RT @JFerraro_zip(1)
Kaspars Groševs, Artist
James Ferraro – Far Side Virtual
(Hippos in Tank, 2011)
James Ferraro
Toddlers & Tiaras
James Ferraro. Far Side Virtual. 2011
Image from the blog of project b3BETUNES by James Ferraro
Possibly it should sound like a relieved sigh after countless hours spent suffocating in a room heated up by office equipment, or perhaps as an inglorious click of the mouse, trying to crush the shiny bit of plastic in barely controlled rage, as if it were to blame for something. James Ferraro’s pasted-together digital world isn’t that far away, and that’s a bit scary. It seems that the Android iPad tablet computer which can be seen in the picture on the recording has been caught in one of the nine Google Street View(2) eyes, lop-sidedly or threateningly revealing the corporatively friendly sky. However it is more likely the most recent past that’s reflected in this harsh futuristic scene, that which was published three days or five months ago, though definitely not before the appearance of the blog.

In the summer of 2009, in his article ‘Childhood’s End’(3) published in the hardcopy pages of ‘The Wire’ magazine David Keenan offered a name for a new genre – hypnagogic pop, the term hypnagogic describing the condition between sleep and wakefulness. Including artists within it who, in the opinion of the author, belong to the ‘Ghostbusters’ generation(4), Keenan points to similar features in apparently differing musical works: nostalgia for the 1980s and the pop culture of the time, interest in New Age(5) music (and the visual aesthetics as well), an enthusiasm for certain forgotten technologies: audio and VHS cassettes, analogue synthesizers and similar. Citing a comprehensive list of examples and with a survey of musicians the author succeeded in thinking up a name for something which at that time dominated in American “experimental pop music”, as the usual genre classification seems to have remained only in home stereo system EQ settings and in the internet iTunes store. The new name, which aroused both indignation and scepticism, continues to wander around like a ghost among the lines of reviews, in PR bait and internet forums, sticking most firmly to the examples identified by Keenan and among them, the creative work of James Ferraro.

After the appearance of Keenan’s article, music critic Simon Reynolds – whose book ‘Retromania’, about pop culture’s growing obsession with its past, was mentioned fairly frequently in the media writing about music in 2011 – asked in his blog(6) whether every generation to come in the future will offer its own version of the pop culture unknowingly soaked up in childhood. The urge to revive the slightly dusty and forgotten in music has been known about for quite some time, however, already now it’s possible to find a fresh interpretation for just about every period of development in popular and underground music: R&B of the 1950s, the 60s psychedelic, 70s krautrock, the 80s Minimal Wave, the 90s Eurodance etc. New recordings with their accompanying YouTube videos and the buzz of internet commentary have become as deafening as the noise made by a microphone placed in front of speakers, whirling in an unending loop, ever more stridently.

James Ferraro, who, hiding behind a number of pseudonyms, has released a hard to count but significant number of recordings over the last five years, was up till now known for his saccharine pop melodies, variations on glam rock and Kosmische musik of terrible quality. Far Side Virtual, however, right from its opening bars besieges the listener with a barrage of insipid instruments and frighteningly sterile sound, pouring over melodies full of false optimism, rustling artificial waterfalls and cheap sound effects from ready-made CD selections so intensively that very soon you start to feel sick. Is it the noise music of 2012 which makes a person block their ears and ask themselves and others puzzling questions? The humming fog of half-sleep described by Keenan has dispersed, spraying into the air at least a carton of lavender air freshener.

Ferraro’s cloyingly sweet noise is like a threatening harbinger of hyperreality TV shows, which in the future, possibly, will be impossible to distinguish from Ryan Trecartin’s lizard-like characters with helium voices that live somewhere between the living room and the virtual environment.(7) Almost as ominous as the American TV show ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’, in which young children who can barely speak but are dressed up as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Julia Roberts in the film ‘Pretty Woman’ (where, if you remember, she played a prostitute) take part in beauty contests.

Far Side Virtual sounds like the recording of the month for a collection of soundtracks suitable for iStockphoto advertisements, where the main parameters for success are a moderate tempo, C major and the description Modern and motivational background music. Good for representing your products or identity. Like the revenge of every horror movie monster, Ferraro’s hysterical musical activity also is a natural outcome, and its origins can be found in the musical “social networking” of the MySpace(8) era, where, it seems, the avalanche of overexaggerated self-promotion and “revelation” began, so that today’s musician is in all of the social networks and unremittingly reminds us of the fact that he is still alive. Ferraro, too, persistently attacks his “followers” in one social network or another with sounds, links, images, videos and words, all of which have already been heard somewhere else, but in this noise it is difficult to remember where. Maybe hypnagogic pop really belongs to a much larger movement – retweet pop, where each subsequent step is a re-publication or an internet link? To be continued.

The album can be listened to for free here:

/Translator into English: Uldis Brūns/

1 @JFerraro_zip is James Ferraro’s Twitter name, whereas a republication of some news article or retweet is marked RT.
2 See Jon Rafman’s project
3 Keenan, David. ‘Childhood’s End’, The Wire, No. 304, August 2009.
4 Reference to the 1984 film ‘Ghostbusters’.
5 What is meant by this is a rather diffuse Western spiritual movement, which in Latvia could be equated to esotericism. The most typical examples of New Age music are Enya, Deep Forest, Vangelis and similar.
7 Ryan Trecartin (born 1981) has managed to participate in a number of significant exhibitions, among them the 2006 Whitney Biennial. Fragments of his video work I-BE AREA (2007) can be seen on the artist’s YouTube channel
8 MySpace (now called Myspace) was the most popular social network in the world from 2005 to 2008, and was especially popular among musicians and artists who saw it as an opportunity to advertise their creative work to a huge number of people. In the end, the ceaseless spam and self-advertising, chaos of content and design and other problems turned MySpace into a kind of internet Detroit, where few people venture nowadays.
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