Review: Babbling Corpse by Grafton Tanner

Babbling Corpse

Grafton Tanner’s Babbling
examines vaporwave, a musical movement that grapples with technology’s tendency to displace humans from the center of, well, the human experience.

Because music is almost limitless and free, Tanner argues, it has essentially become “ghost music.” That is, like a ghost, music is always there, waiting for someone to channel it. In some ways, then, music has lost its tangibility and has undergone a kind of vaporization. Though Tanner avoids defining the movement, he offers some hints: “A great deal of vaporwave’s unsettling sound comes from the relentless repetition of vocal hooks, introductory motifs, and refrains (among other samples of song sections)… Usually focusing on one fragment of an entire song, a vaporwave producer will then loop that fragment ad nauseam, often for the length of the entire track. The effect is absurd, hilarious, unnerving, and sometimes boring.” Additionally, vaporwave music “often tends to emphasize the uncanniness of glitches via repetition of audio effects such as distortion, pitch shifting, and high doses of compression.”

Ultimately, Tanner suggests that we humans have become ancillary to the machines that consume our lives. Yet by holding a critical mirror up to our technology-saturated (and mediated) world, vaporwave has, in Tanner’s words, “become something like the ‘new punk’ or ‘Internet punk’—coming from the online underground yet growing with an emphasis on welcoming others.” The result is “an entire community of artists, musicians, remixers, and critics listening to and creating strange and exciting sounds that grapple with nostalgia, consumerism, and the uncanny in a digital age.” 

—Marc Schuster,

Shelf Unbound Contributing Editor Marc Schuster is the author of The Grievers, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum, and, with Tom Powers, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who. He is the editor of Small Press Reviews, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. Marc teaches writing and literature courses at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

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