Categories
Music Theory Songs Vaporwave

Quantum Superpositions and Discrete Abstractions

First Full Length Album

That’s right! My first full length album is now here! This album is the most ambitious project I’ve ever embarked on, so I wanted to take some time to really go through each track and give a little guide on what to listen to. There is a LOT packed into these tracks and I feel like the guided discussion will really bring out more of the musical nuances that might be hidden just below the surface.

The concept of this album has to do with creating Vaporwave fusions with various different genres from around the world. Quantum Superposition is a concept where a physical system that has multiple states, can be in a new state that is a combination of multiple states at once. The idea is that there is this “Vaporwave” state, plus a fusion of another state, like Cumbia, and we can be in Vaporwave state, or Cumbia state, but most of the time we are in some combination of the two, but the split isn’t necessarily 50/50 and doesn’t stay 50/50 throughout the song.

Each of the tracks will explore a fusion with a different genre, or present a musical idea that gives each track a unique flavor. I do not sample any other tracks, instead I re-create the aesthetics of the target genre and blend them in and out of a vaporwave framework.

Keep your ears open, there are lots of cool things going on from weird harmonies to slowly evolving synths. Almost nothing repeats exactly, subtle variations everywhere!

Album Editions

Premium Deluxe Edition

This edition will be on all major streaming platforms and include a total of 13 tracks. Full res 24 bit wav, or highest resolution available per platform.

Floppy Disk Edition

This one is a bit interesting, and will be my first physical release. This one includes 2 mp3 tracks at a whopping 32 kbps stereo! That is like SUPER low res, but that’s all that will fit on a 1.4 MB floppy! They literally sound like they are underwater. I listened to them a few times on loop and I actually like it, it reminds me of like something you would download on Napster in the 90’s and it sounded terrible but you put it on a mix cd anyway. Will be for sale on Bandcamp, and include download codes for the premium deluxe edition.

Track Discussion

56 Kbit/s Magic

This track is one of the first singles I dropped from the album, and very chill. It has lofi and soul vibes. It has layers upon layers upon layers which give it this super thick wall of sound. It dense with so much ear candy, but at the same time, none of the background layers stick out too much. In the mix, there are groups of instrument types, like arps, and percussion which are compressed fairly heavily.

Noche De Lujo

This is a fun one! It’s a fusion with Reggaeton. What makes this track cool is that it differs from standard electronic rhythms, which are typically kick on each quarter note, and snare on 2, and 4, and replaces it with a super syncopated pattern.

Traditional Electronic Drum Pattern
Reggaeton Drum Pattern

What I really like about the Drum pattern is that the snare is syncopated sometimes by a dotted 8th and sometimes by an 8th. Besides the main pattern, most Reggaeton songs play around with little snare roles or snare mini patterns over the main 4. I make a few different snare variations across the track.

Advanced Shopping Mall Technology

I knew from the beginning of the album I wanted to do a traditional vaporwave/slushwave track, which essentially is like found art, with some detuning and reverb. I had been testing out slowing down and pitch shifting different tracks, and I found that I like the sound of when fast temp tracks are slowed down. So this track actually is another track on the album but slowed down, pitched shifted, reverb-ed, and wobbled a little bit. Can you guess which one?

Diamonds

The plan early on was to do more fusions with world music, and I wanted to explore some combinations with latin styles. This one is a fusion with Cumbia, which is a dance music from Colombia.

This track features some jazz fusion lead guitar sections. You hear the first one right at 0:41. I like doing these kind of half funk/ half fusion guitar tones where they are clean, but kind of plucky like a funk guitar too. I did this one on the Universe on the front pick-up split to a single coil.

Vaporboogie Y3K

This track is a vaporwave take on 70’s disco. Inspired by Bee Gee’s style rhythms. It’s got lots of layers of guitar, and real bass. This is the first track I play the violin on, so its not a vst. The trick is to layer guitars with some palm mutes. Each one only does a little bit, and they kind of fit together like a jigsaw.

The bridge does a little fun part where we stay on the minor 1 chord, then drop the root note and go down chromatically. It ends up being harmonic minor, but while keeping the top two notes of the minor triad fixed, it creates an augmented chord.

Tango De Vapor

The name says it all with this one. It’s a Tango! The Tango is a dance from Argentina, but has roots from a bunch of different places. It has 2 basic rhythms.

You can hear the tango rhythm in the bass line throughout the track. The keyboard plays the counter melody. If you listen carefully, there are subtle variations as the track progresses. THEN comes the dance. you’ll know it when you hear it, the straight up dance section comes in right before the chorus. If you listen closely, the second tango part uses a different rhythm. Can you tell which is which?

This one features some sexy high-gain guitar lead parts, coming in at 0:51.

The first dance part comes in at about 1:13. Chromatic passing tones galore. This one has got some cool back and forth call and response between the Bandoneon and Serum, where they trade some lines, and then converge at the end.

Aesthetic.

This one is like a 90’s soft rock/smooth jazz track with some interesting harmonies. This one has some cool harmonies where it gravitates to a more phrygian sound, but with mixture chords as well. The main progression is:

F#m7 | Dmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Em7 | Gmaj7

Where the chord analysis is :

iii – I – ♭III – ii – IV

Chord 3 is a type of a tonic function, but it never actually hits the root note.

Aerobic Workout 95

Growing up in the 90’s, my mom had tons of workout VHS videos she would play at home. They were SO corny and they always had the goofiest background music which was usually all samples, and at the time, most of them were probably FM synths and had that really fake plastic sound. This track tries to capture some of the magic of those early VHS workout videos with a high energy rhythm, goofy FM horns, and funky bass line.

During the bridge almost coming back to the ending chorus you will hear a Neapolitan chord! Its not exactly the way its done in classical but its bII chord. The Neapolitan chord was originally used as kind of a setup for a cadence, but since I mostly don’t like the sound of hard cadences, the tension from the flat 2 is enough for me so I just jump right back into the tonic. It does give it a very cool flavor though because I use a Major 7th chord so the 7th is already the tonic, so it sounds like it kind of comes out of nowhere, but the 7th still anchors it back in a bit.

Intermission

Intermission is one of my favorite tracks because it’s kind of like making fun of itself as if the album is a caricature. This one happens to be a Bossa Nova, and the chord progression is really fun. Did I mention I like chromatic passing tones? Because I love chromatic passing tones. Both in the melody and in the harmonies they are all over the place. You don’t hear them very often in pop music anymore, but it gives it some of those mid century vibes.

2121: A Vaportrap Odyssey

This one is my obligatory Vaportrap song. Vaporwave and Trap has been a common fusion for quite some time, and I wanted to give it a go. The fun part about trap is the high hats. The high hats typically play repeated eight notes, then throw in some faster subdivisions. You can have lots of fun doing triplets, sixteenth note triplets, or anything else.

The other fun part about Trap songs is the 808 bass. I did this one using Serum with a slightly offset sine wave and a TON of distortion so you can hear it on small speakers. What gives the bass some bounce is a little pitch automation mapped to an envelope.

Vapor Funk

This one is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album, and a fusion with 70’s style funk. Its got a lot going on, lots of instruments doing all sorts of different things.

Hirajoshi

This track uses the traditional Japanese scale Hirajoshi, which is a pentatonic scale. It uses some traditional Japanese instruments, along with some 80’s sounding ones, like acid bass. This is one of the slower moving tracks, since a lot of them move fairly quickly, I wanted to create contrast by letting this one breath a little. This track also does not contain chords based on triads, all the harmonies only use notes from the Hirajoshi scale, some of them do end up being thirds, but not always.

Epilogue (See you in my Dreams)

This is the final closing for the album, and in my opinion the most epic. It is a fusion with Gamelan music, and uses the Pelog scale. This is the first time I used the Pelog scale on a track, and It’s turned out to have a super interesting sound.

One of the interesting things about the pelog scale, is that it has 3 notes, a half step apart. This isn’t common in Western music. Typically instruments wouldn’t play all three in a row, they use subsets of 5 notes, but I found it interesting to play around with this feature and come up with some harmonies that sounded super lush.

By the time the track is reaching the climax at the end, the energy level is just off the charts. Right as the final chorus hits, and the lead synth comes in it just goes even higher. What I find is that it feels like you are both going to sleep, and going into space a light speed, at the same time. That last chorus is meant to invoke vivid imagery of heading off into some sort of infinity.

Categories
Vaporwave

Operation Vaporwave 2121

Going to be kicking off a new project for a set of singles to push the envelope of what vaporwave can be. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think it would really work because vaporwave isn’t a specific thing, it’s more of an aesthetic. There isn’t an exact drum beat or tempo range that it has to be to fall into the category, or specific chord progressions. I think my inspiration came from Blank Banshee doing vaporwave + trap. If that sounds awesome, why stop there?

The Plan

The plan is to begin a series of tracks that combine a new genera of music with vaporwave, and to try the most far out types of music to see if it will work. One of the things I love about vaporwave is that you can play all sorts of harmonies that super far out, and not have to worry so much about it sounding too experimental.

The Timeline

Since I already have April 2021 lined with releases, the first one should be ready to go for May 2021. Check back for updates, as I want to keep the next style mashup a surprise!

Categories
Music Production Synthwave Vaporwave

Synthwave Vs Vaporwave

I’ve seen lots of posts on this, so decided to give my take on the topic. Synthwave and Vaporwave are both kinds of retro inspired electronic music subgenres that both have the same kind of nostalgia vibes.

Aesthetic Differences

While both genres share similar visual influences, I would say that synthwave draws more from mid 80’s synth pop. It uses a lot of 80’s style neon colors, and futuristic artwork. Vaporwave draws more from mid 90’s-mid 00’s artwork. It often uses themes from early, and low poly computer graphics.

Production Differences

Production wise, there are a few key differences I find between the two. Vaporwave, not always, but often is sample based. Lots of Vaporwave producers use samples from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s to create new tracks. Often the degraded tape feel of lofi is desired. In Synthwave, I hardly ever hear any samples, or lofi effects. I find that vaporwave is often slower, and can sound closer to smooth jazz mixed with lofi. Synthwave is usually more high energy. Slow, or down tempo synthwave often sounds like space music.

Synthwave sounds

Synthwave has some common recurring production elements. One common element is the gated reverb snare sound. This type of snare was popularized in the 80’s and used for lots of electronic synth pop. The sound is pretty noticeable because it will sound like the snare is in a huge arena, or hall.

Another common synthwave element is the plucked bass. This type of bass is created by using a synth with a quick attack, and short sustain and release. This is often coupled with a filter which quickly cuts off the high end. The resulting sound is a short bass stab. Then these bass plucks are often put in patterns of repeating 16th. Check out this sample from the track “Nightcrawler”.

Vaporwave Sounds

Vaporwave sounds much jazzier compared to synthwave. Another common vaporwave technique is to slow down, and pitch shift down samples, or the entire song. Here is an example of the track “56 Kbit/s Magic” which is much more down tempo, and borderline funk.

Synthwave v Vaporwave: Dawn of Vaporsynth

“The Zone” is one of my favorite tracks that combines synthwave and vaporwave elements. It has the reverby snare and drums from a 80’s synth pop track, but also has some degraded lofi sections, and funk bassline. There are lot of intricate melodies and counter melodies in this one, along with some chromatic chords. I think the melodies and harmonies on this one are too jazzy for a synthwave track, but are done with synthwave style synths. One unique thing about this track is that Cliche64 plays guitar on this one instead of me!

Do I think there is overlap? Absolutely

Categories
Music Production Music Theory Vaporwave

Modal Mixture in Electronic Music

Modal mixture is a common technique in Jazz and Classical, and even in video game and music scores, but often overlooked in electronic music. Most electronic music revolves around diatonic harmony, meaning harmonies derived only from the 7 notes of the major scale.

What is Modal Mixture?

Mode mixture is simply mix and matching harmonies from a parallel mode. The most common method is to line up the parallel major and minor modes (Ionian and Aeolian) and in the major key, borrow the chords from Aeolian. This means if we are in the key of C major, we can now borrow chords from C minor.

There are some notes overlapping, but not all, and the parallel minor chords result in 7 brand new chords to spice up any progression! These take a little more finesse to fit into a progression, but they provide some very interesting harmonies. The idea is the create a chord progression using chords from the second column, then sneakily throw in, or swap one chord from one of the available chords on the 4th column. This expands our pallet of chords from 7 to 14! Each one takes practice to figure out where it best fits. It takes a lot of tinkering to fit them in, but it’s very satisfying when you get them in just the right spot.

This expands our pallet of chords from 7 to 14!

One of the important things for creating progressions with mixture chords is to make sure that the naming convention makes sense. For example, C minor is the relative of Eb major, so chord names should be using flats, and in the list of chords, each letter name should only be used 1 time.

If we look closely, we see that there are actually 3 new notes, the minor 3rd, minor 6th, and minor 7th. The root, 2nd, 4th, and 5th are the same between Aeolian and Ionian.

Examples

Writing about music theory is cool, but seeing and hearing examples is where it all comes together.

Let’s take a look at the track “Icicles”. The main progression is

Cm9 AbM9 Fm7 GbM7

vi | IV | ii | bIII

So the progression is kind of in C minor/Eb major but we get an extra chord GbM7 which is borrowed from the key of Eb minor. When ends up happening is that the progression sounds like the tonal center is kind of not exactly C minor, but also is. It blends in fairly well and doesn’t sound like an out of place chord.

Categories
Music Theory Songs Vaporwave

Aesthetic

Aesthetic is a track That has got some down tempo vibes, and features an electric guitar solo with a jazz fusion sound.

Let’s break down the track. The main chord progression is:

F#m7 | Dmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Em7 | Gmaj7

The key in this track is mostly D major, but one of the chords doesn’t belong. This progression uses mode mixture to borrow a chord from the parallel minor key. Using roman numerals the progression is:

iii – I – ♭III – ii – IV

What I like about this progression is that it doesn’t appear to gravitate directly towards D major, or the relative minor B minor. Instead it starts on chord 3, which would make that mode be phrygian, which is also a type of minor mode. The interesting chord here is the F major7, the 3rd chord in the progression. How did we end up with F major7 in the key of D major? Its a borrowed chord from the parallel minor key. The parallel minor of D major is D minor. In D minor, the third chord is F major 7.

So what happens when you try to play a melody? If you keep playing D major over the Fmaj7 chord, there will be some notes that will not line up. So the melody has to agree to also drop the sharps on the F# and C#. So right as the F major 7 Plays, all instruments in the arrangement must also put naturals on their F’s and C’s.

The bridge also has another mixture chord on chord IV. Right as the last main melody section comes in, it gives it just a little bit of time to breathe and kind of goes to a different place.

IV | iv

Layers

One of my favorite things about Aesthetic is the multiple layers of pads and moving percussion. There are multiple types of pads that come in and out, multiple shaker groups, and bongo groups that layer to add subtle variation and fullness.

Categories
Lofi Music Production Vaporwave

Why I don’t use Samples

By samples I mean full samples from other tracks. A sample is basically a piece of audio recorded from an existing song. Lots of types of music are sample based. Essentially, a loop from an existing song is taken, modified, and new track is built around that. Lots of vaporwave, lofi, and future funk uses samples from old songs. There is a lot of room for creativity in manipulating the samples.

Remix vs Cover?

I do lots of video game covers, but they are technically not remixes. Sometimes the terms are confusing because they get interchanged, but technically, a remix is a type of song that also uses original audio. A cover rebuilds the sounds without using the original audio. If you were to take the midi from a song, run it through your own synths and create audio, then its a cover. If you record the actual song and put it in your song, then its a remix.

Remixes and other sample based songs come with a lot of legal difficulties because it’s hard to get the right permissions to use audio samples. Cover licensing is fairly easy to come get. A lot of distributors offer low cost licensing options for doing covers. They usually take care of sending the original songwriter a cut of the royalties. The reason that I don’t make sample based vaporwave isn’t rooted in the legal issues, but for me, its simply workflow.

But Why Tho?

I don’t have a DJ background so I don’t have experience stitching songs together. I do have lots of experience playing in bands and writing parts for multiple instruments. For my workflow in Ableton, It’s easier for me to write the parts out in midi, and create an arrangement around that. I like to move notes around in different midi lanes, and it’s not possible to modify individual instruments on rendered samples. In a sample, you can’t easily change things like the chords. I also don’t have a collection of songs that I would use for sampling, and wouldn’t even know where to start looking.

Samples or no Samples?

In conclusion, sample based music is definitely very cool, and some of the “sound” comes from modifying rendered audio. For my workflow, midi works best because I like having control of all the midi, and can write quickly like that. I do however occasionally sample myself. I’ll take rendered portions of my other songs and slice them up or slow them down for effects.