘s 2019. Hell, even during the film’s silver anniversary, I jokingly noticed the crosswalk feature in some urban intersections where someone tells you to “cross now” or “don’t walk” (not exactly in those words but close). And if not in specific technology, the general mood is there.

Finally, we get into the thematic ideas. Both book and film, in their very particular ways, explore what it means to be human and in a two-fold manner: can the non-human ever be human and can the human ever lose “being human”? The film explores the latter a bit more memorably than the book does (and in large part due to the recently “retired” Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of Roy Batty) and the latter question will always be up for discussion until the end of ages. But what Blade Runner brings to this classic philosophical dinner table discussion is the role of new technologies combined with industrial markets and various centralised power structures in this metaphysical situation.

So what does this have to do with vapour? Well, there’s plenty. As I said earlier, if you were of a creative bent, you would be aware of Blade Runner would find some facet of it appealing. Both the means and the time period of its production make it ripe for the plucking for sure. Granted that the influential/inspirational status was going on long before vaporwave was even a thing. But considering the ages of many of these artists, who were either barely born, soon to be born or yet to be born, this is a case where many of us will never know a world where Blade Runner wasn’t there.

What’s interesting to me is for a world that is so shining yet dark, packed yet sparse, as well as boisterous and often damp, it is beautifully compelling. I don’t feel this way with most cities, including and especially the real Los Angeles. But Blade Runner’s Los Angeles 2019 is so inviting, I wouldn’t mind living as a street musician. Apart from the soundtrack, I think it reflects a kind of contemporary melancholia that is appealing to those prone toward the melancholic. It is an awareness of a spiritual eclipse amongst material opulence. But sooner or later, the moon must move out of the way.

Even if I’ve said this before, it bears repeating: I believe music acts as a key to other worlds. If you listen to music, a whole universe envelops you like a warm duvet. But if you know how to make music, you are now a key master. And if you have an impulse to make your own way through a rainy Los Angeles 2049, why not use music as the means to do it? But music is not merely a form of escapism. It can be – for listener and/or creator – a means of reaching understanding about … something. It can lead to an answer but also, just as easily, to more questions. You can find serenity in the ways things are or provide courage to change things.

And so as we start to move away from 2019, remember that moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. But it makes holding onto them while we have strength all the more important.

蒸気の前に: Introduction

Before I publish the first proper article under this category, I want to give this new category a proper introduction.

I remember this guy proposing a series of YouTube videos called “Influences of Vapour” where he would go into the various precedents before vaporwave became a thing (even when it was even more nebulous than it is now). However, that has seems to have fallen by the way way way side. Not evading an opportunity if seen, I decided a long time ago now that maybe I could take on that task in a different form. And thus I present a new category of articles called 蒸気の前に or “Before Vapour”.

As I’ve said, both explicitly and implicitly, I do not believe there is nothing new under the sun and thus what we often think of as new carries a lot of precedents, precursors and previous incarnations. I think it’s fascinating to uncover those, not so much to mock something for making the claim they are wearing new clothes (when they don’t), but to dispel the presumption that “this is unfamiliar”. Human beings have not changed all that much in the eons of working to be a civilised – or at least an organized – species. Recurrences are to be found through the years and beyond our lifetimes.

Welcome to “Before Vapour” // 「蒸気の前に 」へようこそ

分析: Happy Birthday, VW or How We Learned to Stop Dreaming and See for Real All the Castles in the Sky

A certain valedictorian and a certain discussion has made the case that the scene called vaporwave began on 19 July 2009 with the upload of this video. This would later be considered B4 on this album, which would serve as a key cornerstone for what would be an art scene that would accomplish in mere years what has taken decades to achieve in popular or hybrid music forms and perhaps even centuries in high art forms. After going through “death” after “death” after “death”, the scene has not only survived but is beginning to expand even more with one big show just around the corner and another big one coming soon and I’m sure more things down the road.

Instead of trying to tell more of the larger story of the scene’s first decade, I thought it would be best to explain more about how I came onto the scene, first as a listener and then as an artist in my own right. After all, the secondary title of this includes the words “personal examination”.

As it tends to be the case with me, what seems like an “out of nowhere” move could actually be traced back to some well-planted seeds that would in turn sprout into something more in time. This has certainly been the case with my music career, both overall and in specific areas. So while I say that it was late 2017 when I began the dive into the vapour, you really have to start with my first effort at music making.

I knew I wanted to make my own music for as long as I could remember. I particularly wanted to make music that sounds like the music that I like. I would have to wait until college when I could begin pursuing it. That was when I had acquired the instruments, the computer, and a class that provided the necessary tools for home computer-based music production. I would also work at WCWM, which would not only expose me to many artists I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, but also would show me that it would be tough sell. And this was in that post-Napster but “just-about-to-happen” iTunes moment as well … let alone before Bandcamp and Soundcloud and Spotify. But even with that potential doubt, I would learn the tools and develop my voice.

It was 2006 when something clicked in me on how to make music under a name I could stand behind. It occurred when I listened to the entirety of Cocteau Twins and their sound – as well as dream pop in general from what I heard – felt like something I could use as a starting point for other things. Thus, I started The Spangle Maker. While dealing with an assortment of personal changes and trials, I would make two EPs, an LP and would compile all the digital singles released in the span of five years.

Then 2009 happened. But it wasn’t 19 July that would be significant for me. I literally began the new year with a long drive from one metropolitan area where I spent nearly two decades growing up to another where I had barely any familiar connections. The transition was not as smooth as I would have liked it to have happen. Setbacks led to more setbacks led to more setbacks (and I was already down by some other scars accrued prior to 2009). Thus was the beginning of a long depression period.

This led to a shift in creative focus away from music. Part of it was also being drawn to and thinking that film-making was a better path for me, personally, creatively and professionally. But I was also getting disillusioned with the state of music in general. Even though I had little to no interest in what was occurring within “Big Music”, I conclude that there was no point in me continuing if this was going to be the prevailing norm. So for almost a decade, I ruled out making music for any kind of public.

Of course, this didn’t mean I stopped listening to new music, even though I did not buy/venture as much as in other years. One of these purchases was back in September 2013 when Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven was released via Warp Records. I personally have been a fan of the label since end of high school/beginning of college and when I saw it, I was intrigued by what it could be. I was treated to a familiar sound palette but executed in a new way. Sure, this sounds like using the GM sound bank off of any MIDI-equipped … anything. And yes, this does sound like it could come from a particular time. But it doesn’t have to be nor does it really. It’s not returning to a point in time; it’s just drawing upon one time as just another colour. I enjoyed the world the music created and it was one of those points of comfort during several trying times. Without me knowing it, this was the first key seed that would eventually sprout forth the vapour for me.

Over the next four years, I would do day-jobs (sometimes have them, sometimes not), work on film projects and go through on-off periods of anxiety/depression. There would be some simple recordings where I would sketch out an idea that could lead to something, but at least it would be just something to keep me going. I would keep my eyes open for music and every now and then, I would see something referencing “vaporwave”. I was fully aware of the on-off 1980s nostalgia gaze, but I didn’t quite connect the two. After all, while they share some aesthetics, I don’t think you could consider this film to be “vaporwave” (maybe proto?). I saw a few reviews from The Needle Drop mentioning this but I just noted it and moved on with my life, never listening to it.

There were a few YouTube channels that had used some vaporwave. One in particular used – what I would find out later – Saint Pepsi’s “Enjoy Yourself”. Not knowing anything more, I enjoyed listening to that song. In time, I picked up a few others from Blank Banshee. Finally, in late 2017, I saw a few videos trying to describe what this scene was all about, including wosX’s (now deleted) survey of the scene. This was the jumpstart that started – what was then – a dedicated effort to play six years or so of catch-up

Between those sources plus the Vaporwave Essentials Guides (and there are a few more where that came from) and whatever Vapor Memory uploaded as recommendations, I started my own random and circuitous journey through the realm of vapour. I even kept a listening diary of the different albums I had heard. As I was listening to these different albums, I was impressed with the diversity of sound as well as the dedicated talent. The music matched my normal sensibilities effortlessly and I loved the imagination and daring a lot of these releases had. I will admit that as I’ve listened to the popular highlights, I probably saved myself from hearing the other 90% or so. But if I liked something, I would definitely make every effort to get it for myself, which meant Bandcamp was very active for me.

As I was listening to this music – and even began to reach out to these artists – it was clear that this was not just a scene where I was just a mere observer. Furthermore, I could see that there was no reason for me not to be a part of this. After all, I still had the equipment (never had to liquidate it for cash) and I definitely had the know-how to make whatever I wanted. And that was the other attractive aspect. I wasn’t going to make the umpteenth version of Floral Shoppe or be a second [insert favourite artist from the scene here]. I didn’t have to retread the same grounds others have. If anything, it was a chance to add my own spin. Another way I put this was that it wasn’t so much I had to tailor myself to vapour, vapour was tailoring to me. So vapour did what nothing else before could: it gave me my music-making mojo back.

So, I declared a new moniker and got to work making my first album of new material in almost ten years (The Rose of Al Basrah was September 2009; The Singles Vol. 1 would be released in May 2011, but that brought together all the singles I put out then). After some thinking and brainstorming, it was very clear that the first album was to be called Reincarnated Resurrection. I even had a concept for the artwork already in place. Because I had some material that I thought was strong and could make a good first appearance, I only had to finalize the existing material and create from scratch a few new ones. And, creating a nice full circle, I was able to work with someone whom I met when I first settled in Massachusetts. I made the album available on 31 August 2018 (what would be a year before 100% Electronicon).

In addition, I was also networking in the scene, both as an artist and a fan. I got to meet Emmanuel Hoachlander, the guy behind Ohm-N-I and who runs Section 9 Tapes. As we got along very well, he wanted to put the album out on cassette (and later, MiniDisc would be an option). I would continue to work on new material and engage in the scene online whenever I could. In time, some other opportunities presented itself and that should make my future prospects better. It will be a while until the next follow-up but I will still keep a presence going with a remix or a compilation appearance or being featured on a track or two. And I write here as well (which is slowly getting more noticed … as I shared this more).

All in all, it’s incredible to think that this little hybrid of an old piece of VHS ephemera married with a personal plunderphonics experiment would create one of the most creative and engaging music movements to fill the interwebz. Call it vaporwave. Call it millennial punk. Call it post-electronic. Call it “chillwave for Marxists” or “smooth jazz for millennials” [this guy’s words]. Call it simply vapour [also this guy’s words]. There may be nobody here, but that doesn’t mean something is not there.

講評 : valyri – Surreality / Saturnfall

The great thing about the vapour scene is there are no shortage of talented, creative, driven, passionate or imaginative artists. As I said in a recent interview, I see it as a place where maximum creative freedom is achieved. And it’s easy to see the results just by looking at Bandcamp releases with the vaporwave tag or on YouTube with channels like Vapor Memory.

While there are many artists that I have come to like through my own walk through the vapour, there are a few who really stand out as the beacons of the scene. They are the artists who have all of those traits I had listed earlier and thus continuously make the scene interesting by adding to new possibilities and thus expanding its universe. These are the artists I think of when I think of vapour. One of these artists is valyri.

Valyri Bosserman has achieved over four years or so a level of the prolific rivaled by only a handful of artists in the scene. Her tireless efforts to explore sonic possibilities has a resulted in a large body of work, often using an assortment of monikers. The one used the most in the earlier days was khoven, which has since retired in a nice denouement back in 2017 with Tapedeath. Using mostly her own name now, she continues exploring various sonic possibilities such as making plunderphonics glitchy and more self-aware (Save As…) or utilizing more of her voice to create atmosphere (Time to Forget) or bringing together more of what she has done but push it forward with ever subtle refinements (Etherealism).

By the way, the easiest way to explore her sonic universe is by obtaining a subscription directly from her Bandcamp page. Trust me when I say that everything said here is just the tip of the iceberg.

Allow me, if you will, a point of entry into the valyri universe. It is actually two distinct albums but can be seen as one: Surreality and Saturnfall. This complicated yet lovely interaction is due to how it was issued on cassette through New Motion in 2018. The music itself was recorded over the span of three years. In fact, Surreality was originally four hours long and was going to be released as khoven. But circumstances and time has trimmed it down to a two-hour span with some of the material spinning off into other forms. In a way, I cannot help but compare this to The Waste Land, especially when comparing its thought-to-be-lost draft/manuscript to the final poem. However, as this was also a deep thank you and touching tribute to another mammoth musical undertaking, she added the two-hour album Saturnfall to make the cassette issue last near exactly four hours.

If James Webster was exploring the levels of a large mega-tower (basically, imagine any classic home video game but fusing it with say this or this, if you like things visual), valyri is exploring a universe that may either be real or beyond the real. The entire album flows like a dream where it can go from ambient to something percussive to something melodic to a combination of both and back to atmospheric. Every now and then, you hear the waves lapping upon the shoreline, as if you are always returning to a port of entry after leaving one world before embarking on the next. The timbres are quite broad, venturing from familiar (the Yamaha DX7 electric piano and something like the CS80 brass appears) to seemingly new. And every now and then, you pick up something that sounds familiar. For instance, “空っぽmind” is one of several nods to the Berlin School – Klaus Schulze in particular – found in the album (and even in the next one). “喜びを失ったguilt” reminds me a lot of Aphex Twin’s “hexagon” (20th track from Selected Ambient Works Vol. II using the vinyl sequencing … by the way, you can get it the full thing here).

If there is anything she has learned well from the Ghost Diamond collective, it’s how to bring a strong sense of feeling into the music. For the first two sides, the general mood can be described as of awe-struck amazement, though with an ebb and flow that ventures into more specific moods. But on the third cassette side (starting from “私は海の近くにいたいinability”), the trajectory subtly turns dark. It’s as if the lucid dream, after exhausting all positive ideas, goes more into the darker material and thus creating an overcast eclipse to its darkest point at the very end with “永遠の街の霧hoped for”. The child is grown and the dream is gone indeed.

Album released on 29 July 2018 via New Motion

If the end of Surreality can be heard as the end of a dream, Saturnfall begins with a sharp awakening. On the whole, Saturnfall shares Surreality‘s propensity for music extending through a long stretch of time. But whereas Surreality freely explored many different worlds in an ever-changing design, Saturnfall‘s sound depends on a few carefully chosen elements that remains consistent during its respective length of time. And speaking of time lengths, they are evenly measured as if to create nested divisions, akin to what you can derive from the Golden Ratio. Finally, while dds heavily inspired Surreality, Saturnfall takes its cue from Hecq’s brilliant “score without a film” Night Falls.

Saturnfall tells a story but not as a dream, but as a subconscious, mildly tragic, psychological narrative. The first act establishes a desire to leave a world for another in order to end what seems to be an unending and unbearable pain and anguish. “Descend through the atmosphere” consists of primarily lush strings that could make Mahler or Bruckner weep or that wouldn’t sound out of place with Hans Zimmer’s music for anything made by Christopher Nolan (I’ll come back to him later). “Dark clouds, visible only from lightning” is the inverted negative of Brian Eno’s “2/2” from Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Instead of what could be a loving homecoming, it’s a frustrated arrival where the dread lingers that tomorrow will not get any better. “Everything falling” takes on a kind of autumnal post-rock vibe with clean guitar chords that gently weep through a thick reverberation.

The second act is the album’s longest track and what I think is the album’s centrepiece. “This is the end; isn’t it” is the entire forty minute cassette side (D if you have it) spent on a stretched and heavily processed recording where you can feel Saturn’s mighty gravitational pull bringing you into full oblivion. Basically, the only force strong enough to stop the pain of living is found by taking the same path this probe took. This is the end. Or is it?

The third act suggests that maybe death is not melting into the emptiness. Perhaps, like venturing into the outer reaches of space a la 2001: A Space Odyssey or Interstellar (told you, Nolan would come back later), death could be a gateway into another dimension. “No fear, no pain. Just the semblance of feelings” – the shortest piece on the album – has a resonant ambiance to where a slow arpeggio builds and an additional deep bell/synth melody makes itself known. “Giving in to the immense nothing” is another exercise in the Berlin School aesthetic with a cyclic arpeggio that morphs due to various filter modifications. This and the previous track could be heard as crossing into another dimension. Maybe it is the pain that dies. The Tangerine Dream vibe continues into “Only a void of blissful absent conscious” to where the transformation finally settles down and one is able to move about freely again. (By the way, I cannot help but think of Leyland Kirby when seeing these titles, who also has a penchant for the densely melancholic). We finally conclude at “The eventual core at which all becomes motionless” where the sea from Surreality returns: perhaps as a distant memory or perhaps a return to a new beginning. A slow pad melody builds and develops through the last fifteen minutes, outlining what should be the end of one life and the beginning of another (hopefully sans pain). And in an nice parallel to Surreality, which started light but then used its last third gradually descending, Saturnfall ends its last third gradually ascending after starting on the low. Together, they could illustrate a reincarnation cycle of sorts where prolonged innocence eventually gives way to prolonged experience and, after reaching despair’s depths, one ascends again to enlightenment and innocence … and the cycle begins again.

Album released on 29 July 2018 via New Motion

With its cosmic yet personal concept, its grand-sweeping sound and its command of style, Surreality and Saturnfall is the best illustration of a single artist who is constantly exploring new worlds and reinventing herself at every possible chance. Likewise, it is artists like her who continuously give new vibrant life to a scene long thought dead before its arrival. Who knew that a universe could be only an iceberg’s tip?


It has been a while since I have done one of these reviews. Plus, I think it is best to go OG-VW every now and then. And you cannot get any more old school than INTERNET CLUB, the most well-known moniker of Robin (was Will) Burnett. And here, we are REDEFINING THE WORKPLACE.

As of writing this, I have only listened to about half of the IC discography. I know there are an assortment of one offs like Datavision Ltd., memorex dawn, and of course, the pinnacle of baffling experimentation. And I believe the themes and ideas addressed here are found in the other IC albums as well. But this seems to be one most talked about and praised when mentioning IC and it does seem to be the apex of that particular sound and affect.

The album itself is a 75 minute journey into what sounds like the soundtrack to a corporate environment. I would not be surprised if the sound sources stem from various corporate media: your training videos, your stock background music for the lobbies, and, yes, the music you are most likely to hear when placed on hold. But in true plunderphonics fashion with a vapour twist, these typical sounds sound quite atypical. Whether it’s employing frequency filters, glitchy loop editing or quick panning to make even the most adventurous seafarer woozy, this is an office with an edge. And for the icing on the cake, you have a computer rendering of what looks like the slickest and cleanest extra-urban office park complex ever.

I want to talk about this now because I have personally reached an interesting point in my own life. While my true passion is and will always be music (and, if so prompted, film), I have to resort to non-music means in order to pay the bills. Counting the times I worked during the summer school breaks, I have been in some kind of office environment for about two decades. (Funny enough, my office career began around the time this film entered and left theatres, later to become a significant cultural/social touchstone in its own right.) Right now, I am enjoying a nice peak position in the day-job career. The company recently moved to a brand new location out in the ever-developing Seaport district of Boston. The building is not that far-off from the one depicted in its album cover (and its pending next neighbor will look even more like it). Furthermore, I was able to obtain my own private office (complete with door) and am gradually making more adjustments as they become available to me.

Yet before I reached that point, I had to deal with an assortment of other environments. There were some that were quite nice yet I did not get that personal office. There were some that seem to have peaked long ago. Some were quiet, others were quite noisy. Some were accommodating and others were stifling. And then there’s the interpersonal exchange where it was largely good with a few mishaps here and there (and yes, a fair chunk of those were my fault). But mostly I just wanted to do my job in some kind of peace and music was a way to create a world onto myself. After all, how else was I able to do a crash course of vapour history?

I made a comment on the Vapor Memory upload of this album (linked at the bottom) where I noted how it evokes an environment that many of us deal with at best and despise at worst. Yet by listening to this album, we are choosing to be in this place. I concluded in my pithy way that the difference was being a matter of choice rather than fulfilling an obligation. In other words, this office complex is a world of our choosing. After all, the accommodations can be quite posh and wouldn’t it be great to enjoy it without having to deal with things like meetings in lieu of e-mails, overtly chatty colleagues, speaking in procedural and internal lingo and always aware that one bad action can mean the end of everything? This ability to enter into a universe on-demand through music is certainly what has kept me passionate about both listening to and making my own. With music, you can create any world you want. With vapour, you can even take the worlds you don’t normally care for and finally make it your own.

Album self-released approximately 2014-06-25

分析: Goodbye Vaporwave/Vapour, Hello Post-Electronic

Just today, I was involved in a Twitter discussion with the “Prom King” himself (in reality, Ryan DeRobertis; in the past [and perhaps present] Saint Pepsi; also can be known as Skylar Spence).

He was talking about the “post-rock” label and went on to give a nice shout-out to Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. He was clarifying how those albums may not be obviously post-rock but it is still there, particularly in how it approaches dynamics. Between the two of us, we elaborated on this and concluded that the foundation of something does not always anticipate the movement it creates, and yet is still a foundation. I jokingly added that if you consider vaporwave’s “foundational tripytch” – Eccojams Vol. 1, Far Side Virtual, Floral Shoppe – they don’t anticipate everything that would become vaporwave.

This got me thinking even more about the ever-present problem of “what the hell to call this thing” (old habits die hard, I guess). While I hold that vapour has a certain elegance, I am also thinking about it is about time we use “post-electronic” to describe not just the scene now, but also vaporwave in its entirety and even “distant off-shoots” (like synthwave).

I know there’s a certain eye-roll that comes with calling everything “post”. And it’s probably even more ridiculous to use it here because it is fundamentally still electronic in nature. But this scene has plenty in common with the other “post” scenes. First and foremost, it is all about expanding possibilities, rather than restricting them. It often happens when a certain style feels stale, route, uninteresting. In this particular case, I cannot help but sense that what was being done back in 2012 or so was in part a reaction to what was happening (and what would continue to happen) in the Big Music scene, particularly with electronic styles.

When I’m thinking “electronic” here, I am thinking of what was first popular and understood beginning in the 1980s and through the 1990s. It started with experimentation – whether it was in instruments used or arrangements or execution – but then it would develop into something familiar, usually right away. Once it gets to the familiar phase, then it tends to stay that way and it becomes stale. What needs to happen is an eagerness to break away from the familiar. This is not necessarily “reinventing the wheel” but it can be as simple as returning to sounds that were around but were maybe not as popular or caught on. From there, you can develop it even more.

In the end, I like it when music opens up instead of closes down. What you call it is irrelevant in the end.

分析: Vapour as (Aural) Therapy

For the record, I do have more ideas brewing in the thought-pot and I would like to write about other related topics. However, something occurred recently where I think/feel serves as a nice addendum to what I had written previously.

For a while, I’ve seen this article floating about on various feeds. The first thing I have to do is make it clear that the music evoking shopping centers is called “mallsoft” and not “mallwave”. Other than that technicality, it hits on the main ideas as to its development and appeal. It’s a typical intro piece to the world of vapour.

I chimed in on a discussion surrounding this article naturally. First and foremost, I try to take every opportunity to some tasteful shilling. But, of course, this is a scene where I am most certainly a seasoned listener as well as a seasoned musician. So I offered my own thoughts on it: acknowledging the nostalgia vibe, the “late stage capitalism critiques” (which I do want to cover in a future article … and it is in progress), personally noting a similarity between our generation and our parents in rehashing nostalgia in the market. But it was this last point I wrote that lead to this article:

But personally, I think what lies at the heart of the scene is a desire to understand and even come to terms with the world we have now. I think our generation was naively informed at best and lied to at worst about what the future may hold. This art movement is a way to confront that for ourselves and hopefully move on from it.

This is a supplement to the notion that listeners and creators alike are returning to a state of mind more than just a mere point in time. That assertion in of itself implies that the art, both its creation and admiration/consumption, is inherently therapeutic. Thus, the art movement is a therapy and for a particular generation. After all, taking command of the past is what can help us move toward a better future.

分析: The Deep Heart of Vapour

A few days ago, I was listening to Night Swim. As I was watching what I presumed to be an upload of a very limited VHS tape version, I was thinking back to the time when [adult swim] was the thing to watch if hanging out in the college dorm. Soon, I boarded the involuntary memory train as the music and the images continued forward. It’s an unusual madeleine for sure but it occurred to me more than ever why this scene was born, died, reborn, died a second time, third reborn, etc.

The surface explanation as to the appeal of vapour/VW is “evoking nostalgia”. While to come extent true, it does not really explain why people either obsessively listen to it on a daily basis or why people go out of their way to make their own or sometimes both. After all, every generation for as long as those who can remember and recall has had its waxing nostalgic phase. Hell, part of the 1990s had this fascination with the 1960s as the Boomer generation reached its own mid-life crisis. (The difference here is that many of them were either in senior management or executive level and thus could translate their frustration into product & profit. We are not so fortunate and thus we have to make do with vaporwave.). Above all, mere nostalgia does not take into account how it has evolved away from mere 1980s regurgitation and ventured into many other sonic realms (and hopefully more to come). Yet it still remains vapour.

I think what lies at the deep heart of the scene is returning not so much to some point in time, but rather to a state of mind. When I was taking a night swim (not literally mind you), I remembered what it was like – and more importantly what I was like – in college. I was passionate, driven, self-assured, eager and comfortable with things. This was when everything seemed fresh and new. There was not that cynicism and bitterness that comes during adulthood (and this generation has experienced various forms of this probably more than any other). Yes, I had downturns before and even during college, but it was nothing like what would happen afterwards. The mindset I have adopted and accrued after at least a decade of disappointment and resentment is not one I asked for, nor sought to acquire. Realizing this now, I am working to dismantle it and rebuild it anew. The vapour is aiding in that endeavour.

If there’s one recurring idea you have heard from me at this point, it’s that there’s nothing new under the sun. Repentance is a classic aim. Using art as a means of repentance is just as classic. Hell, I would imagine that what drove us to draw on cave walls or scratch something on the dirt is a desire not just to mimic what we see, but to see deeper than the surface. Maybe we could make real what we imagine in ourselves and thus change what is inside and/or around us. That desire is no different now than it was back in the 18th century with Roccoco or the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of fantasy. It’s just the circumstances and the means have changed.

分析: The Danger and the Opportunity

It was John F. Kennedy who famously (and quite erroneously) observed that the word “crisis” in Chinese consists of characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity”.  (And this was not the only non-English language faux pas he would commit).  Yet, crises do provide the latter as much as they do the former.  The vapour scene is facing such a crisis.

This year has seen some takedowns due to the sword of Damocles that has characterized the scene from the onset: sampling and claims of copyright infringement.  This is nothing new to the scene but this year saw some high profile changes.  The first one was the take-down from YouTube of Macintosh Plus’s “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー”, which had accumulated some 40.5 million views.  More recently, haircuts for men had to take down his entire discography due to a cease and desist letter received (unclear if it came from a publisher, a writer, a record label, etc.) and announced he will return to music-making, though sample-free.  Some artists and labels followed suit either anticipating receiving similar responses or actually receiving them.  The most recent and high profile of all is Corp. who announced via Facebook that in addition to launching his own proper record label, he would make sample-free music.

As someone who has worked to make his own music for more than a decade now, my own views and attitudes have been added, refined, modified, reaffirmed and gone through all matter of revisions.  I have friends, colleagues, and peers who have a broad range of views concerning intellectual property from “It’s important to keep it at all costs” to “It’s a fucking sham and should be disregarded outright”.  I know for sure that it will continue to change over the years after publishing this.  All the same, it’s time to place some markers as to continue the discussion as it were.

First off, I think it is important for artists to create their own respective work and have a stake in how their works are to be presented and shared with the larger public.  At the same time, I think there is a difference between protecting your own work from infringement and using a copyright to claim authority over someone else’s artistic expression.  Art works best when there is both freedom to express as well as a mutual respect for others’ expressions.

In regards to the vapour scene, I do think that most of the works that take the plunderphonics approach, which is famous for confronting the assumptions concerning intellectual property, creativity, originality, identity, etc., is ultimately transformative.  After all, while it’s an “open secret” that the aforementioned “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” uses Diana Ross’s performance of “It’s Your Move”, I don’t mistake the former for the latter.  And even when I do recognize the source of something, I think of it as a quotation that can bring another dimension to understanding the original or take it to another place that was beyond its original construction.

(That said, I also think the process of clearing samples should be more efficient and more – ahem – clear.  I understand that it all depends on the copyright holder.  But more transparency and clarity for expectations can be helpful as to avoid traversing a legal minefield.)

However, like the bad yet popular linguistic observation, I do see this move away from the plunderphonics to something more original as not only welcome addition but also an inevitable one.  While there are certainly artists who still employ the plunderphonics approach and continue to do some creative things with it, there’s only so much you can do with the pre-existing material, especially the ones that vapour insists on using. The reason why vapour has continued to “last” beyond its initial burst is its ability to change and adapt and grow.  Even a scene that exists in part to maintain a particular time period (or a time range usually), remaining stagnant and static is a guaranteed way of ending it.

Also, in the larger story of art (certainly Western art), following prior examples and precedents are just the first step taken in developing one’s artistic voice.  Sure you start off copying Beethoven’s symphonies or painting like Michelangelo or sounding like your post-punk contemporaries like Siouxsie and the Banshees, but sooner or later you take the reins and start making works that reflect much more your own sensibilities, interests, experiences, ideas, etc.  Everyone starts off sounding like their influences.  But even then, you are not your influences and that becomes more apparent the more you create.  For a lot of these artists who are making the move away from utilizing samples, it is an opportunity for personal and artistic growth.

In conclusion, I still see the vapour scene as an art movement more than anything.  Yes, there is a particular origin to it that is and should be remembered.  However, I do think it was always meant to be more of a starting point and not the end goal.  If there’s an end goal to achieve, it’s to make art that’s honest, sincere, genuine and meaningful, certainly in strong contrast to what has passed for it.  Fellow artists, excelsior.