Sacred Tapestry – Shader
Sacred Tapestry was a one-off side project by Ramona Xavier – a Portland artist who is behind Macintosh Plus, Laserdisc Visions, fuji grid tv, and Vektroid. Shader is the only extant album under this project,1 and it is one of the final albums released as a part of Xavier’s overarching New Dreams Ltd. umbrella prior to its revival in the second half of the 2010s.
Xavier’s initial projects are regularly remembered for their brazen cut-and-paste attitude that planted roots in practically every subgenre of the tapestry2 of influences that is vaporwave. prism genesis is textbook broken transmission, New Dreams Ltd. is textbook signalwave/hypnagogic pop, and the much-discussed Floral Shoppe is textbook, well, classic-style vaporwave – insofar as such a thing exists. Shader is defined by its textbook representation of futurevisions, a highly specific subgenre defined by cinematic ambiance, dreamy cyberpunk imagery, and utilization of original instrumentation via low-key synths.
Unlike its forebears, Shader is exceptionally removed from assertive über-samplism. For one, the songs are longer. A boring difference, perhaps, but one that’s striking in comparison to the microsample techniques utilized by the aforementioned albums. And not only are the songs longer, but they’re also much more complex: an important aspect (and part of the charm) of prism genesis is the obviousness of the samples; the listener knows that these tracks aren’t original material, insofar as they are not entirely built from compositions in the artist’s own hand. The tracks within Shader are exceptional recontextualizations of samples that coalesce with Xavier’s own creations to the point that either would sound incomplete without the other. There’s a myriad of specific approaches that impart highly unique dispositions to each song: contorted vocal samples (e.g. “LD・VHD”), true drone (e.g. “凍傷”), and Oneohtrix Point Never-esque analogue synth passages (e.g. “移住”).
Speaking of whom, Shader may be likened to a sister album of OPN’s Replica. Although Shader came out nine months later, they both utilize similar mind-enveloping sound with an explicitly dark tone that was quite rare in the genre at their time, predating even Dream Catalogue and TKX Vault by several years. Both make no attempt at hiding their use of foundation samples; they aim to create entirely new compositions that are nigh-unrecognizable from their original state rather than portray them in ironic terms, as a point of commentary, or as an exercise in media production techniques – as is common in classic-style vaporwave and aspects of hypnagogic pop.3 They’re hypnotic albums, ones that are rarely evident in their source material; even with repeated listens, it might take a few tries to recognize Diana Ross’ “It’s Your Move”4 in “新たな夢Spirited Child (Color Ocean Sky)”
At times, Shader even sounds like it predates Replica, even though it was one of the last releases in the so-called “first-wave” releases; “移住” easily could’ve been on Oneohtrix Point Never’s Zones without People. That’s a cool part about this album: despite (or in facilitation of!) its blatantly futuristic vibe, it incorporates numerous compositional callbacks to all sorts of electronic music genres, not to mention Xavier’s own discography; the chillwave vibe on “ドリーミー” would’ve made an excellent addition to her Color Ocean Road release three months prior, and of course there’s the aforementioned self-reference in “新たな夢Spirited Child (Color Ocean Sky).” Shader destroys past sounds in order to create new ones, and the stones that held the walls of old-school electronic music now create those that frame new visions. It’s fascinating how it utilizes each one of Xavier’s own tropes – an in-joke that actually works – and succeeds in self-referential self-destruction.5
Shader is one of the most accomplished albums in terms of demonstrating the scope that forward-thinking electronic music may provide in creating worlds entirely distinct from one’s own. The word “soundscape” is often thrown around when describing any form of cinematic ambient music, but Ramona Xavier’s work through the Sacred Tapestry project aptly deserves such a descriptor. It is an engaging, alluring album that deserves a place in the music of library of any person who calls him or herself a patron of calculatingly unique music.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: On Valentine’s Day 2016, Ramona Xavier released an expanded and remastered version of the album called Shader Complete. That version is different enough to warrant separate articles for each album. This review specifically focuses on the original sequencing of Shader.]
1. LD・VHD – (7:58)
2. 花こう岩Cosmorama – (6:25)6
3. ドリーミー – (4:20)7
4. 移住 – (8:49)8
5. 新たな夢Spirited Child (Color Ocean Sky) – (13:51)9
6. 凍傷 – (13:32)10
1… barring a re-release on Valentine’s Day 2016, titled Shader Complete with extended and edited versions.
2Pun intended. No, I’m not sorry.
3Although I’d like to make a point that even though these three interpretations of sampling in vaporwave are common, they are by no means universal even within those two subgenres.
4The same source for “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” off of Floral Shoppe.
5Maybe that sounds too romantic. Maybe it is!
6Japanese translation: “Granite (Cosmorama”)
7Japanese translation: “Dreamy”
8Japanese translation: “Immigration”
9Japanese translation: “A New Dream (Spirited Child) Ocean Color Sky”
10Japanese translation: “Frostbite”