蒸気の前に: Αφιέρωμα στον Βαγγέλη, or A Tribute to Vangelis

I know it’s been a recurring motif where I apologise for not writing as much here. It’s also been a recurring motif where I explain that when I do write, it’s worthwhile. I hope this is the case more so than ever.

The word is spreading worldwide that Evangelos Papathanassiou, better known as Vangelis, died on 17 May 2022. He was 79. Now … I know there have been many tributes made and will be made about him in the immediate aftermath of this news. Because of this, I know this is just one of many (and deservedly so). But all one can do, to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, is add our light to that great sum of light. And thus, I offer my own personal tribute.

I have described him as a musical father figure. It’s an audacious claim, I know, and not a unique one either. But I hold to this because more than any individual, he has had a consistent and deep impact on me musically, creatively beyond music and personally. There are many aspects of me that do not in some way involve Vangelis and particularly his music. Ever since I heard it through my father’s music library, he has indirectly helped guide me through the passage of time from childhood through adolescence into adulthood and to the present day, where I am on the cusp of the middle age. Because of the prevalence of his music, it helped me in crucial areas. For instance, the extensive use of his music in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is what made me interested in, well, the cosmos … and knowledge in general. His tribute to El Greco would lead me to Byzantine ikonography and, in time, would even lead me to be received into the Orthodox Church. Finally, while my music is mine and no one else’s, it would have sounded much different if it weren’t for Vangelis. It has been compared to it – rightfully so – and there’s a reason why.

Now to go beyond just this mere individual, there is no denying the deep impact Vangelis has made in music, especially in the realm of electronic music. He was a significant key figure in helping to make the synthesizer and other electronic-based instruments a serious and worthy choice of instrumentation and not just a mere novelty or “flavour of the month”. He did it by emphasizing that it is ultimately music that should prevail. He had an ear for sound and for melody, which I found out a while back that it was due to his mother singing arias and various other “lieder”. Combine it with an adventurous and restless creative spirit, it’s no wonder he went into the atomic world to the stars and beyond. Basically, he helped make electronic music into a serious artistic expression. And many artists who enjoy and revel in working with synthesizers are forever grareful and indebted to him for this.

And this definitely includes vapour.

Now, I talked already about a certain film including its music. But the man has one of the most eclectic and diverse oeuvres you can imagine. Sure, he is known for grand works that could be described as “symphonic electronic” or “orchestral synthesizer” or any number of adjective combinations. But he could also evoke jazz (fusion variety), pop, music of particular geographies and some not easy to describe. One of his chronic frustrations was expected that others expect “the same thing” from him. To his credit, he didn’t and especially when it could have really stopped him.

The beginning of the 1980s was really the decade for him. Sure, a lot of the groundwork was laid out during the 1970s with a move from Paris to London where he established the legendary Nemo Studios. But the 1980s was the great payoff. Chariots of Fire is the obvious one, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Then, there’s Blade Runner, which was praised for sure but was part of a film that wasn’t received as well at the time but was reappraised later. But you also had Antarctica, which was, for a while, the largest grossing film in Japan until Spirited Away. There was also Missing, the Costa-Gavras film about the disappearance of Charles Horman during the Chilean coup of 1973, which won the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. There was even The Bounty, which gave another take on the “Mutiny on the Bounty” story. Between this and working with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson on several albums, he could have been a large superstar. But also in 1984, there was the beginning of what could be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to show that he can do more than just score films. Soil Festivities, Mask and Invisible Connections were his last albums released through Polydor and they are all closer to art/classic music than say pop or film music (though it certainly works in that realm with the right scene). But there were two albums that, I think, could be seen as a critical milestone in informing what vapour would become.

Direct ended being the only album issued through Artista in 1988, funny enough the same year as Software’s Digital-Dance, another adopted vapour album. Like that album, the cover seems to be dripping with a e s t h e t i c. Also like that album, its sound comes more from the emerging digital-based realm. But this album has more stylistic daring, dipping its toes into “cosmic pop”, “cosmic rock” and even a bit of the operatic. This was also a showcase of a custom MIDI-based setup where he could realise more quickly and effortlessly his own desire to create a complete and fully-realised work spontaneously. It was very much of its time in a lot of ways, but has also proven to work in other times too. Yet, with the cover and the sonic arrangement and the stylistic diversity, I can’t help but hear this as an underrated proto-vapour album.

In 1990, he released his first album through Eastwest in Europe (Atlantic through the United States) and it was The City. Whereas Direct was a bit nebulous and abstract in its concept (if there was one, apart from maybe showcasing the new aforementioned setup), this was very clear in what it was illustrating: a day in the life of a modern city (mostly European with some hints of the Asian). This also continues utilizing more of those digital-based synthesizers, which now dominated the electronic music sphere. But in the end, it does what I have always loved about his music: the ability to take you into another world. This is another album that reflects its time quite well but has also proven itself in other times too. And once again, this album seems to fit right at home with the vapour realm

Many artists affiliated with the vapour tag – by choice or by coincidence – could cite Vangelis as an influence in varying degrees from passing familiarity to deep impact. For myself, it was deep. But it started with sensing that he knew the power of music, particularly its ability to take you into another world. He had given me many keys of which I had used throughout my life. But he also, in his own way, told me that I could make my own. Because of this, I am forever grateful to him.

Memory eternal and many thanks … father.


講評 : MACINTOSH PLUS – Floral Shoppe

Once again, I know it has been a while. Furthermore, I know I seem to show up whenever there is a mark to be made. But in a way, this makes sense this is a scene informed by something like history and what could be more self-reflexive and laden with irony than to reflect back at a point when we were reflecting back on something.

So what can be said that hasn’t already been said about フローラルの専門店. It was borne out of an interest in emulating this kind of sound and yet, despite this one coming out a few months before, this is the one that spawned … well. I’m not going to go through all the various meme offshoots and the like because I trust you all to explore those yourselves. Furthermore, this is more about exploring the music scene (or arguably scenes) that it did spawn.

If you’ve ever hung out with me long enough and manage to get me on this topic of conversation – and again, apologies for any repeats – I have compared this album to this one. This is mostly because of the famous Brian Eno (or at least attributed to him) quib about how only so many hundreds bought the first run, yet they all started bands. For better or for worse, this is the Millennial equivalent of that album. While VU&N provided more of a spark or an impetus to make something, this provided a template from which you could either follow or branch off of.

The template is easy to see when examining all of its components. Pastel colour scheme. Early digital art that looks to us now what wax cylinders sound like to our parents when they were kids. Greco-Roman sculpture (in this case, it’s Helios). Re-rendering of the artist title and/or album title and/or track titles into Japanese. Eccojam-style plunderphonics. That combination must made it possible for anyone who had the slightest bit of interest in making something to say “I can do this too”. And for a while, yeah you had a slew of albums that C&P using that template.

But what I find interesting are those who came afterward and, in their way, started to play with, pushed, pulled and broke the template into something else. Some expanded the visual elements to go beyond something that looks like a combination of a classic sculpture garden and Max’s Diner. Some used other non-English languages and even non-Latin characters to give it character. Some took the plunderphonics further into abstraction until you get either pure distillation of sound, something more or less original, or something else entirely. Just like rock was an ongoing reaction to rock & roll, punk and then post-punk was a reaction to CBGBs, electronic music with the avant-garde experimentations of the 1950s and 1960s, vapour started and evolved from here.

As stated a number of times, I came into all of this much later … and those would say, I came in right at a creative low point. But all the same, I came into listening to this with some benefit of hindsight. As an album on its own, it sounded like my own initial experimentations with digital audio when I was starting to learn how it all worked. Basically, it was having fun with playback speed, edits, and various other processes to manipulate sound. As I was listening to more albums from the scene and thus coming back to this, I couldn’t help but hear these as unintended seedlings for future offshoots. For instance, the first side is not only your classic vaporwave, but could also anticipate something like future funk. The second side is much more ambient and thus could get into the dreamier side of things as well as utopian virtual. This could be heard as the acorn that spawned quite an oak.

Admittedly, this is not an album I regularly listen to. And I know for the artist herself, it’s a very very very complicated relationship (and as to be expected, especially the work ends up being the biggest thing you’ve done). But listening frequency does not take away from its significance or influence. Just understand: it’s all in your hands/head. It’s your—

Album released on 9 December 2011, originally on Beer on the Rug, currently maintained by the artist

分析: The Ties That Bind

First and foremost, I know it has been a long while. Like very long. But you can understand why and … let’s just leave it at that.

So every now and then, I take a look at the Twitter feed and I note any one from the vapour crowd discussing … well, vapour. Yes, I’ve noted some contentious ones. But there have also been some amiable and cordial discussions. It’s the usual discussion points: Is it still relevant? Who can lead the way if change is needed? Is this approach the right one or something else? What about [insert scene name here]? And so on.

I want to make something clear if I have not done so already (and apologies for any “repeats”). I am not a “musical tribalist”. Yes, I can adopt any tags and labels that I think are relevant to what I am doing. And yes, I can quite loyal (and sometimes to a fault). But my loyalty is not exclusionary when it comes to music. I am neither “mod” nor “rocker” to use a classic tribe battle. That’s what I mean by not being a musical tribalist.

So with this mind, I like to think there are more things common between scenes. This is not to say scenes cannot be unique in of themselves. In fact, that’s what makes it so interesting. Furthermore, sharing a large umbrella does not make you “joined at the hip” or it turn into some amorphous mega-conglomerate. I see the “vapour” label as something like a confederation, not a union.

So what is this “tie that binds”? It all has to do with our musical pedigree and being especially informed by electronic music made during not just the 1980s but the 1990s and even into the 2000s.

Yeah, yeah, vaporwave thrives on nostalgia. But I don’t mean mere callbacks to adverts and cultural artifacts. I’m talking about the music itself. To be a bit reductionist, you have what was happening in the 1980s. There’s the pop scene utilizing – and arguably over-utilizing – various synthesizers and electronic instruments. Then there’s the underground scenes from Chicago (techno) and Detroit (house) as well as New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Then you have “new age music”, which was in part a continuation of the progressive side of electronic music that started in the 1970s (see Tangerine Dream and Vangelis amongst others). Then again, there’s always this assessment of it … but I digress =]. Finally, there’s what was happening both above and below ground with the UK, which culminated in the rave scene that led into …

The 1990s, which continued onward until you had the egregious, embarrassing and insulting piece of legislation ever to have passed in the Realm. But even then, it was an opportunity to go into other realms. Furthermore, the technology continued to develop: faster, better, cheaper, higher quality. Sounds developed and ideas were swirling around and there were plenty of artists taking wind of all of it. From the Warp Records roster to The Future Sound of London. From Enigma to Deep Forest. And so on.

One of the aspects I picked up early on when exploring the scene – and would inevitably become a part of – was these artists were listening to some of the same stuff I had whilst a teenager and an early adult. This was even confirmed, such as this guy liking these guys and this guy liking her … and him too. But it’s not just nice that our music collections intersect/overlapped. We clearly took notes from all of these artists and it helped us to find our own particular voice. Furthermore, we continued that legacy and drive, whether intentional or not. This is what has helped to create the most interesting, engaging, vibrant underground scenes … probably ever.

So to wrap up, whether you like vaporwave or dreampunk, future funk or synthwave, or anything else … be aware that these are not strictly separate locales.

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 it anyway in the first paragraph and 3) chances are very high you already know most of it. 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 2019/2049, 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.