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 sequel some three and a half decades that may be end up being a clever artistic recurrence if there ever was one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

蒸気の前に: Introduction

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

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

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

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