Fidelity Review

Deep Down

Fidelity

Review

Fidelity by producer / songwriter Deep Down aka Roo

Statement of Transparency: The artist for this EP contacted me directly, asking me to give it a review, and even sent me a wonderful package in the mail containing a copy of the CD along with a very nice, personalized message. As such, this review reflects both a gratitude to the artist as well as my own musings that came about from my personal interaction with the album.


Forest Muran

It's often assumed that we find the divine in what is pleasant in life. Putative godliness is often conflated with pleasure. What is physically or emotionally unpleasant, on the other hand, is considered to be bad, or in extreme cases, evil, and most feel that it should be avoided. Voltaire, after the Lisbon earthquake, broke with his optimistic worldview that we are living in an ideal world. After all, in what ideal world can there be so much meaningless pain, death and suffering? Voltaire found none of the arguments put forth by Christian apologists to be convincing.

Zen Buddhism on the other hand suggests that there is no contradiction. There is a divinity in all things, and that we only divide the world into good and bad as a result of our own ignorance of absolute reality. After all, what is unpleasant often turns out to be very good in the long run, while what can seem pleasant can turn out to have very unfortunate consequences. In general, we just don't know. Our mortal perspective is too limited.

Thanks for the album, Roo!

Fidelity, a new album by producer and singer-songwriter Roo, here using the alias Deep Down, deals both lyrically and sonically with what is generally considered to be evil. The tag line for the album, “bad music for bad people,” suggests an album perhaps written for people like Charles Manson or the Marquis de Sade. But as Michael Jackson once asked: Who's bad? Really, a “bad person” is one living within illusion, unable to see how their idea of “good” is actually harmful to themselves and others. We become bad from circumstance, from the influence of the deluded people we grow up with. Because there are so many negative influences around we are all, in some way or another, bad people. We are flawed people who harm one another in little ways each and every day, whether we are conscious of it or not. Fidelity then tackles a theme which speaks to all of us.

From the loss of innocence, to a meditation on the apocalyptic consciousness of our times, DEEP DOWN crams a lot of sentiment and feeling into such a short EP – each of the four tracks is less than 4 minutes, with the entire EP clocking in at just around 10 minutes. Nevertheless, its creative production and evocative lyrics allow a lot to be said within its short playtime.

The EP is short, crisp, and bitter, with its abstract lyrics conveying more of a vague sense of anxiety and dread than any specific narrative. There is, however, something beautiful to be found at the heart of this EP, a plea for enlightenment within a dark tunnel, a sense of the divine amongst the smoky ashes of human feeling. The title, Fidelity, is ambiguous, and reaches out in multiple semantic directions. Fidelity of course is an important concept in the digital age, an area of interest for artist Roo, where most of what we see is a copy of something else. We live in a high fidelity age where everything from classical paintings to personal emotions are reproduced in high fidelity for global consumption. Moreover, fidelity could refer to the faithfulness of nostalgia, of coming back to a world and seeing that it has remained intact – which, almost innevitably, it has not. Idealization then kicks in, a reversion to an early mode of thinking, in order to escape, if not from the more challenging realities of real life, then from the challenging realities of our own cynical minds.

Letter from Roo. RoO. Thanks Roo!

The artist himself cites genres such as noise, nu-metal, trap, and experimental hip-hop as prominent influences, and the sounds of groups like Death Grips and Nine Inch Nails definitely resonate within the EP. Although Roo claims his work no longer takes cues from avant-garde metal group Mr. Bungle, the frequent changes of texture and style in this EP definitely point to some lingering affinity. In general, the sound of Fidelity is extremely eclectic, taking some influence from a good portion of extant aggressive, high-energy music genres.

This first track, "...", consists of a narration given by a friend of the artist, an EMT, giving an account of a man losing his eyeball after being punched in the face. This detail starts the album on a rather morbid note. Like a good horror story, this opening narration reminds us that we are mortal, and that someday we will die. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Like in a Cormac McCarthy novel, we are made aware of the banality of violence. Good, bad – it's just the way it is sometimes.

The second track, "Exit Bag", which was previously featured on a compilation put together by noise label Brutal Resonance, gives us our first taste of Roo's vocal style. Breathy, anxious, and tormented, the vocals seem like a blend of Eminem's rapid verbiage, the whispering anxieties of nu-metal, and the surreal, noisy vocals of Death Grips. The production on the track is energetic and ominous, with the crunching synths giving it a bitter edge. Sirens and vocal distortions also pin-point the track in a very urban world, potentially a dystopian one tormented by the brute facts of ubiquitous violence, from which our only escape is through a death bag.

The lyrics also help paint an image of this nightmare-ish urban world. At one point, Roo talks about how he can never go home because “'cause it's all / washed down with the rain through a filth-clogged drain.” The lyrics are abound with a sense of a lost innocence, and a lost childhood. Perhaps through the naive eyes of a child, the clamour of urban / suburban life is given an aspect of wonder and joy, but as a cynical adult the city may just seem like a melting pot of suffering and moral degeneration.

The third track, "8ball", perhaps has the biggest Death Grips influence, with its strange, bizarre synth designs buzzing away beneath abstract, aggressive vocalizations. The lyrics give a sense of the pale dullness of a lot of our life on the internet, on social media. If the early modernist were concerned with the meaninglessness found in early 20th century life, they would certainly have occasion to laugh at the absurdity of the social media age. As Roo says, “you're no one, nothing, nevermind you design / new ways for us to waste our time.” So much of life on the internet is wasted time, and yet for some reason we keep going back to making the same jokes on twitter, or going over the same, worn arguments which ultimately have no solution. We seem to enjoy argument and doomsday prophesying for its own sake, or perhaps because it gives us a tenuous sense of identity within a cold, digital realm where we are able to perceive so clearly how little our personal identity matters. For many people, the idea that their personal identity is illusory and meaningless is extremely frightening, and they will claw and scrape in order to retain the illusion that they have a history, some concrete place in the context of this nebulous world, even if that means hurting and criticizing others, building an identity through exclusion.

Construction of Identity Online or Becoming a Person made of Words. Artist: Forest Muran, 2017 (that's me, this is me desperately cosntructing my identity)

Perhaps this obsession with identity comes from how much the social media age feeds our sense of ego. If television, like Andy Warhol once said, promised to give everyone their own 15-seconds of fame, the internet promises to give everyone the illusion of continuous fame, and affirmation of having a consistent identity. “I can't help you if you want it all,” Roo sings. Increasingly, people want the world – a great job, a nice car, a beautiful home, lots of social media followers, a beautiful lover, and opportunity to travel around the world. Even more than having these things, people want others to see them having these things. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned in life, and no person is able to arrange their material life to live up to a nebulous ideal. Nevertheless, everyone thinks fortune is on their side, and it will favour them. Social media gives us the ability to craft the appearance of an ideal material life, a world where money is always in abundance, people are always witty and creative, and couples never feel an ominous sense of competition and jealousy - a world where the 8ball is always right. While life can indeed gives us what we want, we can't be selfish.

The fourth and final track on the album, "broken glass", features production by South African musician Gilt. The slow, steady pace of this track and its minor melodic mode gives it the quality of an electric lullaby. The melodic focus and ringing, looming sine waves give the track an affinity to Carl Craig at his most introspective. The bleak contents of the lyrics perfectly compliment the loneliness in the production, with its somber, cave-dwelling harmonies and irregular, frantic kick pattern.

In this track Roo sings, in what is probably one of the most characteristic moments of the EP:

God lives here; flashing bleak signals

God lives here; speaks with interference

Sun lies here; sweet, warm, molten evening

God lives here; red, hot, smoldering

The Red Christ, 1922 - Lovis Corinth. God lives here

Even amongst the hot flames of a burning world, the divine can be found. I often talk about an apocalyptic sense being found in lots of art today. In many ways, because of looming ecological catastrophe, the increasingly destructive power of military arms, and increasing political divisiveness, many artists seem to think that we are living in the end times. Perhaps that should give you pause – what if you were part of the last generation of human beings to ever live? Would you be OK with that? Would you still be content to live a happy, peaceful life, or would you retaliate in confusion and frustration like a cornered animal?

The world most likely isn't ending. Even pain and suffering usually has a bright side, given enough time, and perhaps the apocalypse will be a veiled prelude to Utopia. Regardless of whether the world is truly ending or not, we will all experience our own personal apocalypses eventually. We will all die. That is just a part of life, and what is in life is essentially divine. God lives here, within everything, good or bad.

You can listen to Fidelity now on Bandcamp.

Also be sure to look at the album's website, where you can join Roo's mailing list and recieve extra goodies.

Stay bad,

Forest Muran

If you enjoyed this read, be sure to read my review of DJ Nizzy Nick's The Irony of Misused Energy

 

Japanese with Mez – #1 Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi tofu from Sakata Ramen Bar and Grill. I later ate it.

To help me in my Japanese studies, sometimes I'll search videos related to what I'm studying on Youtube. I thought I would share some of my adventures in translation for others who may be studying Japanese as well.

This post was made to also be enjoyable to those not studying Japanese. Those who are just interested in the culture, and seeing how Japanese society might be similar or different to the western world will also hopefully find it interesting!

OK, Let's begin!

始めましょう!

TODAY'S VOCABULARY:

揚げ出し豆腐 – Agedashidoufu – Agedashi Tofu

噂 – Uwasa – Report (also rumor; gossip, but “report” seems like the best translation here)

今回 – Konkai – Now; this time

もらう - Morau – To get somebody to do something (after a form verb)

想像 – Souzou – Imagination; guess

最後 - Saigo – The end; conclusion

十代 - Juudai - Teenage years

切ない – Setsunai – Painful

マズイ - Mazui – Unappetizing, unpleasant

二人目 - Futarime – Second person

So, recently I went to a place called Wako Sushi with a friend, and I ordered an agedashi tofu. I immediately fell in love. There's something inherently attractive about agedashi tofu, something in its crispy exterior and creamy interior that satisfies the soul's innate desire to be made whole.

When it came time to study Japanese that night, I looked up the word 揚げ出し豆腐 (agedashi tofu), and attempted to find something interesting enough for studying.

Typically, I like to find videos with lots of comments, since Youtube comments are a satisfying way sneaking into the world of colloquial language. Today we'll be looking at some Japanese Youtube comments as well.

The video I decided upon studying was this:

噂の東京マガジン やってTRY こんな揚げ出し豆腐は嫌だ!

You can watch it here

It's from a Japanese TV Program called 噂の!東京マガジン (Uwasa no! Tokyo Magazine) which has a segment called やってTRY  (Give it a try!) In this segment, a host approaches random people on the streets and asks them to make certain Japanese dishes. This episode deals, naturally, with agedashi tofu.

This two main hosts of the show inform us that

「今回は揚げ出し豆腐を作てもらいました。」

“This time, we got them to make agedashi tofu!”

LANGUAGE POINT - This may be a good time to mention a grammar point. もらusually means “to recieve” or “to take” as in 「男は別の妻をもらいました。」 (“The man took a different wife”, from the story Cinderella). But it has a second meaning as well. When placed after the form of a verb, it can mean “to get someone to do something.” In this case – 作てもらいました (Get them to make!) It's a useful Japanese construction to get to know, so I'll do my best to 覚えてもらいま (Get you to memorize!)

In the video, the host gets three different girls to try and make agedashi tofu. The results are all terrible (「めっちゃマズイ」 as one of the the girls says), but pretty funny nevertheless. I have to wonder if this video taps into a prevalent fear that the younger generation no longer knows how to cook, and a lot of the comedy comes from a confirmation of this incompetence.

The first girl uses the word 想像する a lot. 想像 (souzou) means your imagination, or guess. So, in total lack of confidence, the girl is making a lot of guesses when making agedashi tofu.

「私の想像してるのはこれ」

“This is my guess.”

She doesn't really know what she is doing, but she's trying! Of course, making most dishes from memory is a difficult thing, and Japanese cuisine is even more difficult than most, so go easy on her, please!

The second girl talks about how she is near the end of her teenage years, and wishes that she could stay a teenager (すっと十代でいたい). The host asks her why- is it any different (そんなに違う)? She says it is. The host asks in what way. The girl says 税金 (zeikin) – taxes. The host asks, what taxes (何税)? The girl says 印税 (inzei) - book royalties. Haha!

The humor probably works a lot better in the Japanese, since the point is that the girl doesn't really know what she's talking about. When asked about taxes, she just says the first thing that pops into her head that sounds like a tax. 印税 (inzei) is not really a tax, but it ends with the “tax” kanji and so, to her, may have sounded like a good answer.

Here's a transcription of the conversation:

「十代最後ってことですか。」[十代最後です。え、切ない。」「切ない?」「すっと十代でいたい。」「そんなに違う?」「え、違いますよ。」「何が違う」「税金。」「何税?」「印税。」

The second girl's reactions to her finished dish are pretty funny. 「めっちゃマズイ」 (This is really bad!) she says.「ダメ食べ物じゃない」 (This is no good! This isn't food!)

One commenter thought the finished agedashi tofu looked like a gravesite for sardines.

煮干しの墓みたい

I am not sure if I can disagree.

As is typical for Youtube comments, this user comments on how beautiful he thinks the second girl is, who made the “graveyard for sardines.”

「二人目かわいかったのに…

“Ah, the second person was so pretty...”

Unfortunately, I'm sure her marriage eligibility is hurt by her innability to make proper agedashi tofu. Though I will admit, out of the three girls in the video, the second one was probably the only one to make something that even resembled agedashi tofu. She could also benefit from learning a bit more about taxes, in my opinion.

For example, this is what the third girl's agedashi tofu looked like. YIKES.

LANGUAGE POINT – While のに usually means “although” or “despite”, connecting two phrases together, when it comes at the end of a sentence it can signify a state of what could have been, or a state of longing. In this case, the commenter is almost pained by the beauty of the girl. “Ah, she is so pretty, if only I could be with her” is maybe the implication. Creepy or not, I'll let you decide.

That's it for my study of this video for now. It's pretty funny, and the video editors added a lot of stylized subtitles which by chance is very useful for people studying Japanese. I definitely recommend watching the video a few times and making notes about some of the dialogue, which is for the most part very conversational and casual. There are also a few other funny Youtube comments that are worth looking at on the video.

I'll leave you with a haiku by Kobayashi Issa that I think is particularily relevant.

宵越しの豆腐明りの薮蚊哉

Yoigoshi no tofu akari no yabu ka kana

Left out all night
The tofu gleams -
Mosquitoes

お疲れ様でした

- Mez

Zen and Vaporwave

Zen and Vaporwave

Vaporwave is derivative. This weird music genre, a unique aesthetic product which could only have ignited on the web, is based largely on derivative material. It consists mostly of sampled 80s tunes, videogame sound bites, and retro computer sound effects. I would forgive you for thinking Vaporwave is a joke because, in a way it is. At the same time, it is very serious. It exists in this in-between state because Vaporwave cannot be pinned upon the dualities of “trivial” and “serious art”. Vaporwave is a genre that at its very core obscures the notions of high art and low art, and presents reality through an equivocal lens.

... as do the non-dualistic teachings of Zen Buddhism.

The vaporwave aesthetic borrows many sound and visual elements from Japanese culture, both modern and historic, so it should come as no surprise that it should have some overlap with the aesthetic of zen. Zen writer D. T. Suzuki points out that the Buddhist zen aesthetic has, since its introduction to Japan in the 12th century, influenced almost every aspect of Japanese culture, from its tea ceremonies to its architecture. Zen has even come to influence Japanese popular culture. Today, the long arms of zen have reached far beyond the shores of Japan and have come to plant their influence in the creative life of the western world. Vaporwave is one manifestation.

While the essence of zen is certainly not limited to its aesthetics, it is through the creative works created by those who practice and experience zen that we see something of its power. Zen is not the same as zen aesthetics, seeing that zen art is merely the creative manifestation of those who have experienced zen, and of those who have experienced said manifestations second-hand. It's like if you never drank mango juice before, but you read a lot about it – nothing compares to the actual tasting of mango juice, but you can still get an idea of it from other people who have. This second-hand knowledge has produced an aesthetic which has developed around zen, and which is worth examining since it can teach us something about the exchange between eastern and western culture, if not hint at the spiritual life of zen.

The world of vaporwave is similar to the world of zen. They both feature an aesthetic which focuses on the present moment. They both treat the elements of the world equivocally. They both produce a dream-like feeling of oneness with reality. They both emphasize the transience of reality. Much of vaporwave's aesthetic is based on an obsession with retro, nostalgia culture, but this does not seem to me like nostalgia for its own sake. Vaporwave does not pine for the old days and it is under no illusion that the past was somehow superior. Vaporwave rather focuses on nostalgic symbols, like gamboys, retro anime, and 80s fashion, because of their comparable strangeness, and because of the utopian quality the distance of time gives them. Vaporwave capitalizes on the utopian vision presented in commercials of the 80s, and translates them from a backdrop of corporate greed to one of worldly ecstasy. Like zen, vaporwave is a vision of intense focus on the simple bliss of the present.

Wabi - Sabi

Zen is intimately connected with the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. Wab-sabi is an aesthetic concept in traditional Japanese culture that describes the appreciation of that which is imperfect and transient. The concept has been used throughout Japanese history in the construction of architecture, pottery, painting, poetry, etc,. You can recognize wabi-sabi in the imperfect line art of haiku masters like Basho and Hakuin, and even in the asymmetrical meter of the haiku form itself, which traditionally, in the original language, consists of a 5-7-5 syllable pattern.

Old pond -

A frog jumps in

The sound of water

-Basho, 1686

Octopus pot

Fleeting dreams

In summer moonlight

-Basho, 1688

Traces of the wabi-sabi aesthetic are found everywhere in the vaporwave works. Again, the influence of Japanese culture becomes apparent. You can hear echoes of wabi-sabi in Vaporwave's lo-fi, grainy distortion, and blocky 3-D models.

https://deathsdynamicshroud.bandcamp.com/album/ill-try-living-like-this

I'll Try Living Like This by Death's Dynamic Shroud.wmv epitomizes wabi-sabi. The mixes in the album, constructed from various sound sources, many of which are K-pop albums, are charmingly lo-fi. There is an air of amateurishness to the whole album, an unabashed celebration of imperfection.

http://esprit.100percentelectronica.com/album/virtua-zip

Esprit's Virtua.zip is another great example of imperfection being used as an aesthetic advantage. From the warbly vibrato meant to imitate the distortion of old vinyl records, to the imprecise mixes with jagged high end and bloated bass, Virtua.zip also celebrates imperfection, posing as a beautiful and dreamy anonymous artifact of internet culture.

An important aspect of Vaporwave to note is that it isn't entirely a plunderphonic genre – that is, it's not entirely made from samples. This variant of the genre is far less derivative in its material used, but still borrows from antiquated aesthetics. There are excellent albums out there consisting almost entirely of original material that are nevertheless labelled as Vaporwave, such as Esprit's Virtua.zip and Eyeliner's new age influenced BUY NOW.

https://beerontherug.bandcamp.com/album/buy-now

Beyond the realm of auditory aesthetics, zen and vaporwave is a major theme in H0lyswagg's 2016 novel Vape Girl which describes the adventures of the Bodhisattva-like Swaggy and her zen master / lover Lord_Mu. The characters are both pracitioners of zen, and the spontaneous flow of the text and irreverent conflation of wisdom and intellectual simplicity echoes the intuitive works of zen artists like Basho and Hakuin.

cuz Mu has
ascended 2 the next level. it's like he did 10 level ups since Swaggy went shopping, U can see it N his eyes/ he's way beyond unfollowing ppl on twitter. he like unfollowed his own ego.

- Vape Girl

 

Aesthetics of the Mundane

Though vaporwave attempts to capture a Utopian feeling, this utopia is not a biblical depiction of sacred gloom. Rather, vaporwave's heaven is flawed, lo-fi, grainy, and filled with cheesy fashion and technological glitches. But this is the imperfection of wabi-sabi. We are brought back into the everyday banality of technology and physical imperfections, which comprise the material of actual everyday life and which is also the main preoccupation in the discipline of zen. Zen, much like vaporwave, concerns itself with the material world and our direct circumstances in it.

https://blankbanshee.bandcamp.com/album/blank-banshee-0

Many vaporwave track titles hint at a unique kind of technological poetry that are reminiscent of the mundane haiku of Japan's old zen masters.

a frog farting -

this too is the

voice of Buddha

- Sengai Gibon 1750

We deal with the facts of life in an age of technology, with titles like “B:/ Startup”, and “Dreamcast” appearing whimsical with the poetic distance of time. Esprit gives his tracks titles like “gameover.wav” and “select.wav”, evoking the unceremonious, everyday experience of playing videogames, now given poetic import through context, like with Marcel Duchamp's famous upside-down urinal given context in a gallery.

Indeed, there is a distinct Dadaist, found-object quality to Vaporwave. As with the Dadaist philosophy, Vaporwave adheres to the notion that art is made through context. It is by virtue of being in an experimental music album that K-pop songs and cheesy 80s synths become “high” art. Marcel Duchamp, were he alive today, would certainly be jamming out to some Vaporwave tunes

 

Zen Spirit

Vaporwave, in my mind, is a distant descendent of Zen Buddhism as it is practised in Japan. Though it now wears the clothes of 8os television adverts and antiquated videogames, the same attitudes that assimilated into Japanese culture in the early 12th century through zen are appearing in Vaporwave here in the early 21st century. And perhaps our world is better for it, or whatever small segment of the world has been exposed to Vaporwave. The non-dualistic nature of Vaporwave discourages narrow-mindedness and egotistical illusions, and instead encourages a wider embrace of all ideas and possibilities. The varied demographics attracted to Vaporwave's chill attitude are a testament to this, from new age thinkers and goths to hip hop artists and LGBTQ. Just like zen, Vaporwave's inclusive mindset does not exclude, because its aesthetic concentration isn't placed so much on our worldly circumstances, but on the content of the soul.

- Mez