In the mid/late-nineties, Sony used a 49-second clip from Kerry Livgren’s Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye to advertise the processing power and video card of the VAIO line of desktops. The video utilized full-motion computer graphics that demonstrated the burgeoning world of home computer graphic capabilities; it showed a ship rising out of the ocean, letters forming on-screen, a man’s hair waving in the wind, and aquatic creatures floating in the sky.1
Back then, computers seemed like they could do anything. MSN and AOL facilitated access the Internet and communication with people all over the globe through easy-to-use interfaces – as long as nobody was trying to use the phone. Television advertisements included their respective companies’ web sites, making sure to speak each character. Cell phones could hold up to 250 contacts; such a feature was explicitly (and excitedly) mentioned in Michael Crichton’s 1994 novel Disclosure. Hosting web sites like GeoCities allowed people to make their own (limited) web pages,2 and it was a big deal when AIM allowed you to customize your font.
There is real no analogue in contemporary 21st century society. Now, communication technology is so commonplace, it’s even viewed as constricting due to subculture fragmentation and the social stress of being constantly wired to everyone around. Talking about the excitement that infused nineties computer culture is in itself becoming cliché, especially through the lens of a post-9/11 world where communication technology is seen as much a force for global connectivity as it is global surveillance.
Listening to ECO Virtual’s Atmospheres 第23 is like watching that “Odyssey” clip on a Sony VAIO machine in 1997 all over again. Whereas many vaporwave artists (like Macintosh Plus) highlight the hypercommercialization and capitalistic tendencies of the nineties through utilizing a faux-utopian vibe in their music, Atmospheres 第2 is undistilled enthusiasm. ECO Virtual does not waste time with distortion, delay, or heavily chopped-up vocals to procure discomfit in the listener. ECO Virtual foresakes ephemerality or affected weirdness so that each track in this short twenty-one minute album sounds lively instead of sterile. It sharply contrasts with most other vaporwave that highlights the artificiality of the digital age; Atmospheres 第2 – and for that matter, the other albums in the Atmospheres series – incorporates a human element that is often passed by.
ECO Virtual utilizes the microsong format. Four of the ten tracks are less than two minutes in length, and none hit the three-minute mark. It works to Atmospheres 第2‘s advantage; each song is rather simple, and extending them any more would simply bore the listener. A good example is opening track “Sunrise at the Googleplex,” which is slightly over a minute long but only consists of a few chords and occasional digital effects, so lengthening it to two minutes or more would be more than the track requires to impart its intended affect.4
There are two breaking points that don’t quite work out. “Silicon Valley Wind” is a rather average ambient-esque track that is easy to ignore. “Crepuscular Rays (God’s Rays)” falters because its delayed vocals (with swearing, wow!) contrasts too heavily with the gay vibe on the rest of the album and it is too long. Thankfully, these are the closing tracks to the album, so they do not interrupt full-album listens too badly.
Atmospheres 第2 is a great introductory album to the utopian subgenre of vaporwave, and it is a refreshing example of electronic sampling music as a medium for memoria sans ironic indulgence.
1. Sunrise at the Googleplex – (1:11) – ★★★★★
2. Fiji Waterfalls – (2:27) – ★★★★☆
3. Through the Mall Skylight – (2:28) – ★★★★★
4. IKEA Ferns – (1:58) – ★★★★★
5. Aloe Vera Water – (2:03) – ★★★★☆
6. McDonald’s Breakfast – (1:59) – ★★★★☆
7. Noctilucent – (2:51) – ★★★★★
8. EDEN 仮想 – (1:52) – ★★★★☆5
9. Silicon Valley Wind – (2:04) – ★★★☆☆
10. Crepuscular Rays (God’s Rays) – (2:54) – ★★☆☆☆
1In fact, you can watch the full video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDXUXYO–g0
2There’s a torrent on the Internet through which you can download the entire GeoCities web site library. Check it out: http://www.wired.com/2010/11/geocities-lives-on-as-massive-torrent-download/
3Translated from Japanese simply as “Atmospheres No. 2.”
5Japanese translation: “EDEN Virtual” (literal) “VIRTUAL EDEN” (contextual).