by Guest Contributor Michael Loria
death’s dynamic shroud.wmv is one of those gems found deep in the Youtube wormhole and among the most satisfying of such finds. They are an internet-based music project and usually considered vaporwave. For those unfamiliar with the genre, it’s known for its use of samples and “a e s t h e t i c,” which refers to both the visual style and the tenor of the music itself.
As a style, vaporwave (understandably) receives a great deal of flak. The name itself can be as off putting as an inside joke told in company. It’s also often accompanied by excessively conceptual pedantry when one would sooner judge music based on how it sounds. For example, vaporwave is known for satirizing corporate muzak through sampling, but the parody risks sounding as unaffecting as the original. For all of that, there are a few inspired releases and artists that make the genre worthwhile, and death’s dynamic shroud.wmv is one such artist.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tech Honors, the artist who co-founded dds.wmv with James Webster. More recently, dds.wmv has also featured the work of Keith Rankin, of Giant Claw. What makes the difference between an inspired release and an ordinary one can be hard to articulate, and differs from artist to artist; however, in the case of dds.wmv, I think it goes back to the artist’s approach to music-making in the first place.
Loria: Before getting into dds.wmv, I had a quick question about Ghost Diamond Collective, the bandcamp page that hosts dds.wmv as well as a number of other artists. As I understand it, you and James run Ghost Diamond Collective, but much of the music on the page has little relation to dds.wmv or even internet music otherwise. How do you all decide who comes through Ghost Diamond?
Tech Honors: Ghost Diamond is basically an umbrella term for all the music James and I make–everything on the Ghost Diamond bandcamp page is made by us (sometimes featuring other people). We have a lot of different projects that we record using a lot of different monikers, so we just thought it would be a lot more convenient to put everything in one spot. Sample-based music is a lot of fun to play around with, but most of the music we’ve made would not qualify as “vaporwave”- we’ve made a lot more music that would probably fall under “shoegaze” or “synthpop” or something.
L: How did dds.wmv get its start?
TH: dds.wmv got its start when James wanted to show me the music of the Sega Dreamcast game “Shenmue” and how it’s basically an interactive vaporwave album. Around the same time I had become interested in chopping and screwing music from Super Nintendo Games. We decided to share the name death’s dynamic shroud.wmv for our projects even though we were working separately because they were coming from the same place. From there it sort of became an outlet for us to make these weird conceptual mixtapes by isolating our favorite chord progressions and melodies from existing video game music and pop songs and looping them. It was a feeling of “oh man, I love this part of the song, I wish it went on for like five more minutes.”
L: Had you all been making music beforehand?
TH: Yeah, the three of us have all been friends since we were in high school together. James and I were in a band together called The Sailing from 2001 until 2008 (James on guitar, me on keys, both of us sang) and we’ve been making music separately and collaboratively ever since.
L: Had you been doing much graphic design before?
TH: James does the majority of the graphic design, though I contribute occasionally. He’s been doing it a bit longer than me- since high school. We’re both self-taught but I think he possesses a better artistic vision for it, especially now that he’s gotten into making videos.
L: Yeah, I’m a fan of the videos I’ve found on Youtube. This next question’s a bit more for you personally: when you listen to dds.wmv, what do you listen to and why?
TH: Hmm..I guess when I listen to dds.wmv I listen to…well, I guess it depends on who made it. If it’s one that James made then I listen to it like I’d listen to anything else, just a mixture of active listening and entertainment. But I’m keenly aware of the types of chord progressions and textures that James likes so it’s kinda fun for me to see what he has chosen to do, his sample curation, his sequencing, etc. I try to understand what he’s trying to convey through his presentation.
If it’s one of my own productions…I mostly make music for myself, what I want to hear that I don’t feel like I can get from anything else. So I guess I’m usually just enjoying what I’ve made because it’s scratching a particular itch that served as the catalyst for its creation. It’s like a huge relief slash reward.
But sometimes I try to listen to it as objectively as possible and think about what I might criticize about it if I hadn’t made it, or where I think I did something really successfully. I can get into some pretty extreme navel gazing though so this is probably a good place to stop [laughs].
L: Last question- Eccojams vol. 1 and Far Side Virtual are often referenced as the start of vaporwave; what I’m wondering is if you all at dds.wmv have any sort of relation to these records, do they in any way have a role in dds.wmv’s beginnings or style?
TH: I listened to Far Side Virtual once when it came out, but I’ve only listened to a handful of songs from Eccojams. Both albums are cool but neither one had a direct impact on the music of dds.wmv. The only real influences from vaporwave that I can think of were probably the Vektroid album New Dreams ltd., Vanishing Vision by Internet Club, and Now that’s what I call music vol. 2 by マイケル·ジョーダンLINCOLN.
I think a lot of the “early vaporwave” stuff was rooted a bit more in irony and satire, or at least that’s how I interpret it, and it’s actually what drew me to it to begin with. But dds.wmv is pretty removed from that, the project is more involved with sincerity and romanticism, and it’s a lot more bombastic.
Tech’s last description gets at what makes dds.wmv so distinct and unabashedly good. Where even the more inspired vaporwave releases can have an aseptic feel, dds.wmv manages something which is more indulgent, even excessive in moments; however, for that, dds.wmv resonates well after listening. The experience is one which is more musical than conceptual and too direct to be artifice, and it’s what makes dds.wmv worth listening to again and again.