Sometime last year I decided to try my hand at making vaporwave. I knew nothing about music production, DAWs, or anything (I still don’t) but I was determined to at least try. I mean, how hard could it be? I figured all I had to do was just find some old audio, splice in some synth samples, slap on a few filters, etc. Well, that may or may not be how “traditional” vaporwave is actually made (again, I still honestly have no idea), but that’s what I did nonetheless. I mean, it was all experimental; who cares? Whatever!
So, the first stop I made was to archive.org because I recalled reading an article at the time that someone had uploaded a ton of old recordings which used to play over the PA system at K-Mart stores back in the day. I should also note that, around the same time, I was introduced to the concept of “dead malls” and everything sort of swirled in my mind until I eventually came up with an idea: what if I made creepy music which one might hear if they were exploring an abandoned (maybe even haunted) mall? That idea was, essentially, the genesis for my experimental album. Although, not everything went entirely to plan…
My original plan for the album was on a much grander scale. I wanted each track to be a different “store” in a fictional mall, with the cover art of the album being a photo of an abandoned mall, and the tracklisting as a “directory” for all those different “stores.” The spirit of that original idea is still there, hidden just under the surface, but it’s obviously not as pronounced as originally intended. Honestly, I had intended to do more than three tracks (and therefore more “stores”) but I struggled creatively to come up with any other ideas at the time and just wanted to get them out there. Regardless, here’s how they came to be:
As stated previously, this track utilized old audio from announcements which were used to promote the installation of a new pharmacy in K-Mart stores. Luckily, for me, I actually didn’t have to put too many filters on the audio to make it creepy because it pretty much was in the first place. I mean, it’s a digital recording of an old reel-to-reel which had experienced a lot of wear and tear; it wasn’t in the best condition. There were audio pops, scratches, and issues with the volume already “baked in” so, again, I didn’t have to sprinkle too many filters in there other than to add some echo, reverb, and to repeat a few key lines.
Now, as a word of warning, you might want to stop reading if you hate politics in your art: this song, in many ways, is a critique against the health care system in the United States. To me, there’s a bitter irony in the thought of walking through an abandoned mall (a symbol of capitalism and consumerism) which echoes empty promises of the past in regards to a wonderful pharmacy which no longer exists. Oddly enough, I actually have a personal anecdote about all this:
I worked at a grocery store for many, many years and the store used to actually have a pharmacy. However, for one reason or another, they closed the pharmacy and eventually turned it into the floral department. Yet, for a few good years after the fact, we would still get automated pages for calls to the pharmacy despite it no longer existing within the store; I guess someone forgot to program that out of the system. Anyway, and at the risk of sounding incredibly morbid, there’s something to be said about someone having to buy flowers to lay on a gravestone at the same store where people once picked up medication instead.
This transitions nicely into the next track because it was inspired by my time working at said grocery store for the better part of a decade. Also, much like the previous track, this one uses audio from an announcement/advertisement which used to actually play in the store I worked at and of which my co-workers and I would often joke about. Basically, it’s a catchy little jingle about “checking the neck” of USA Pears in order to determine their firmness and therefore freshness.
I honestly forget how exactly I actually stumbled upon a clean audio file of the damn thing, other than I did some serious internet digging combined with an expertise in Google-Fu, but I did ultimately find it and soon got to work on it after. Now, originally, I was going to have it be slow and creepy like the Kmart Pharmacy track but the audio was too clean, and the voice was too upbeat and chipper, so I added a filter to make them sound more like a robot. Therefore, I decided to go with a much faster, upbeat, and “positive” sounding arrangement.
However, of course, there is a bit more of a “hidden” intent just underneath the surface of the track. I cut the audio up and re-arranged it so that the woman kept telling you to “Remember USA.” This was, more or less, my reaction to the state of the country in the past few years in terms of trying to remember the core values of America; that of accepting others for who they are and embracing equality. Also, y’know, the previously stated irony of hearing this play within the confines of an abandoned mall. It’s partly cynical, maybe, but mostly positive. Mostly.
The “store” which this track was supposed to represent was a movie theater, since the audio used is from my favorite film of all time (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension), but that probably didn’t really come across as such due to the fact that I abandoned the whole concept album idea. Regardless, since my handle is inspired by the film, I felt like I had to include it anyway and it more or less took over the album in the end in terms of the name.
Honestly, and despite that fact, I feel as though this is the weakest of the three tracks as I don’t really have much to say about it in comparison. I mean, to get the audio I actually ripped it straight from my DVD copy. I thought about doing that with my VHS copy, to maybe get a more “raw” sound, but that would’ve required a bit more work and probably wouldn’t have yielded any better results.
This song doesn’t really have a “message,” like the other two do, it just sort of is what it is and that is a song which has audio files from Buckaroo Banzai. Nothing more, nothing less. I was working on another track after this one to continue the whole mall theme, as I mentioned before, but it wasn’t working out the way I envisioned so I got frustrated and just released the three tracks instead.
The “lost track,” of which I no longer even have the in-progress project file, used audio from a Sizzler commercial as well as Godzilla to which, if I recall correctly, it was going to be called something ridiculous like GOD//SIZZLER. I don’t rightfully recall what the “message” of the song was going to be, but I just knew that I needed a restaurant for this abandoned mall. Well, actually, now that I think of it I believe I was trying to say that cheap all-you-can-eat buffets are actually more destructive to our bodies than something like Godzilla. Maybe.
Anyway, while there are some things that I wish I could have done differently and/or did more of in turn, I had a lot of fun making these tracks and I don’t regret them at all. As I said before, it was an experiment in every sense of the word; I had no idea what I was doing, but I wanted to try, and I did it anyway. Which, to my absolute surprise and wonderful delight, people actually enjoyed it and some even paid for it as well. Originally I made the tracks free to download but, after a few people insisted I make it “pay what you want,” I did and they paid me. Something of which I never could’ve imagined in a million years, seriously.
I mean, again, I cannot stress enough that I never made any of these tracks expecting anyone to pay for them, let alone even listening to them, but the fact that some people actually did just blows my mind. Even if no one did, my advice to both myself and to you remains the same: if there’s something you want to do, some creative project that you want to give a try and see what happens, well, why not? Cliche to say, sure, but you never know until you actually try and do it.
It’s sort of like that old air conditioning commercial…
… hmm, y’know, I should totally sample this in a song! 😉
Oh, wait, I almost forgot to explain the weird naming convention! So, you see, I wanted each track name to more or less explain what the song is about but also somewhat subtly imply the hidden message(s) contained within. Cases in point:
- kmART/PHARMacy is about a Kmart Pharmacy but also the ways in which ART is PHARMed (farmed) out in a consumerist way like pills, that in turn can either help or harm us depending on both our personal and societal reactions.
- reMEMBER//USa is about Remembering the USA and also how we (US) are all MEMBERs of this nation; a fact which should never, ever, be forgotten.
- oscilLATION//OVERthruster is a reference to the MacGuffin of the same name in the movie, but LATION is an old Latin term to describe the “motion of a celestial object from one place to another.” OVER, of course, implies that said LATION has ceased. Which, in regards to the movie, if the villain obtains the Oscillation Overthruster than the Earth will be destroyed as a result and thus the Earth will no longer move around space at all… because it’ll be destroyed.