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.
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.
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?