Saturday, March 29, 2008

open arms, empty hands

I dragged myself from cold limbo back to the grid, arriving at the same time in-world, in Antiquity, that my aether connection opened to begin sorting through missives sent to me through the long night.

Imagine my surprise, then, when a comment from Vernian Process unspooled before my wide eyes.

He gravely pointed out certain errors I'd made in the post on Abney Park; for some few hours henceforth, I listened to offerings on his Myspace page, among others. I listened to more of his work.

"I must state that I find it quite odd that you feel that instrumental music can be any less steampunk influenced, than vocal music," he said in his comment, and I read back through my words, and it very much does read as if I'm implying such.

Such was not my intent.

It also doesn't help that at the time, I had hurriedly found The Approach of Dawn, I think, and The Curse of Whitechapel, both very gothic and moody in feel. Very atmospheric, yes, but very darkambient, very not steampunk--as I've been interpreting it personally.

But Rust Part II for instance, with or without the visual element created for the music, is most definitely steampunk in feel and execution. And Behold the Machine nearly relies on metal-on-metal sounds to advance the progression.

(He's got others; in addition to the MySpace page, he's got his own channel on YouTube.)


(Vernian Process [Joshua Pfeiffer]; Image taken by Pasha Smith, Tristan Cane, or Joshua Pfeiffer himself.)

All right, so who is Vernian Process? Well, you could always go to his web page and ask that question, and I'm more than half tempted--as he's leaving me comments--to ask him directly for an interview, but--to preserve something of that "people don't notice this blog" mystique (I know, I know, we're blown six directions on that one already)...I decided to see if I could find out on my own.

Under an ominously flashing red sky, I began to research.

Let me mention the web page again, first: he's put up very nearly the whole of his back catalog up for free download. Some may see this as a desperate act. I do not. I see it as the first step towards a possible breakthrough, for both him and the genre in general. Because keep in mind, the more ears listening, the more minds become educated, the more demand ensues. First law of something, I'm sure, but in the meantime, you can listen to what he's produced before, and get a good idea as to where he's going.

Secondarily, in a Sepiachord interview from 2006, he says he was the first one to tag "steampunk" onto the music Vernian Process put out. He prefers the term "Cinematic Darkwave", and Sepiachord advanced "Scientific Romance" (sounds headily like Gaslamp fantasy, Studio Foglio's term for Girl Genius, doesn't it?), and he agreed there was some of that as well.

In that same interview, he advances influences as disparate as Danny Elfman, Clan of Xymox and Massive Attack. I'd also suggest there's more than a little Peter Murphy in his vocal intonations.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say, before artists like Vernian Process and Abney Park decided to move forward with steampunk-as-music, we could name bands like Frontline Assembly, Front 242, and Leftfield, or solo artists like Laurie Anderson, as substantial guiding influences. In this sense, it's a direct path of evolution for machine-assisted, human-guided sound...but the rise of steampunk as a genre, and its growing acceptance in the goth/darkambient music communities specifically, leads us here.

One channel feeds across territory that spawned Joy Division, the Damned, and the Cure, dragging us through broken-eyeliner scribbled landscapes of post-apocalyptic dread; another channel leads us back to Vernian Process, Abney Park, and all the others, just starting out in copper-clad ruin, arrowing in reverse to the cobblestone paths one century before last.


(Another view on Vernian Process [Joshua Pfeiffer]; Image taken by Pasha Smith, Tristan Cane, or Joshua Pfeiffer himself.)

He mentioned he also runs, where there are more compilations for download he's participated in or remixed, including one called An Age Remembered he specifically wanted my attention drawn towards (and oh, boy, am I going to have fun listening and researching through that grouping of mass talent).

But in addition to bands/artists on that compilation I already knew, like Emilie Autumn, Rasputina and Chris Vrenna, he mentioned bands like the Clockwork Dolls (who actually seem to have a negative web presence), the Legendary Shack Shakers (which I don't see as steampunk, really seem more American roots performers, rockabilly unplugged at best, though they're a whole lot of fun and very good), and the Beat Circus (though I was torn between linking that one, and the video for the Mime Gag just for oddity, but...again, I see them more as American roots musicians, possibly edging into the burlesque territory that the Dresden Dolls so capably scamper through).


And then I sat stunned for a moment, realizing I'd been accessing aetheric music records for the past six hours. I was dizzied by all this and needed time to let it settle.

At the end of everything? I still don't know who Vernian Process is, other than talented; and I desperately want to see if he ever gets the "chamberpunk" project off the ground; and I'm again more than halfway tempted to see if he'd be interested in playing live on the grid...

...but it's also four in the morning now, and this kitten must sleep! Digesting this much musical food for thought will take time.

We will come back to this, I think. In the meantime, have fun wandering through the back alleys of YouTube, hearing faint strains of history, absinthe-soaked in harpsichortical array, for your viewing and listening pleasure.

[17:38] Scandaroon Beck: My mind is dirty because it has been busy working. A clean mind, like clean hands, is a sign of inactivity.

Indeed it is.


Vernian Process said...

Wow... haha thanks for all of those very, very kind words.

If you would like to do an interview of sorts, I'd be happy to oblige you.

You know I never thought of the free music downloads as a "desperate" thing, but I can see hw some people may think that. As you pointed out, I really only put everything up for free, because I believe in a free market. If I didn't spend money to create this music, I don't see why I should charge money for it. With the new album I do plan on actually getting it mastered and printed as a real CD, so I will be selling copies of that one through my site. However I also have no problem giving it to people who may not have the kind of money to go purchasing cd's but still like my work.

Anyways, thanks again and I look forward to hearing back from you.


Emilly Orr said...

I am fairly clear that I'm against RIAA policy in this--not so much music piracy, per se, as free musical downloads for people, because a) how else do people find new music, and b), if all things offered 'for free' didn't help at all, then why free samples of new foods, why free magazine issues, why do libraries invariably lead to purchases of favorite books? There are artists I wouldn't have gone near, had I not heard their music in advance.

So I don't see it as desperation, either--I see it as very smart, actually--let people hear you, and your fan base will grow.

You're more than welcome, I see it just as being honest, but--if you follow through the entries after this one--I do start flailing more than a bit. But I like where I left it, and I can see coming back to it; seeing if I can sift for more influencing acts, and find more performers drawn to this developing style.

And kudos on getting the label off the ground, if I haven't said it. I think having a label that's geared--no pun intended--towards music in this vein will go far towards establishing further what steampunk/steamwave/cinematic darkwave/neo-cabaret (and all the other advanced terms for it) really is, at its clockwork heart. :)

Vernian Process said...

Yeah and that is exactly why I give away my music. I also have a paypal donation service, which has worked out well (I think in the past year I've made about $300 in donations).

I do have to reiterate that I wasn't intending to say that the weird americana bands had anything remotely steampunk about them, but some of them certainly have a certain victorian/gilded age aesthetic to their look or sound.

Emilly Orr said...

I think eventually--for now, at least, maybe for some years to come--it's going to be that way: steampunk as a stylistic offshoot of neo-Victoriana, and as the Victorian/gilded age influence builds, so will steampunk, in look, approach, and sound.

I mean technically--though we can trace out influences earlier--the gothic movement really started in the 1970's, and it's taken the past thirty years to get from "for some reason they like dressing in black" to "they're goths".

It may well take an equivalent amount of time to be able to say "they're steampunks", or whatever term will arise out of what's happening now. And it's a slow cultural creep to that point.

In the meantime, we have a ragged disparate community of case modders, do-it-yourself-ers, neo-Victorians, burlesque dancers, musicians from various genres...all of which we are slowly linking together as pulling from the same cultural influences. I'd even go so far as to say it's a very large span of time we're all trying to embrace: just as the SCA spans everything from the tenth century (and sometimes before) to the mid-seventeenth, so neo-Victorian/gilded age converts seem to be spanning anywhere from the early eighteenth century to the 1920's, 1930's or so.

Which is why I'm including the 'weird americana bands', as you put it--because even though they seem to be tapping around the 1920's to early 1950's at the very latest, they're doing it within a similar framework. And there are bridge bands now--while the Shakers, f'rinstance, seem clearly to have their own niche, as stated, of American gothic, along with Hoots and Hellmouth, we have "bridge bands" stepping between Americana and the gilded age--Dresden Dolls spring unerringly to mind, but also, Beat Circus, and to some extent, the Residents, though they didn't get into the unsprung-calliope sound until much later.