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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Plaza

Exploring Electronic Potential with World Instruments, Vaporwave, and Post-Digital Art

I recently realized the immense potential of incorporating acoustic world instrument samples in my electronic compositions, and for somebody with a proactively creative spirit, I'm in disbelief it has taken this long to dawn on me.

In fact, it's a recent trend in contemporary electronic music for composers to sample instruments that reflect and bring back images of a distant 'primitive' and acoustic past, giving new life to these instruments of old-

An electronic remix of Anoushka Shankar performing classical Indian music by Thievery Corporation

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...Or maybe it's the other way around... Maybe it's that these native instruments which were once the structural foundation of our civilization's musical evolution are breathing a new sense of connection and organic life into the hollow music of our age - the age of technological disconnect. In our contemporary society it isn't news that the increased levels of disconnection humans are experiencing is a result of new societal challenges posed by the rapid and vast spread of digital technology - it's widely accepted reality.

I often find myself sympathizing with parents who have lost their reigns on their children as a result of technology overuse; these parents can no longer monitor the social interactions of their sometimes very young children who at times seem to have not developed basic capacity to communicate with the living and breathing humans in the room around them. They are that lost generation of kids to whom "exploring the woods" probably evokes more memories of Bethesda than of any natural biome on this planet. And hey, I love Skyrim graphics too, but I would also consider my generation (Millennials) as part of a lost generation. I have witnessed far too many people in my generation become polarized by the mindless echo chambers that are social media applications like Facebook and Twitter. Or I should say would-be-social-media, since Facebook seems to be attempting to replicate TV entertainment these days. I recently noticed that I was able to scroll down my feed for about two whole minutes without seeing any personal content at all, other than the occasional shallow selfie or formulaic Facebook video clip. It's become mind-numbing entertainment, and a distractive alternate reality to the real world which creates the illusion of social connection by connecting us to people who probably feel as equally disconnected to the rest of humanity as us. (Sorry to all my internet friends who are going to read this. You know I love you, and you know this is true.)

(A generic video for mindless entertainment)

That said, I realize that the immense psychological effect that I get upon hearing instruments of the distant past sampled in electronic music has to have some basis of cultural origin. And while this might seem like an equally unrelated side-tangent as my previous paragraph, my recent discovery of Vaporwave and Vaporwave-inspired art has captivated my wonder and filled me with recent inspiration. For those of you who have not discovered this incredible genre of art and music, it's an immensely underrated and in my opinion, understated genre (in the sense that it's even greater and vaster than what it claims to be) which pulls inspiration generally from late 70s, 80s, and early 90s material and aims to focus on the nostalgia of early digital society, albeit underscoring it with a dystopian shadow. Music and art of this style are intentionally of static-y and grainy quality, feature simulated digital distortions, interfaces of outdated operating systems, layerings of computer graphics like error screens, Cold War imagery, digital memes, digital renderings of a dystopian nature of what often appear to be Roman sculptures, and are often full of parodic undertones.

As previously stated, I have a deep feeling that the nostalgic reactions being evoked in contemporary art more and more often, are of some strong cultural significance. Art has always served a purpose in society, and in contemporary society our art is serving to heal the wounds of contemporary post-digital generations.

It is no coincidence that these artistic trends are emerging deep within the digital realms of our society themselves - more and more commonly on Facebook, and among other places where the feeling of digital age disconnect are at their highest, such as within the sphere of electronic music which has for decades operated and evolved within digital age methods of using existing material samples and creating loops and layers from them. As with electronic music, Vaporwave is an emphasis of the theft of digital art. Vaporwave style calls for the near total use of previously existing digital material, whether that be synth samples from the 80s or a 2D digital image of Donkey Kong from a Nintendo 64 game. And like Vaporwave and other emerging artistic trends, our society's art today seeks more and more to connect us with a distant nostalgic past. In the appreciation of such art, we are reminded that these cultural memories are something which connect us in spite of the negative effects of many post-digital trends. They are a manifestation of man's constant age-old exploration of self identity:

"Who am I, if not a part of something much greater?"

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