Geo Barcan: Gafton Tanner: Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave And The Commodification Of Ghosts

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Babbling Corpse



A thorough analysis of vaporwave as a music genre which emerged as a reaction against capitalism.

"vaporwave is the musical product of culture plagued by trauma and regression in late capitalism"


What are ghosts? Why do we live in a culture dominated by them? [Tanner gives the example of common ghosts such as: digital doppelgangers, anonymous commenters, ghosts of the past, etc.)

Vaporwave music "re-animates the dead" by using/remixing music that already exists, from classical, old-school artists.


"The world is increasingly unthinkable" [Thacker, In the dust of this planet"]


Object oriented philosophy analogy ⇒ a world without humans ⇒ rejecting the exceptionalism of humanity and embraces the uncanny, unthinkable world all around us.


Murata Takeshi + Oneohtrix Point Never video : 

Jon Rafman + OPN: 


On Murata:

If OOO is the philosophical approach to a “thingified” world, then the work of artist Takeshi Murata shows a truly alien landscape of objects, and what is perhaps most unnerving is the “everyday-ness” of such a landscape. Murata’s video for Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Problem Areas” is a perfect example, as it portrays a series of CGI objects scattered aimlessly about various mundane locales in a tableau of unsettling normality. Here is the detritus of our everyday lives as consumers, thrown back in our faces as if for the first time. Murata’s CGI dips into the uncanny valley, and that is precisely one of the reasons the video is so strange. The familiarity of things – iPhones, VHS tapes, guitars, lemons – has changed. The computer graphics are too clean, but also too fake, to be real. But Murata’s work (as well as Oneohtrix Point Never’s) also deals with the Internet and its ability to decontextualize and dehumanize. The Internet is where we can read a news report about a drone strike while watching Japanese pornography, and artists like Murata and OPN foreground this fact as both repulsive and appealing. Visual artist Jon Rafman’s video for OPN’s “Still Life” plays like[…]


the Internet, a great decontextualizing platform where all things can be surveyed and saved in the Cloud.

All that is solid melts into PR [MARK FISHER]


“These “nostalgia films” give the impression of the past through “pop images and stereotypes about the past” because history itself is of course unknowable.11 Nostalgia is commodified via the reevaluation and championing of stereotypes and is injected into films both Jameson and Hutcheon deem as “postmodern.” It is no surprise then that Star Wars, with its numerous references to the pop-serial format, was lauded by those moviegoers who grew up watching afternoon adventure stories a couple of decades before its release.”


We binge on music until we no longer have an appetite left, and then we hide in the labyrinth of the Internet where we can be whoever we want.”


Music has become the most troublesome cultural commodity, the one that has companies like Spotify and Apple scrambling to solve music piracy while ushering in what journalist David Carr calls the “perfect world” in which “the consumer wants all the music that he or she desires – on demand, at a cost of zero or close to it.”12 In this oversaturated culture, we feed on media to a point beyond fullness, and that can open up within the most avid media junkie an “abyss,” as Reynolds calls it, “the dimensions of which are in proportion to the emptiness of your life.”


What lasting effects does this digital melancholia have on us as a society and as individual human beings? Tracing the psychological and neurological effects of digital-media consumption is a topic for another book entirely, yet there are numerous studies that illustrate what the Internet has done to our brains.14 Reynolds points to attention-deficit disorder as one symptom of our manic, plugged-in, social-media-obsessed culture and notes that ADD, “like so many ailments and dysfunctions under late capitalism…[is] caused by the environment, in this case the datascape.”15 When faced with an infinite amount of information and, in this case, music, you will never be able to feed on it all, but our blind faith in technology under late capitalism has allowed for companies like Apple to assuage us of the anxiety of choice with inventions like the iPod. Reynolds is particularly critical of the iPod’s shuffle function, which “relieves you of the burden of desire itself.” Going further, Reynolds describes the typical music consumer in the iPod age as “omnivorous, nonpartisan, promiscuously eclectic, drifting indolently across the sea of commodified sound.”16 This is the description of the hipster elite, one that treats[…]


The Internet allows the past to be easily consumed at any time, and apps like Instagram turn our smartphones into shoddy replicas of dated cameras in order to give us the feeling we’re consuming the real thing.”


Accelerationism is the notion that the dissolution of civilisation wrought by capitalism should not and cannot be resisted,” musicologist Adam Harper writes, “but rather must be pushed faster and farther towards the insanity and anarchically fluid violence that is its ultimate conclusion, either because this is liberating, because it causes a revolution, or because destruction is the only logical answer.”21 Pulling from the philosophical writings of Nick Land and Gilles Deleuze, Harper makes the case that distroid is the underground’s answer to “contemporary hi-tech ‘overground’ subcultural pop” that has become the mainstream norm.22 Distroid outfits such as Principles and James Ferraro’s BEBETUNE$ and BODYGUARD projects dabble in frantic, gleaming hi-fi music that is both caffeinated and idiotic. Distroid is the alternate form of escape from this neoliberal dystopia. We can either hide away in the appropriated iconography of mythic pre-9/11 naïveté or dope up on the “intensely macho…post-human…[and] thrillingly alien” jungle juice of contemporary popmusic, with its ageist themes of vapid club drama.23


"celebration of chaos and mental illness at the expense of the body"


Key concepts:

  • The uncanny [he gives a more detailed definition of this concept in the second chapter]
  • hauntology = term furthered by M. Fisher; being not fully present, but neither ghostly [coined by Derrida]
  • ghosts
  • music of the non-places; peripheral music (elevator, waiting room, shopping mall, airports) = Musak
  • the end of music
  • nostalgia
  • glitch
  • eeriness
  • accelarationism
  • vaporwave = genre of ghosts for a future for ghosts; sound of capital
  • obsession with the past
  • commodification of culture
  • evoking life under late capitalism, hence he aesthetics of the covers (cities, computers, neons)
  • being tired of music
  • Simon reynolds: retromania, Linda Hutcheon, Nick Land, Ian Bogost, Graham Harman
  • digital melancholia