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 猫 シ 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.

分析: The Vapour and the MiniDisc

The vapour/vw scene began almost exclusively within the digital domain, using either Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube or any other available means to share these sonic creations.  However, it also took on a physical form – based on artist and label affiliation – and it was the audio cassette.  It was argued at the time that if it were to take on a physical form, the cassette would be perfect as it is cheap to make, easy to distribute as well as customize, fits with the temporal aesthetic (the 1980s was pretty much the era of the cassette) and has a compatible fidelity.  Later on, the next format it took on was the vinyl record as both artists and labels were getting ambitious and the means were more in reach.  Both vinyl and cassettes are enjoying a much wider rebirth/renaissance, even as digital downloads are declining and the subscription service is becoming the new norm for distributing and consuming music.

And yet, there is another possible format emerging from the horizon.  During the weekend of Cassette Store Day 2018 (of all times), two vapour labels, My Pet Flamingo and Section 9 Tapes, released Flamingo Funk Volume 1 and ãƒ—ラネットネオ東京 respectively on a format that officially died around the time vaporwave was emerging.  It was the MiniDisc.

I will not bore you with the history and the details of the format in general. In fact, the best single resource for everything MD can be found here. There are also a couple of nice personal appreciations of the format: 1 2. And, of course, there’s the detailed summary of sorts.

The MiniDisc has the potential to be the signature physical format for the vapour scene.  It combines the reliability and clarity of a compact disc (or any optical drive) with the durability, portability and versatility of the compact audio cassette.  There is the digital nature that is retained upon duplication.  Like both vinyl and cassette, there is the ability to create uniquely designed objects on the part of artists/labels (and if the listener missed out on the MD runs, it is possible to “make your own” using a blank MD).  For the moment, it is actually easier to get a decent to excellent player, either portable or home use, second hand as well as blank MDs.

Beyond its physical qualities, the MD is the most compatible to the spirit of vapour.  The MiniDisc was a format unique to the 1990s and continued into the 2000s (even when other digital music players entered and exited the market), whereas both the cassette and the vinyl have existed before that decade.  While the format has been active in the worldwide market for a little over twenty years, it was deemed – and remembered – as a failed/dead format in the United States.  If there is a scene that can appreciate things like “lost opportunities” or “what could have been”, it would be a scene that is already in that period of time anyway.  Creating vapour albums on MD can simultaneously create an alternate past (reliving the 1990s again) and an alternate future (expanding your listening format options).  And maybe with enough attention and interest, vapour/vw can bring back the MD in a way that other independent scenes maintained and resurrected the vinyl and the cassette in the late 2000s/early 2010s.

And so … another avenue is open and thus proving not only that vaporwave isn’t dead but has the ability to bring new life into unexpected things.

分析: WTH is Vaporwave?

First off, I apologize for the long gap of silence.  In my defence, I did state early on that I was interested in quality over quantity and thus I want to make sure what is written is not only worthy of me but also for you.  Also, I have been busy at work with my own venture into the vapour.  However, because it has been a while (and it happens to be my birthday today), I wanted to mark the occasion with something.  And this has been something I’ve been thinking about during that gap and before.

From what I can glean on various discussion groups, the scene is still active but also not entirely sure of itself.  Furthermore, the scene is gathering more attention from those outside of it due to some solid titles and artists behind it.  Plus I sense there is a contingent who longs for the early days of the scene, a recursive irony if ever there was one.  All of these conflicting situations bring up the classic question once again: what the hell is vaporwave?

I’ve thought about this not just as a listener, but now as a full-on artist (who is also using this as an opportunity to return to an art form I had thought I would never demonstrate publicly like I did once).  But this isn’t just for me; it is also for the sake of both growing and sustaining the scene to its fullest potential.  After all, it has survived “numerous deaths” and “outlived” earlier Internet-born efforts (though ask yourself honestly: was “witch-house” or “sea-punk” ever going to be long-standing style, let alone a widely popular one?).

In logic, there are two conditions that determine the validity of either a statement or an argument: necessary and sufficient.  Necessary means it is absolutely vital to whether something is true/false or valid/invalid.  Sufficient means it can add to the validity but does not require it.  Whenever I hear something with the qualifier of “essential” or “crucial” or, yes, “necessary”, I think if this really holds water or not.  Vapour/vaporwave (or alternatively “vw” as another shorthand/umbrella term) has definitely spawned numerous assertions about what is necessary to that term.  And while this is ultimately my take on it and I’m no less or more authoritative on the subject, I will nonetheless make my case.

Quick and dirty (plus this can be fodder for future writings), here are the common ones.

“Vaporwave must about the 1980s and 1990s” – I would say that is sufficient but necessary.  After all, it started as a fascination with that time period and a lot of its musical and visual elements owe to those decades.  However, it doesn’t have to evoke that time period as others have for sure (Eccojams uses the late 1960s and parts of the 1970s also.).  Furthermore, synth-wave has also evoked that period, the 1980s for sure, but may or may not be considered vaporwave also.

“Vaporwave must be about nostalgia” – This is also very sufficient.  But I think you can broader than that but still keep it.

“Vaporwave must be about criticizing late-stage capitalism/corporatist culture/consumerist culture” – This is most definitely not necessary.  The one that seems to have started this idea indirectly was James Ferraro through Far Side Virtual.  And yes, others have picked up on this and developed that notion.  However, there are plenty of albums that have zero to do with any kind of critique whatsoever.  Also, not everyone follows the same political philosophy/ideology or economic school (spoilers: I sure as hell don’t).

“Vaporwave is just a joke” – This really irks me as it can be used as a broad brush-off.  Plus it undermines the genuine hard work that many artists have made by simply declaring that “it’s just for the lulz”.  And I am not against having fun either (plenty of good examples of this).  But I think for it to have endured the way it has, it has to be more than just LOL.

There are more I could list for sure (and certainly more than can be expanded) but I want to keep this on point.  Here are the two essential and necessary components to vapour, which I consider the better umbrella term than vaporwave (and vaporwave can be defined further from what I state here).

The first one is a musical foundation built on mood.  Of course, mood plays a role in other styles, genres or conventions.  But here, the mood is the starting point upon which everything else is built.  In this way, it is wide open for the creator to pursue any means of executing that style.  Three-minute techno bursts?  Fine.  Thirty-minute ambient drones?  Fine too.  You can even use traditional structures like the “verse-chorus”.  But it is not necessary.  What is ultimately necessary is the mood.  And this mood can be anything from a longing for a particular moment in the past (real or imagined), a moment in the future (real or imagined), a particular place (real or imagined) or even just a mood.

The second one is a fierce independence.  With two arguable exceptions, no one who works in the scene is under contract to an established company.  Everyone is, more or less, doing it for themselves and releasing it themselves or with a partnership with someone else.  Those two exceptions – Skylar Spence (once Saint Pepsi) and Oneohtrix Point Never – may be signed artists (Carpark and Warp respectively) but they are far from any of the Big Media fixtures for sure.  (And yes, it can be argued that they themselves do not consider themselves to be “vaporwave”.  Can be expounded for sure later but I think my original point still stands.).  With this independence, the choices are up to the artists as well as all rewards and debts.  With that kind of freedom, anything is more possible than ever.  And without that inhibition or fear, more chances can be seized and thus more interesting results can be achieved.  Basically, it’s a combined DIY and DGAF attitude that drives making this music.

What the hell is vaporwave?  Music with mood made with independence.  It is an art movement that for the beginning of this century could be the kind of creative catalyst that Surrealists were for the last one (and that was a century also known for numerous art ventures).  But I think, more importantly, it is one of those avenues that encourage people to make art instead of just merely making something.

分析: Vapour Can Be the New Rock

[First and foremost, I know there was a long delay between posts here.  Life makes its own demands, including working on making my own vapour (hint, hint).  Furthermore, when I began this project – like I do with most projects – my personal aim is quality rather than quantity.  I can imagine you can appreciate this aim when it’s easy to be prolifically lazy.]

When I first got into listening to vapour, one observation that was made was it could be understood as a punk movement.  This made sense to me immediately as someone who knows something of the punk scene from both the US and the UK.  Both punk and vapour arose during a period of economic low, contentious politics and general disillusionment, especially amongst the youth.  Amongst those youths were eager and ambitious creative types who decided to do something about this and end up charting their own destinies, making music that was exciting, challenging, visceral and, above all, honest.  It was not just one colour either.  Sure many were inspired by a few bands like The Velvet Underground (the proto-punk if you will), the New York Dolls or the Sex Pistols.  But the immediate progeny ended up covering a large sonic ground, whether it was the straight-forward rock sound to synthesizer-driven sound and everything in between.  It was music made on their own terms with support coming from the strength of their music and the eagerness of their loyal fanbase.  If you want to do it, you just do it.  The only thing really stopping this is you.

Right now, vapour seems to me to be in somewhat of a plateau state (though it is still quite big and I’m still exploring it whenever I can).  However, I know this is just me and I think there is still potential to be unearthed here.  What will certainly make it shrink, whither and die is if that relentless creative spark is gone.  Boundaries should be challenged, pushed and perhaps even broken.  One should not rest on one’s laurels or be merely complacent with a safe and sure bet.  After all, this is what is happening in music sold to – and I would add foisted upon – a massive audience right now.  In fact, I would imagine that one of the draws artists have toward listening to and even making vapour is a desire to hear something different.  That should never go away from the scene if the scene should still be relevant.  In fact, I anticipate that the great payoff will be that vapour will become the main form of popular music like what rock was for a prior generation.

The reason why I keep using the word “vapour” (or vapor if you still like American spellings) instead of vaporwave is historical precedent.  In the late 1940s in the United States, you had an emerging sound born out of various music from those of African descent – blues, jazz, boogie-woogie, gospel – with some folk traditions like country/western from that same region.  In due time, it was named rock and roll.  As it spread – and yes, that’s a whole story in of itself – others were inspired by that sound and took it new directions.  In fact, across the Atlantic, there were youths who went “straight to the source” as opposed to emulating a “racial knockoff” and this became the “British invasion” of the early sixties.  As more artists were inspired by other artists and people were continuously reacting to many things, music and otherwise, rock and roll would recede more and more and would be just known as simply rock.  This is apparent now when you notice you have artists like Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails that can be called “rock” and yet have little to nothing to do with sounding like Chuck Berry or Little Richard and the like.  And the same thing with vapour as there are plenty of artists now who have very little to do with say “Chuck Person” or Vektroid as Macintosh Plus.  So, like how wosX supposedly advocated for one time on reddit, just drop the “wave” and make it just “vapour”.

Continuing on that line, it’s easy to see the parallels between vapour and rock.  The Chuck Person and James Ferraro and Macintosh Plus are akin to that “rock and roll” sound where it was born out of previous musical traditions, mostly in the experimental and electronic realm.  Each of them had their own end goals as well as employing different means to achieve that sound.  But as others heard these works, it became its own scene for sure.  And it did not take long either for artists to emerge because of that sound or who would be embraced by the scene as they were like that sound.  Aspects of the previous works were retained or expanded or even outright replaced.  Nowadays, and most likely due to the assortment of practical considerations, the plunderphonics aspect does not play as big of a role in the current crop of vapour than it did in the beginning.  Another defining aspect of vaporwave is the use of a certain aesthetic palette, which again is not played up too much (unless you wanted to make a joke still).  Even the aspect of 1980s nostalgia is not so much front and centre anymore as it was in the beginning.  And yet, they were informed in some way by what was made between 2010 and 2012 or so.

Notice that the title is “Vapour Can Be the New Rock” and not “Vapour Is The New Rock”.  It is not quite there yet.  For starters, the audience for this is still quite small.  And as irritating as it could be for the seasoned veterans, vapour still has to be described to people who never heard of it.  However, it is steadily growing in its own way and more people are tuning into what has been happening for the past six years or so (give or take), especially since there are plenty of avenues to do it.  It is important to remember that as the audience grows, that same creative drive should still inform the art, no matter what choices are being made (i.e. either going “classic vaporwave” or doing something entirely different).  And finally, avoid as much as one can creating warring factions, especially on grounds of “sonic purity” (“this is not a e s t h e t i c enough”) or “longstanding loyalty” (“I was here long before you came to the party”).  In the end, vapour can be the new rock.

分析: Vapour as Populist Electronica

As stated in the introduction to this blog, the goal is to explore and examine the music phenomenon known as vaporwave (or as I and someone else of note like to call just “vapour”).  I knew from the onset that I would have more to say than just review releases that have been around for a while longer before I joined the party, so to speak.  Here, I want to venture into a little bit about what vapour is and perhaps also what it could be.

As I was listening to various releases based on an assortment of recommendations (my ongoing ventures can be found here), a lot of what I was hearing was very familiar to me.  For starters, I was actually born in the 1980s and was very aware of this particular “a e s t h e t i c”‘s origins.  But I also became interested in electronic music through much of my life and especially when I was in college.   (And yes, growing up when I did I’m sure influenced me in that direction.)  I am not claiming to know everything about every artist who made electronic music, but I am very aware of some key moments and there are certain artists that are, at the very least, very familiar.  For instance, one artist that made a considerable impact on me was Autechre.  I could hear something akin to their generative synthesis textures or their earlier efforts (especially in collaboration with Darrell Fitton) in HKE’s Omnia.  2814, to me, still sounds like a legitimate successor to The Future Sound of London, especially their renown albums, Lifeforms and Dead Cities.  And while vapour likes to bask in nostalgia, Boards of Canada was best known for tapping that sentiment (though more 1970s than 1980s) well before vaporwave was even a word, let alone a music style.  Whether these associations with past artists were intentional or not on the part of the artists, the important takeaway was these were current artists standing on the shoulders of their electronic giants.  Yet it was no empty callback or flat homage.  There is a freshness to what is being made where it seems new, even if it also seems familiar.

There is nothing about vapour in of itself that’s entirely new.  I’ve mentioned before plunderphonics and the concept of using previously recorded music as a basis for new music has been around for decades now.  Even then, it is just the concept of musical quotation but using technology instead.  The sounds and styles are familiar if you have even a faint awareness of the electronic music scene from the 1970s onward.  Exploring the themes of memory or living is also not that new.  However, there is something that not only makes vapour distinct from anything that came before it but also makes vapour an important game changer in how we make and share music.

Music making and electronic music, in particular, has expanded to even more people.

Fundamentally, this is also nothing new.  In fact, the long history of music – most certainly in the Western European tradition (and from what I faintly remember, this has been the case in other parts of the world where there are clear social hierarchies) – has had a spectrum with music as an elite and rarified art form (practiced by a select few) and music as a popular art form (practiced by many).  Both sides have always been present, there have been swings of emphasis where one is given more prominence than the other.  The shift from elite to popular more often occurs when there is a greater access to means of music making, such as certain instruments being more affordable than before.  The other effect of this is as more people are making their own music, the creative possibilities also increase and there are new combinations and variations that arise from this.  This can be refreshing if there is a period of stagnation due to music being made by so few, often with very specific parameters.  Music is able to evolve and change as more people make and react to what is being heard.

Electronic music went through a similar evolution.  In the beginning, it was practised by a few, due in part by the scarcity of technology (it was either just new or had only been around for a short time), but also in large part to how unusual and unexplored it was.  After all, the idea of using machines to make ostensibly music, which really, in the end, is sound organised by humans, was unheard of, so to speak.  You had your individual pioneers like Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry or key institutions like the (then) Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center and IRCAM.  Then as more people caught wind of the sonic possibilities, they were incorporated into other works.  After all, you had at one point the most popular performing group in the world making a work akin to those musique concrete composers for many to hear.  At the same time, the technology improved so you could create sounds that didn’t involve taking up a lot of space.  More people making sounds, more people responding, more people making even more sounds.  Now, it’s the point where this kind of music making is even more readily available than ever before, even if you didn’t intend to pursue it.

While music making, in general, has expanded to more people over the last century, the means of distributing it to a larger audience quickly and efficiently has been a rarified form.  If you wanted to get your music heard to a lot of people, you had to get to the means to distribute it.  The distribution is selective for a number of reasons, but even if you get it through to them, there is no guarantee that it will create a return.  Similarly, making music often involves some economic support, either related or not at all related to what you are trying to make.  Sometimes, your publisher or later a record label can provide that support, but only if you make the art and it is financially successful.

But in 2007, a company was founded that changed everything.  What Bandcamp did was made the distribution of music accessible *and* presentable.  Yes, you could distribute files on your own through a shared network and hope that it would be passed on to more and more people.  But with Bandcamp, you could upload your music, tweak the ready-made template to your liking, share the link and anyone can access that music right then and there.  There is little to no intermediary at work here.  The control is in the hands of the creator and it is available at any time.  Thus you have something of immediacy here in availability and response.  Plus, you have a professional presentation already there.

Many with a creative drive and imagination have taken this opportunity and thus were able to make and distribute music on their own terms.  A new path could now be laid with freedom, independence and potential success, all owned and maintained by the creator.  No longer one has to go the demo to recording contract route, which has historically been fiercely critiqued (and funny enough, he’s even celebrated the Internet as a solution to the problem).  An artist can chart his own destiny.

This also has made anything possible.  While it’s easy to imitate what Vektroid did back in 2011, the ones who are in it for the long haul have been relentlessly creative, never resting on laurels and always finding ways to push the boundaries of what vapour can be.  This relentless pursuit of creative expression makes it seem as if there is no limit to what is possible.  Sure everyone starts with some aspect of vapour, whether it’s the 1980s/1990s throwback, the artwork, the nods to current Japanese culture, or that elusive hypnagogic effect.  But eventually, it can grow and change to become something else entirely and everyone who follows this is nicely rewarded in the pursuit.

I chose “populist electronica” to describe this tendency in contrast to what can be called “academic electronica” back in its beginning when a few artists, usually through some organization, making this music with what was available (or newly invented) or “commercial electronica” when it was in a market but its reach was related to who could bank it.  The technology to make the music and the means to distribute is now open to anyone who wants to make it.  And if you choose to participate in it, what you make and what you make next is all up to you.  Or, to use a popular lyric amongst the vapour types: “It’s all in your hands.  It’s your move.”

講評 : death’s dynamic shroud.wmv – CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE

This is another album that got me more intrigued with the possibilities of vapour (and I had already been sold on it by that point).  Like the previous one discussed, this was also a 2016 follow-up to a previous album, which gathered a certain acclaim not only within the vapour community but also a little from outside of it.  Both also work within a particular established concept that still allows for room for personal identification.  However, while 2814 was continuing to develop its sound beyond the initial vapour paradigm – and I will hopefully explain that more in a near future analysis (hint, hint) – dds.wmv continued to develop its sound more or less within that paradigm.  As for the concept, it is also much easier to write about this one than the other one as it comes with a description of its aim and there’s even a reveal of its construction.

Before I continue, I have not yet listened to anything before I’ll Try Living Like This.  But I don’t think this will affect what I have to say here.

This album, like their other ones, consists entirely of pre-existing music and sounds, with only a few exceptions here and there.  In the music, the sources are mostly recent pop songs with Miley Cyrus showing up frequently, even though it is only “Wrecking Ball” and “We Can’t Stop”.  There are also a lot of video game music and especially from the Final Fantasy series, which seems to be a staple for dds.  In the general sound department, iPhone ringtones appear frequently through the album.  Another frequent source of sounds were Vine snippets from a once budding and scorned pop starlet.  For the rest, they are field recordings of assorted other sounds and from video games.  There are a few moments where Apple’s Text-to-Speech feature is used to read messages in translation or just a series of “tweets” found on the random (“Someone come help me set up my tumblr?”).

With only a few exceptions – and it’s apparent if you listen to the source material – every sound has gone through some sonic colouring and manipulation.  The most common manipulation employed here – and what had defined vapour/vaporwave for the first couple of years – is a slower playback speed, where ten seconds of sound can be played out in twenty or thirty seconds or even more.  Reverb is an effect employed frequently as well as various modulations such as the flanger and the “underwater” effect (which is really just employing equalization).  Finally, there is also the loop effect where either a complete section or a smaller section can be endlessly played in rapid succession (“Do you like me?  Do you like me?  Do you like me?”).

This technique of modifying and replaying previously recorded material – dubbed plunderphonics by its self-declared creator – is most certainly not unusual, and, as stated earlier, a defining characteristic of vapour.  However, this is not just done for its own sake (although it would have been fine if otherwise).  This has a point:

Classroom Sexxtape utilizes sampling and sweeping song arrangements to explore the sexual obsessions and machinations of western society. The album’s distortion of pop music mirrors thematic elements of cultural infantilization, media hyper-sexualization, and systematic layers of sexual shame that many of us are bombarded with on a daily basis.

Before answering this, I should explain something about vaporwave in general that will, without a doubt, be recurring in future examinations and analyses.  Vaporwave may have started as a kind of personal amusement, but manipulating certain music from the 1980s was also done to make a point about consumerism and corporatism.  I have even seen the pithy description that vaporwave is basically “chillwave [which can also be understood as hypnagogic pop] for Marxists”.  This was a double edge sword as while it gave some credence to the art, it also made it seem more pretentious.  Also, “following the formula” gave no guarantees it would be received well, let alone remembered for more than a day or so.

Going back to CLASSROOM SEXXTAPE, it is not entirely clear which is the chicken and the egg here.  I would suspect that the concept came first and Tech Honors (who was the only one working on this directly) found the material to support it.  If that’s the case, I think it succeeds.  In fact, the first time I heard this, I found myself going to back to the emotions and thoughts I had when I was going through intermediate and high school, where I was dealing with sexual sensations and new social expectations and trying to balance all of this with myself … and more often than not, it ends up being this awkward mess.

An easy example to use for this point is called THIGH GAP.  The entire piece consists a heavily manipulated “Tattooed Heart” by Ariana Grande.  The original is clearly inspired by the 1950s pop ballads that would have been played on the dance floor at some secondary school gathering but given a current twist with her vocal performance.  What Tech Honors did was slow it down to where Ariana Grande sounds more like a tenor crooner than mezzo-soprano.  At a certain point, the word “rushing” (from the lyric “All I need is all your loving / To get the blood rushing through my veins”) repeats as if it were a record stuck on a deep scratch.  It resumes and then swells into this staggered canon-like effect where renderings layer on top of each other to where it becomes a thick sonic soup of sounds with only traces of its more noticeable parts.  The speed varies slightly where it gets slightly faster.  Towards the end, it slows and staggers its way to a hard end where it falls silent.  As I was listening to this, I immediately thought of David Lynch, which is no surprise given him employing 1950s and early 1960s pop songs and naming a certain current recording artist a personal favourite.  But it also took me back to that time when during the few times I went to some school dance, I was miserably romantic.  You go into it expecting these great feelings of high … but only if you are one of the chosen and beautiful ones.

But there is a flip side to this also.  Consider, arguably, the album’s ultimate track, SIDE ℬÆ「究極のカタルシス」[the subtitle is “Ultimate Catharsis”].  The foundation of this is an intermingling of two pop songs employing the same chord progression: Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away” and Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop”.  They are slowed down to the point where both of them – not celebrated for being great singers in their own right – sound something like Elisabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins fame.  Weaving in some video game music and some ringtones, it has the feel of being in the mist of an orgy-porgy complete with soma.  The stroke of genius occurs when after experiencing an emotional orgasm, the “Waves” ringtone plays … leading to a snippet from the earlier DISNEY PRINCE$$, where “Wrecking Ball” and Beyoncé’s “Blow” (amongst a few other sounds) turn into something out of Suspiria (or that crowd).  The party may have been great, but often the last thing felt is the hard crash.

So all in all, this may be something akin to something Roger Waters would have made had he been interested in what the current year youth are doing nowadays and had a library of sounds at his disposal.  But for all the brains put into it, it remembers to have a heart, which is the only way not only to feel something but also to change (if so prompted).

Album released on 2016-05-13 via Orange Milk Records (and through Ghost Diamond Collective)

講評 : 2814 – Rain Temple

2814 - Rain Temple

I figured I should start this journey examining vapour with the album that really sold me on exploring it even more than I already done starting near the twilight of 2017.  Before that, I got a “quick and dirty history lesson” and listened to a few key releases mentioned in that lesson.  And now, I was willing to put down some hard earned money on the vinyl edition (as well as their previous effort).  (Thankfully, I was also in the process of owning my first proper turntable.).

Overall, the album builds on the previous album’s atmosphere of a futuristic city space, which, of course, evokes Blade Runner.  (By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with these guys in that, while it ended up being a well-done effort on the part of both Zimmer and Wallfisch, 2814 should have been asked to score Blade Runner 2049.).  There is still that feeling of grime, wet sidewalks with scattered debris, glaring neon lights, and overcrowding of man and machine.  Yet, it is not completely grim and dour.  In fact, its long course is almost a kind of spiritual reawakening where it is possible to experience a deeper connection to things in a world seemingly devoid of any.  With each subsequent listen, I began to see the narrative play out in my own mind – an effect that has been long sought after explicitly by one-half of this project – of someone who lives in this environment yet experiences a vision that draws him to experience something deeper than he could have ever felt.  It’s a film that probably never meant to be made as your mind’s eye with the music already provides the means and the end.  (Though who knows, I may have a crack at it … in my own time.)

Personally, I am a sucker for the ambient and this fulfils that checklist with flying colours: heavy on atmosphere, subtle development and dynamism, slow burns leading to lingering climaxes.  And there are those who would say that this album is no different than what could have been heard previously.  For me, I hear the Future Sound of London, and particularly Lifeforms and Dead Cities, as a predecessor.  But I honestly don’t expect every single album to be some groundbreaking work.  (Plus, with very few exceptions, every work of art has a precedent if you are knowledgeable about such things.)  Being a solid and compelling work is often more than enough for me.  Chances are that if you have an affinity for the ambient, this will be right up your alley.

But having said that, this album does demonstrate that if it was made by artists who started from within the vapour scene, which started as a kind of amusing personal experiment gone viral, then that scene has grown by a significant bound.  This is not just a stylistic reform, which has been steadily going on since about 2014 or so, but an ongoing effort to have this music do more than just provide some “lolz” or even merely evoke memories, whether they be general or specific.  In other words, the ultimate aim is not nostalgia, but nirvana.  And while our paths may be different, we somehow end up in a place like the Rain Temple.

Album released on 2016-07-26 through Dream Catalogue

Also, I highly recommend listening to this via vinyl or cassette.  There is an extended coda/outro at the end of “Guided by Love” not present in either the digital or the CD version.  I have also noticed personally that, by the nature of being a double LP, the ambience has more room to breathe and can be appreciated more as there are natural breaks between each side.

紹介 [Introduction]

For the past several months, I have been listening to a lot of music labelled “vaporwave” (or simply vapour, as championed one of the style’s many artists and few historians).   I have also found myself writing a lot of substantive and lengthy comments on Pad Chennington‘s YouTube channel.  No stranger to maintaining a blog (whether it’s personal or covering some specific thing or another), I figured I should actually channel my developing thoughts and accrued experiences with that style into something that could be shared, enjoyed and understood (hopefully).

More to come soon …