James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
Hyper-realism – the concept of the artificial and the real being indistinguishable – is the key to this album. Hyper-realism is often discussed in the context of role-playing games, virtual reality, and on-line identities; all things that were exceptionally topical at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, if not as much today only because modern society has come to see them as ubiquitous. The accessibility of on-line environments such as Second Life, imvu, and ActiveWorlds, in addition to the myriad of MMORPGs,1 has made the concept of having another persona on-line somewhat common, to the extent that whether or not they actually reflect the person behind the keyboard is dubious.2 In art, hyper-realism may apply to creating incredibly authentic-looking pieces of work that are ostensibly fake in the sense that they are not actually the object that they represent, or that reality itself is doubtful.
Far Side Virtual embodies hyper-realism in concept and production. It walks an unexpectedly fine line between genuine listenability and mindless corporate blather. “Sim” incorporates a positive, encouraging melody with an uptempo (but not too fast!) sound; it’s a fun-sounding track, but ambiguously one that is “supposed to” be enjoyed or to be recognized for the sterile MIDI-corporate sound for which it is. The guitar line of “Fro-Yo and Cellular Bits” is very clearly not a real guitar, but it carries just like one. Far Side Virtual is so bouncy that its invitation to fun is not easily denied. It’s the equivalent of those corporate web sites with photos of smiles and suits, the words “synergy in enhanced efficiency,” “risk capability,” “agile and innovative,” and “enterprise intelligence”3 plastered across the screen; buzzwords that sound happening and future-forward, but questionable on content.
Each track here sounds exactly as it would if it were a part of a corporate endeavor to potential investors and venture capital. There’s not a single thing done differently that would otherwise clue one into Far Side Virtual being a parody or a commentary: it’s entirely the ebullience and eagerness that it appears to be. It’s the upbeat boss who walks past the desk. That’s the oh-so-subtle macabre of Far Side Virtual: corporate music sterility that became a product that people bought, with no sacrifices of artificiality or grandeur. The music might sound funny in an awkwardly-corporate way, but is exactly what it appears to be – and that’s the true joke. Business music made for the discerning consumer, and what are music listeners if not discerning consumers?4
Far Side Virtual ranks as one of the most “influential” albums in the genre, in concept if not in sound. It is widely regarded as one of the first vaporwave albums,5 and – along with FLORAL SHOPPE – it is one of the genre’s most visible albums, having been voted the best album of 2011 by The Wire6 and featured in high-profile music publications such as Pitchfork Media.7 Within the community, the Vaporwave Ultra Guide lists Far Side Virtual as a “proto-vaporwave” album alongside Chuck Person’s ECCOJAMS Vol. 1 and two albums by 骨架的.8 It’s an extraordinarily pervasive work, and a tantalizingly enjoyable and uncomfortable repackaging of every Web 2.0 business webpage that you’ve visited.
[Editor’s note: Recommendation changed on 14 October 2017 from three suns to two suns.]
1. Linden Dollars – (1:57)
2. Global Lunch – (2:13)
3. Dubai Dream Tone – (1:49)
4. Sim – (2:53)
5. Bags – (3:25)
6. PIXARnia and the Future of Norman Rockwell – (1:44)
7. Palm Trees, Wi-Fi, and Dream Sushi – (2:39)
8. Fro-Yo and Cellular Bits – (2:19)
9. Google Poeises – (3:51)
10. Starbucks, Dr. Seussism, and While Your Mac Is Sleeping – (2:25)
11. Adventures in Green Foot Printing – (3:28)
12. Dream On – (3:08)
13. Earth Minutes – (4:17)
14. Tomorrow’s Baby of the Year – (1:50)
15. Condo Pets – (3:31)
16. Solar Panel Smile – (4:08)
1I actually did my thesis on cybergeography, using RuneScape as a case study. In retrospect, I guess it isn’t too surprising that I got into vaporwave. If you’re interested, you can read it here.
2There are tons of studies on this with many different results applicable to many different settings. For a decent primer, start out here. It’s less “on-line persona” and more “concept of the self,” but its sources are good and the three different experiments have decent rigor.
3I pulled all four of these from a single corporate web site.
4Far Side Virtual is basically The Comedian of vaporwave.
5Yeah, I don’t actually have a good source for this. You’ll have to chalk it up to “time spent in the community,” “time spent browsing random vaporwave guides,” and “it came out in 2011.”
6UFO, Ben. “2011 Rewind Chart: Top 50 Releases of the Year – The Wire.” The Wire Magazine. December 2011. Accessed 03 November 2016. http://www.thewire.co.uk/issues/charts/2011-rewind-chart_top-50-releases-of-the-year.1.
7Soderberg, Brandon. “James Ferraro : Far Side Virtual | 7.6.” Pitchfork Media. 04 November 2011. Accessed 03 November 2016. http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15992-james-ferraro-far-side-virtual/.
8Check out this image. (Accessed 4 November 2011)