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Samples, a m b i a n c e and the vaporwave minimum

Steingar

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As someone who "got in" to vaporwave through albums like 'Birth of a New Day' and who has enjoyed listening to artists like 'Golden Living Room' and 'Desert sand feels warm at night' it's interesting to go back to some of seminal releases in the genre like 'Eccojams', 'Floral shoppe' and even 'sunsetcorp' which have such a different feel to a lot of what came later, mostly in the way that sampling is such a core (maybe even the core) aspect to it.

In a lot of the old vaporwave classics, the extent of sampling is at once recognisable and evocative; a re-contextualisation of both old hits and all kinds of muzak flotsam and jetsam, chopped and screwed into an eerie pulp that often walks the line between straight up noise and, well, gorgeous music.

A lot of this can play on nostalgia, and we're all aware that that is a big part of the vibe behind the music. This makes sense in a way. The writer Grafton Tanner makes the point that vaporwave is essentially "haunted" by the collage like structure and references baked into the tracks. But it's clear that there is more to vaporwave then just the "feel" it gives you, haunted or otherwise: after all, a lot of the works of the Caretaker and Oneohtrix Point Never (i.e. sunsetcorp, go figure) are "haunted" in a similar fashion, but no one is calling 'R plus seven' vaporwave.

So what gives? Laura Glistos, in easily my favourite quote about vaporwave other than maybe a certain something about being drugged up in virtual plazas, contends that vaporwave in its rawest, most subversive, and intellectual form, is the recharacterisation of "shit", i.e. the unwanted or forgotten refuse heard in the background of elevators and whatever generic trite is served up on the radio for vapid consumption. Quote: "Experimental music calls forth these obsolete sounds in order to 'fertilise the wide field of listening with a farrago of attentional spores that sprout gnarled shoots of interest to see new aesthetic sensibilities'". I think this, this bricolage of kmart tape sounds and news-at-11 and diana ross singles frankensteined into a post-modern amorphous blob lies at the heart of vaporwave at its most daring, its most bold, and its most innovative. 'Eccojams' may be, what 10 years old, but I'll be damned if it doesn't sound punk as hell even after all this time.

Which brings me back to the albums and artists I mentioned at the start. It's interesting listening to something like 'Birth of a New Day' because in all honesty, if I heard that in a vacuum, I would think that had its musical origins more in something like Eno's 'Thursday Afternoon' than something by Vektroid. That's not an insult: I love 'Thursday Afternoon' and I love 'Birth of a New Day', but robbed of the dissonance and heavily sampled core of old-school vaporwave the album is more clearly ambient both in tone and style. Same with 'Desert sand feels warm at night' and other ones of its ilk; it's damn nice to listen to and it can give me a pleasant melancholy like nothing else, but that's about the extent of it.

So what's the upshot of all this? I'll start by stressing that I absolutely aren't trying to do anything cringe like "gatekeep" vaporwave or contend that these works are bad or lesser; as I've noted, many of these works are among the most accessible and enjoyable to listen-to works flying the vaporwave banner, and honestly using a bunch of samples is not a predicator of good quality either. But it does raise an interesting question I wanted to put to the community, which is this:

What is, to you, the vaporwave minimum? Does such a thing even exist? Are these kind of works linked conceptually or sonically enough with the old school stuff to be tagged as vaporwave front and centre, or are they at best vaporwave adjacent through such sub-genre titles as "slushwave" or "dreamwave"? Does making an ambient album and putting a roman statue on the cover make it viable? And if some things that don't sound like what the classical interpretation of vaporwave is can still be called such, at what point do enough planks from the Theseus' vaporwave ship change over that it becomes no longer recognisable as, well, vaporwave?
 
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Sweet n' Comfy

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I think that's up to the listener's discretion.
 
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kliffi

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Great post, i like the way you talk about music.

For me, vaporwave is just purely internet music in the sense that it complicates the question of when and how it's made and where and why it's put online (like a meme)

When it comes to sampling, i think the intervention of the vaporwave producer can be as minimal and mischievous as repackaging a track as an item-from-the-past, simply reanimating it with new album art, a e s t h e t i c titling, or by slowing it down, chopping it up, layering it over other samples, or even by setting it aside and composing an original work in the style of anachrony.

My favorite part about making sample-based music is the element of chance--finding two or more samples that seem unlikely in combination but so often I'm surprised by the sound that I could have never composed without that chance encounter. It doesn't feel like a remix as much as a reanimation or reimagination of not only the sounds but of the past worlds that sounded them, it feels continuous and unforgetful
 
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Sweet n' Comfy

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Or maybe community consensus. Vaporwave is pretty democratic as far as genres go.
Sorry I'm more of a Vaporwave egoist. Stuff like r/vaporwave happens when you need community consensus.
 
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Sweet n' Comfy

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When it comes to sampling, i think the intervention of the vaporwave producer can be as minimal and mischievous as repackaging a track as an item-from-the-past, simply reanimating it with new album art, a e s t h e t i c titling, or by slowing it down, chopping it up, layering it over other samples, or even by setting it aside and composing an original work in the style of anachrony.
I think it's more about making something new with elements from the past, what ends up being an alternative take on the past that is idealistic or cynical depending upon the interpretation of the spectator.
 
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Steingar

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Sorry I'm more of a Vaporwave egoist. Stuff like r/vaporwave happens when you need community consensus.
No need to be sorry, it's a good point. That being said, I will have to push back on that a little, in that it's possible to be objectively wrong in interpretation. Bubble-gum pop obviously isn't vaporwave, and to be less dramatic I would argue neither is ambience like some of the music I referenced.

Of course, one is welcome to believe whatever they want to, and all the more power to you if you take an unusual interpretation. But ultimately I would strongly argue that there are "signals" that indicate a genre and vaporwave. Perhaps for you maybe it's a "haunted" feeling and the a e s t h t i c. For me, maybe it's sampling and the weaponised nostalgia. So? Let's meet in the middle and discuss where the overlap is. Maybe we'll find an area we agree on and discover a new way to enjoy and understand an old genre, you dig?

For what it's worth, I think your comment to kliffi is right on the money. I guess maybe I just feel that samples are targeted missiles to accomplishing retrospectively oriented idealistic or cynical vibes, compared to original music which a roaming user could just consider dark ambience and call it a day.
 
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Steingar

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Great post, i like the way you talk about music.

For me, vaporwave is just purely internet music in the sense that it complicates the question of when and how it's made and where and why it's put online (like a meme)

When it comes to sampling, i think the intervention of the vaporwave producer can be as minimal and mischievous as repackaging a track as an item-from-the-past, simply reanimating it with new album art, a e s t h e t i c titling, or by slowing it down, chopping it up, layering it over other samples, or even by setting it aside and composing an original work in the style of anachrony.

My favorite part about making sample-based music is the element of chance--finding two or more samples that seem unlikely in combination but so often I'm surprised by the sound that I could have never composed without that chance encounter. It doesn't feel like a remix as much as a reanimation or reimagination of not only the sounds but of the past worlds that sounded them, it feels continuous and unforgetful
Thanks. You raise a great point about it being "purely internet music"; vaporwave cannot be birthed or propagated outside the confines of the internet because the anonymity of its creators and rejection of traditional modes of commercial distribution (through big record labels and their subsequent homogenisation of musical talent) is so baked into its musical and intellectual identity. I earnestly believe vaporwave is the new "punk" in its DIY attitude enabled by the freedom of the internet. In that sense, something like Hyperpop could be called its spiritual successor.

Re your comment on sampling, I like how you note the musical joy that comes from sampling. Even though there are a lot of old school vaporwave albums that through their use of samples are intellectually interesting but musically sterile, it's so cool when things come togethor to make a new 'Paul's Boutique' or 'Since I left you'. What's your favourite vaporwave album from a "holy crap these samples just work" pov?

I think vaporwave artists having the flexibility to explore various modes of expression (sampled or otherwise) is definitely the right attitude to have in the community. Worse case scenario is you'll get some good music that is questionably vaporwave, and as I said, since I have absolutely no interest in gatekeeping a music genre that honestly seems pretty rad to me.

Maybe I just like that feeling of hearing an old, long-forgotten sound bite from an 80's pepsi commercial and being "huh, that's pretty nostalgic/cringe/whimsical..." etc is pretty seminal to my understanding how vaporwave "works" at it's best, which is something that isn't as clear from some of the (still great) music I referenced before.
 
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Crabbelly

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As someone who "got in" to vaporwave through albums like 'Birth of a New Day' and who has enjoyed listening to artists like 'Golden Living Room' and 'Desert sand feels warm at night' it's interesting to go back to some of seminal releases in the genre like 'Eccojams', 'Floral shoppe' and even 'sunsetcorp' which have such a different feel to a lot of what came later, mostly in the way that sampling is such a core (maybe even the core) aspect to it.
I haven't listened to much Vaporwave but I have listened to 'Birth of a New Day' before. I'm gonna listen to the other albums you mentioned. I can't really say what the Vaporwave minimum is but I lean towards these genre's (Vaporwave/Synthwave/Chillwave/Ambient) simply because of the tempo and the softness of the melodies and beats. The fast and frenetic pace of our modern civilisation makes me feel nauseous so I like to anchor myself in these kinds of sounds.
 
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For me, Vaporwave just needs to be experimental electronic music that tells a narrative. This broad idea is what keeps modern vaporwave from being so marketable and in unison as to which new albums are "classics".
 
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Steingar

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For me, Vaporwave just needs to be experimental electronic music that tells a narrative. This broad idea is what keeps modern vaporwave from being so marketable and in unison as to which new albums are "classics".
Agreed, that's why I like '슈퍼마켓Yes! We're Open' so much (even if the narrative is walking through interdimensional shopping malls).

On that subject, you should check out 'Engravings' by Forest Swords, I consider his work the apotheosis of experimental electronic music that tells a narrative :D:
 
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