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Friday, August 4, 2017

CREATIVE SAMPLING or How Vaporwave Is Made; Saint Pepsi's "Better" and "Issac Washihgton"

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[A 2015 article I never published]

Vaporwave, like its' older brother chillwave, and it's parents, hip-hop and house before it, is a sample-based music that, even more than any of the above, is reliant on incorporating huge chunks of songs, or even entire songs as its' foundation. It's a remix genre, if you will, that is sometimes criticized by the uncomprehending for being lazy, or emblematic of artistic decadence, in the same sense that the modern film industry really is bankrupt of ideas and therefor cannibalizing the past for new material

But far from being creatively bankrupt, vaporwave has become the little-genre-that-could,  surpassing it's precedent microgenres (or memegenres), chillwave and witch house, in terms of both popularity and influence.  The music continues unabated, diffusing ever further into the cultural mainstream, and as recently as 2015 produced a major masterpiece in the form of I'll Try Living Like This by death's dynamic shroud.wmv.  

One of the major bases of vaporwave is pitch manipulation, slowing down pre-existing tracks. Vaporwave artists are hardly the first, or even second,  to do this. The Houston artist known as DJ Screw pioneered the style, known as "chopped and screwed", and all slowed-down tracks owe something to this originator.  In 2009 the concept hit the internet in a big way, in the form of "drag", which was basically a subgenre of witch house, and made useful effect of the ghostly, disembodied sound inherent in slowed-down vocals.  

The vaporwave artists exploit the possibilities of the slowed-down beats, to rhythmic effect.  The slowed-down track is further manipulated with edits and effects, and the results are often (but not always or necessarily) very different from their source. Tracks are re-titled and presented as the vaporwave artist's own work, which causes the consternation of those who don't respect creative sampling.  But the naysayers fail to comprehend just how difficult it is to find fresh beats, even having the whole corpus of recorded music at your disposal as source material. Not just any track will work downpitched--it takes some intuition and practice to pick those tracks that have the potential. When it works, the effect can be hypnotic and strange, almost otherworldly, and can seem to stretch or suspend  time.

No one proved more adept at mining the past for fresh beats than Saint Pepsi, whose releases dominated 2013, and established a new subgenre within vaporwave; future funk. Here, we  compare two Saint Pepsi classics, posted below, with their original source, to shed some light on how this music is made. In the the first example, the possibilities of editing are explored, and in the second, the potential of downpitching or slowing the tempo is demonstrated.

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